Recall a posting of mine from the summer, concerning a July 4th Associated Press item saying that at his first hearing in June, Mladic had drawn his finger across his throat toward the Bosnian-Muslims in the public gallery. Knowing that if this had really happened, there would have been wide coverage and footage (since it’s exactly the kind of behavior the media and public look for in the Serb Villain we’ve constructed), a reader named Nikole combed through reports from the June hearing. There was nothing. Except this: an AP item quoting a female Bosnian-Muslim “victim” boasting that she made the menacing gesture toward Mladic.
Nikole called my attention to it, and I eventually wrote letters to the AP and 10 or so publications which ran its concocted wire story, including the CBC, Washington Times, Forbes.com, and Toronto Star.
On September 29th, I heard back from exactly one of those publications, with the following letter from Liz, of The Toronto Star’s Public Editor’s office:
Julia,
Thank you for contacting us about this matter. I apologize for how long it has taken to get back to you on this, but we needed to contact the AP reporter and have only just heard back. We are running a correction on this that should appear tomorrow.
Thank you again.
Based on that short note, I understood that the AP reporter (or the hodgepodge of journalists involved in putting together each AP article) admitted the “error.” The next day Liz wrote me the following:
Julia,
I wanted to provide you with the link to the online correction on this article http://www.thestar.com/opinion/corrections/article/1062642–online-news-correction-for-september-30. Please note, the article did not run in our print version, and therefore we do not run a print correction in this circumstance.
Here is how the correction appeared on The Star’s website:
Online News Correction for September 30
Published On Fri Sep 30 2011
A July 4 article about the war crimes tribunal of Gen. Ratko Mladic incorrectly stated that Mladic drew his finger across his throat while looking at the public gallery. In fact, a person in the gallery made the threatening gesture to Mladic.
Of course, one would have to specifically click on the day’s corrections page to have seen it, but I’ll take it. The same day, I emailed author Peter Brock to let him know that I pulled a “mini Brock” on the AP, still not knowing whether AP ran the correction or not. He replied with the following:
…There it is. The strained dribble of the AP’s reluctant admission in the last few days that last July 4 it “reported erroneously” how Ratko Mladic “made a threatening gesture to the public gallery at an earlier hearing by drawing his finger across his throat.” Buried typically at the bottom of left-hand pages in the print editions under a small one-column headline “Correction” (and amidst garish online “edition” clutter) was that Mladic’s finger hadn’t drawn anything.
…[S]ure enough, the drones at the AP headquarters are caught conjuring the “news” — again. Now, a “correction” — huh?!
You have to take their word for it — if they have one — that they’d now blanketed the same 1,700 newspapers and 5,000-plus TV and radio outlets who’d received the July 4th defamatory report that the ex-general from hell had made a throat-slitting gesture. (Yes, “defamatory” is the correct word when the AP lies deliberately or negligently or, if it involves Serbs, just for kicks!) Well, nobody at the AP had bothered to check out whether the bombastic Mladic had actually done that back on June 3 at his first appearance before the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague.
The damning statement appeared as the 19th paragraph in The Denver Post’s July 4th AP story, under Mike Corder’s byline: “At his first hearing in June, Mladic enraged war survivors in the public gallery by looking at them and drawing his finger across his throat.”
The Toronto Star carried the same July 4th report’s fabrication in its 21st graf; The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier had it in the 24th graf; and all the rest of country’s dailies and AP members — from The Yakima (Washington) Herald-Republic to the Miami Herald — ran it in about the same position, topping most of their World News or International News sections if not on the front pages. And they all ran this week’s de facto retraction in small inside “news-holes.”
Now it gets fun.
When Corder’s July 4th story went out from the AP, there must have been more than a few news editors around the country - and even at the AP itself - wondering why they couldn’t remember seeing a photo or some video with the pugnacious Serb general’s vulgar behavior in the Dutch courtroom. With all the available video that covered his every twitch, scratch, and blink of the eyes - nobody had bothered to see if he’d really made the gesture of stabbing someone’s windpipe?
Nobody had telephoned Nerma Jelacic, the Tribunal’s spokesperson, to ask for courtroom video from June 3rd showing Mladic wielding his make-believe blade? (Bosnia-native Jelacic, the popular courthouse pin-up with her made-for-TV blouses…was hired in 2009 and instantly established herself as a news camera-favorite compared to all her predecessors combined!)
What, no tape? No stills of the mad general, aka “The Butcher of Srebrenica,” pretending to carve up the air in front of him? That’s prime tabloid, front-page stuff! Even after a month!
And not one television news producer raising a protest?!
So, the majority of daily newspapers (and/or their online editions) that carried Corder’s July 4th AP story suddenly ran this “correction”:
“THE HAGUE, Netherlands — In a story July 4 about an appearance at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal by Gen. Ratko Mladic, The Associated Press reported erroneously that Mladic made a threatening gesture to the public gallery at an earlier hearing by drawing his finger across his throat. At the (June 3) earlier hearing, a person in the gallery said she made the threatening gesture to Mladic.”
And, nobody thought it might be newsworthy to find out whether Corder’s claim in his July 4 report about Mladic on June 3 was true? Two and three months later?
Where is the Poynter Institute, or FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), and all the rest of the “media watchdog” groups? At the news trough, of course, with all the rest of the Pulitzer pimps, CNN prompter-readers, newsroom “burn-outs” turned J-school instructors, government flacks, ad-agency spin-specialists, and the like.
Oh, and it should be added that paying “members” of the AP (i.e. local newspapers and TV networks and stations) never buck about running AP “corrections” for blown reports and coverage that appear in the hometown Bugle and Gazette. No editor assigns a reporter to get THAT story “behind the story.” Classic protection racket stuff.
