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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, April 03, 2003

NOW They Tell Us?

What a lovely April Fool's Day at the NY Times. Unable to keep a straight face any longer, the Times prints the following correction:

A front-page article on Tuesday about criticism voiced by American military officers in Iraq over war plans omitted two words from an earlier comment by Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of V Corps. General Wallace had said (with the omission indicated by uppercasing), "The enemy we're fighting is A BIT different from the one we war-gamed against."

I imagine that tidbit would have made A BIT of a difference to all the quagmirologists.

Thanks to Eric the Red, but I expect this is everywhere by now.

Now, as an interesting (but very casual) study of error propagation, we can use their search engine to track the history of this quote through the NY TImes.

On March 27, in the first usage the Times search engine kicks up, my man Jim Dwyer, reporting with the 101st, gets it right:

The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against, because of these paramilitary forces," General Wallace said. "We knew they were here, but we did not know how they would fight."

Next, on March 28, the Times has a transcript from the Pentagon briefing. Would bloggers make this mistake? Sure, if they wanted their rear-area kicked:

Q Mr. Secretary, General Wallace was predominantly quoted today, saying that this may be a longer war than the commanders had thought and that this was not the enemy that we war-gamed against. It seems to contradict some of the statements that have been made from the podium here and the podium in Doha. Can you reconcile the two views?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I didn't read the article; I saw the headline. And I've seen a lot of headlines that don't fit articles. Someone coming down here told me that he also said that we're about where we expected to be, which is generally what General Franks is saying. I suppose everyone can have their own view.

Q Well, I wasn't there, of course, but the article quotes him as saying that this is going to be a longer war than had been anticipated.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Does it have quotes saying that?

Q Yes. It says the enemy we're fighting is not the enemy we war-gamed -- "the enemy we're fighting is different from the one we war-gamed against."

Leave it to the professionals.

Now, on March 30, Maureen Dowd gets it right, which is a bit of a surprise, but there you go.

Finally, we have the April Fools Joke, which eventually prompted the correction.

So, what joker misquoted this to Rumsfeld and flooded the wire services with the wrong quote? This does not say.

As another check, I get sixteen Google-News hits for "Is A BIT different from the one we war-gamed against", with hits dating back the the NY Times on March 27. However, the phrase "Is different from the one we war-gamed against" generates sixty hits, also going back to March 27. The repeated use in the Dow-Jones Newswire seems to be partly responsible for the high number of hits.

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