Ombudsmania! It's a Cruel Summer Edition

What's more meta than a blog about blogs and funner than a barrel of monkeys? An ombudsman column roundup of other ombudsmen's columns, of course!

Today, Public Eye continues its semi-regular look at the issues at play in Print MediaLand -- at least the ones that seem worth passing along. (As sometimes these things get too insider-y even for us.) So keep your hands inside the car at all times, and we're off:

Al Qaeda Everywhere

We start this week at the New York Times, where Clark Hoyt takes on an enormous topic that could inspire its own multi-part investigative expose: the White House's conflation of Al Qaeda in Iraq with the Al Qaeda that was involved with 9/11:

Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven't been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda's role in Iraq — and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn't even exist until after the American invasion.

Then, to hammer the point home, Hoyt cites a recent commencement speech by President Bush:
"Remember, when I mention Al Qaeda, they're the ones who attacked the United States of America and killed nearly 3,000 people on September the 11th, 2001," Bush said in the Naval War College speech.

Actually, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which came into being in 2003, pledged its loyalty to Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda the next year but is not believed to be under his operational control.

Kudos to Hoyt. Sometimes, rhetorical shorthand is an effective way to communicate; other times, it simplifies things so much as to make them more cloudy.

(Double kudos to NPR's "On the Media" for getting to this story first, on last weekend's broadcast.)

Scooter Scuttlebutt

The Scooter Libby commutation raised some hackles in MediaLand as well, with both Bob Richter in San Antonio and Orlando's Manning Pynn facing questions of double-standards and bias. Here's Richter's testimony, based on a review of his papers' coverage of President Clinton pardoning Marc Rich:

I believe neither president, nor their partisan rooters in Congress, hold the moral high ground on this issue. While the Express-News has been consistent in its criticism, the politicians are selective in theirs, dancing for whomever pays the piper or the party they favor. That isn't honest justice.
And Pynn's views from Orlando:
Although Wednesday's editorial made reference to Clinton's pardon of Rich, its focus was Libby -- who, before becoming Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, coincidentally, collected some $2 million in fees working as an attorney for Rich. The focus was on Libby because actions involving the people now running the government -- as opposed to those who did so seven years ago -- have greater current relevance.

The Sentinel, though, is not affiliated with any political party. It praises, criticizes and endorses people based not on the political organizations to which they belong but, rather, on how their words and actions compare with the newspaper's core beliefs.

Burying the Ledes?

Returning from vacation, Deborah Howell at the Washington Post's e-mailbox overfloweth with people dissatisfied with war and political reporting, with some readers seeing stories underplayed:

Readers complained that The Post buried a story Monday following up on the attempted terrorist attacks in Britain. Charles Feigenbaum of Silver Spring wrote: "I understand that a lot of thought goes into determining which stories appear on Page A1, but I can't understand how the follow-up about the London and Glasgow attacks winds up on A15...

Some readers were disturbed by a too-brief story on a critical Iraq war speech by Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.), ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Barry Fulton of Chevy Chase e-mailed: "I am writing to express surprise that The Post relegated the Lugar Senate speech to a few lines on Page 2 today. The only less conspicuous place would have been in the help-wanted classifieds."

Howell also had to deal with readers irate at the op-ed page giving a forum to a higher-up at Hamas. Hope that vacation recharged you, Deborah. You're gonna need it.

Coulter's Complaints

Angela Tuck at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution admitted that her paper had overly condensed Ann Coulter's now-infamous remark about John Edwards.

In last Sunday's paper, the AJC ran a short article that generated a dozen or so telephone calls and e-mails from readers who felt the newspaper was showing its typical liberal bias by printing partial remarks made by conservative author and political pundit Ann Coulter.

What came out in the AJC was an abbreviated version of her remarks based on an incident involving Elizabeth Edwards, the candidate's wife, who called into the MSNBC show "Hardball" to confront Coulter. The AJC report said Coulter wished John Edwards would be killed by terrorists.

When reporting on the many offhanded remarks that people such as Coulter and Maher make to get a rise out of the opposition, editors should make sure to accurately reflect the comments so readers aren't left with the perception that we are deliberately trying to distort a person's remarks. The challenge comes in reporting such banter in a limited amount of space.

Note to Angela Tuck and the myriad media outlets that lopped off some of the crucial context from Coulter's words: Brevity may be the essence of wit, but it's dangerous with political reporting.

Kids Today

And lastly, Kate Parry at the Minnesota Star-Tribune gets in touch with her inner-Whitney Houston and let's us all know that she believes that children, er, interns are our future:

Doom-filled predictions about newspapers have given the whole industry a bad case of jitters about the future.

But something of an antidote has arrived in this newsroom: The summer interns are here.

They're just what we needed right now: nine energetic, wide-eyed fledgling journalists with a fascination for even the mangiest assignment.

She then goes on to praise by name a number of the student journalists who are contributing to the newsroom's morale. Stop, Kate. Stop. You had me at "mangy."