Finally, nobody remembers any of the networks or local TV-radio reading the AP “correction” about the Mladic story. After all, what “goes out on the air-waves” is …gone.
Curiously, Mike Corder’s byline may have been a composite of several other AP reporters or stringers, and who knows how many foreign and local “editors” who may have had their hands in “his” story. (The phenomenon is not strange to a legion of news organization correspondents during the 1990s and the breakup and covering various wars in ex-Yugoslavia. Many said at the time their bylines appeared mysteriously on reports they could not recognize but were published in Western newspapers.)
Corder’s June 3 and July 4 reports included tags that others had “contributed” to the AP’s Mladic stories, including Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia; Amer Cohadzic and Sabina Niksic in Sarajevo, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Arthur Max in The Hague, Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Eldar Emric and Radul Radovanovic in Bosnia.
Corder has been the AP’s principle correspondent — or most visible byline — at The Hague for almost two decades. Naturally, he hasn’t explained anything because the AP wouldn’t let him even if he is asked. And the AP isn’t saying because nobody is asking.
The attitude of free-wheeling journalism as it applies to Serbs and Serbia is that they’re all libel-proof. Say and write what you want. No questions asked.
Indeed, after ignoring my letter directly to them, the AP printed the correction only after a customer, the Toronto Star, forced them to look into the situation. Here were the others who ran the correction (research thanks to Peter Brock):
The damning statement…was used on July 4th by most big AP clients: A Who’s Who list of the country’s big dailies who likewise ran the nearly identical version blared it prominently above the fold of their World News or International News sections if not the front pages. And they lined up again last week to run the de facto retraction in small inside “news-holes” — including (but not exclusively) The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, The Miami Herald, The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Francisco Examiner, The Boston Globe, The Kansas City Star, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, and a sampling of medium-size dailies like The (Tucson) Arizona Star, The Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The Tacoma News-Tribune, The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal Gazette, and others. (See below links)
The Washington Post (Since removed)
The Seattle Times
The Miami Herald (Since removed)
The San Francisco Chronicle
The San Francisco Examiner (Since removed)
The Boston Globe
The Kansas City Star (Since removed)
The New Orleans Times-Picayune
The (Tucson) Arizona Star (Since removed)
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times (Since removed)
The Tacoma News-Tribune (Since removed)
The Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal Gazette
And the correction is also already gone from the AP’s site. Other news outlets who ran the correction:
MSNBC
Yahoo! News
CBSNews.com (Since removed)
Forbes.com
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Comcast Cable
Newsday (Since removed)
Denver Post
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (Since removed)
Winona Daily News (Since removed)
Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Since removed)
Las Vegas Sun (Since removed)
WSFA News 12 - Montgomery, Alabama
Hawaii News Now
Washington Examiner (Since removed)
Buffalo News
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
KSL (Salt Lake City)
Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, AL) (Since removed)
Oakland Tribune
St. Louis Today (Since removed)
GoErie.com
Rapid City Journal (Since removed)
KTAR.com Radio (Phoenix)
KNDU-NBC (Yakima, WA)
Santa Cruz Sentinel
NECN.com (Boston)
Charlotte Observer (NC) (Since removed)
Mercury News (Silicon Valley)
Omaha World-Herald
The Fresno Bee (Since removed)
NOLA.com (New Orleans)
San Luis Obispo Tribune (Since removed)
Chippewa Herald (Since removed)
San Antonio Express-News
Macon Telegraph (GA) (Since removed)
Middleton Journal (OH)
Fort Mill Times (SC) (Since removed)
Beaumont Enterprise (TX)
WTOP.com (D.C.)
Columbus Telegram (NE) (Since removed)
Gadsden Times (AL) (Since removed)
WRIC-ABC (Richmond, VA)
This was my letter:
Dear Editor,
There is either a grave error, or a malicious projection, in an AP article you printed, titled “Shouting, chaos, then kicked out: Mladic war crimes trial continues,” giving birth on July 4th to a new lie about America’s favorite safe villain, the Serbs. As a responsible reader, I can’t allow this to quietly enter the lexicon of intractable fabrications and inversions about the Balkans.
Please note this part of the AP report you published:
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - …Mladic’s actions in court drew anger from survivors of the 1992-95 Bosnian war….At his first hearing in June, Mladic enraged war survivors in the public gallery by looking at them and drawing his finger across his throat.
I did a search for this taking place at the June hearing, knowing it’s the sort of kernel that the press and public live for and would jump to disseminate — if it happened. BUT THERE WAS NO MENTION OF THIS OCCURRING — anywhere. It mysteriously just appears in the above July report as having happened in June. But look what does come up when searching for news about the June hearing. And it’s also by the AP, which means AP writers either didn’t bother to check their own archives, or didn’t understand them: “Frail but defiant Mladic refuses to enter plea to ‘obnoxious’ genocide indictment” by Arthur Max (June 3):
…Orie scheduled a new hearing for July 4. If Mladic again refuses to plead to the charges, “not guilty” pleas will be entered on his behalf. As the hearing ended, rape victim Bakira Hasecic shouted from the gallery: “Monster man. Butcher.”
Kada Hotic, who has relatives who were killed at Srebrenica, said Mladic taunted her when she threatened him.
“I told him he will pay the price for murdering my son,” she said, adding that she drew her finger across her throat. Mladic could not hear her, but she said he gestured back, holding his thumb and forefinger close together to indicate she was insignificant. “And I said, ‘No, you are this small,’” she said.
So it wasn’t the Serb who threatened the Muslim, but the Muslim who threatened the Serb. If all of the uncorroborated and derivative pack-media reporting in the Balkans hadn’t been done in precisely this inverted and projected fashion, we might actually have a less cartoonish understanding of what happened there.