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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Journalism and blogging

Thinking this morning about blogging, for the panel tonight.

I just came across this story at Editor and Publisher about a female U.S. servicewoman who killed herself in Iraq after she objected to U.S. interrogation techniques.

She died in September, 2003, but we're reading about it now because a reporter started asking questions about her death. The media originally reported that she died due to a "non-hostile weapons discharge," which is apparently fairly common in Iraq.

But in this case, a longtime radio and newspaper reporter named Kevin Elston, unsatisfied with the public story, decided to probe deeper in 2005, "just on a hunch," he told E&P today. He made "hundreds of phone calls" to the military and couldn't get anywhere, so he filed a Freedom of Information Act request. When the documents of the official investigation of her death arrived, they contained bombshell revelations. Here’s what the Flagstaff public radio station, KNAU, where Elston now works, reported yesterday:

 

“Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed….”

 

She was was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. “But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle,” the documents disclose.

I bring this up because it's a good example of how a reporter's persistence can bring important information to light when the government (or corporations, or whomever) wishes to suppress it.

I recognize that reporters can work in new media, but I always come back to this point — most good investigative reporting is not cheap. It's rarely done by part-timers or amateurs. It's done by people who have the time and energy to make "hundreds of phone calls" to the military, who have the skills to gather and interpret data, and then spit it back to people in way that they can understand and digest.

I guess my point is that, while I'm all for democratization of media, I also recognize the need to save what's best about traditional media. We need to be able to pay people to do investigative reporting. I know that's not a real newsflash at this point, but it's something to remember as we talk about how great blogs are.

November 2, 2006 at 11:08 AM in Media/Keeping an eye on the competition | Permalink

Comments

Have you been able to find the original story about Alyssa by Kevin Elston at KNAU?

I'm coming up short...

Posted by: CoolBlue | Nov 2, 2006 2:18:09 PM

While further digging into this story, I came across this from the KNAU website


Arizona News

Correction to Alyssa Peterson story
Daniel Kraker

FLAGSTAFF, AZ (2006-11-02) KNAU reported in a broadcast Tuesday and Wednesday that Army specialist Alyssa Peterson of Flagstaff may have committed suicide in Iraq three years ago rather than follow what she believed to be illegal orders. In fact, while the army investigation does state she objected to interrogation techniques used on detainees, it does not conclude that those objections were related to her suicide. KNAU apologizes for this error.

Posted by: CoolBlue | Nov 2, 2006 2:32:55 PM

Reading that correction, it sounds like they can't say with certainty that her objections were related to her suicide. Which also means that they can't say with certainty that they weren't.

Still true, though, that she apparently killed herself after objecting to the interrogation methods.

Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: cresmer | Nov 2, 2006 4:29:39 PM

Reading that correction, it sounds like they can't say with certainty that her objections were related to her suicide. Which also means that they can't say with certainty that they weren't.

True, but as you must know, there could be a whole host of reasons why she might have committed suicide. And to connect the two events without any proof is misleading. Hence the correction.

Also, I think it was in poor form for the reporter to reveal that the method of death was suicide. The family may not have wanted that known. If it were me and I had proof her suicide and the refusal were related, I would go to the family first and see how they wanted me to handle it.

The military has a reason for listing deaths like this as a "non-hostile weapons discharge" specifically so the family does not have to suffer the stigma associated with suicide unless they want to. They can always claim it was a shooting accident or whatever and not stain the memory of their loved one.

FYI, I've requested a copy of the documents obtained through the FOIA request. Haven't heard anything yet, but if I get them, I'll let you know.

Posted by: CoolBlue | Nov 2, 2006 4:55:29 PM

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