Ashcroft ruling: An article on Saturday’s Page A1 about a federal appeals court ruling involving former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft inaccurately described the breadth of the court’s decision and mischaracterized some elements of the case. The 2-1 ruling by a panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday held that Ashcroft could be sued personally for allegedly violating the constitutional rights of a Muslim man, Abdullah Kidd, who was detained after the Sept. 11 attacks. The opening paragraph of the article incorrectly said that the court held that Ashcroft had “violated the rights of U.S. citizens.” The appeals court did not decide that question. Instead, the judges ruled that Ashcroft could be held personally liable if Kidd’s allegations proved true. They sent the case back to a lower court for a trial to determine whether the allegations were accurate.
The allegations involve Kidd’s arrest under a federal law that allows officials to detain witnesses in criminal cases whose testimony is needed and who might otherwise flee before a trial. Kidd alleges that Ashcroft adopted a policy that authorized officials to deliberately misuse the material-witness law to detain people the government lacked probable cause to arrest. The court ruled that such a policy — if it existed — would violate the Constitution.
The article also compared the alleged material-witness arrests to another Bush administration anti-terrorism policy, the seizure of suspects outside the U.S., and in doing so referred to both types of arrests as “secret.” Kidd’s arrest and detention were not secret. The article quoted one portion of the ruling, which sharply criticized those who “confidently assert” that the government has the power to detain people on material-witness warrants, but it incorrectly attributed the quotation to “the panel,” rather than to the two judges in the majority. Moreover, the article described the judges as having aimed their criticism at the Bush administration’s policies. Although that was the clear implication of the judges’ words, they never directly named the targets of their criticism, and the article should have made clear that the criticism of the administration was implied, not stated.
Finally, the article quoted two constitutional scholars as praising the ruling, but failed to note that both of them had previously been on record as criticizing Bush administration policies in the area of civil liberties. The article should have included a broader range of reaction to the decision.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
What Media Bias?
For those who still deny there is a left-wing bias in the mainstream media, I ask that they take a look at today's Los Angeles Times. The following appeared in its corrections section:
While I give credit to the Times for admitting its error and printing a correction, I hope the editors will take a close look at reporter Carol Williams, who wrote the original piece. She is either incompetent or guilty of intentionally writing a dishonest story. She brought dishonor on the journalism profession and a once-great newspaper.