Monday, May 09, 2005

Food for thought on Squitieri firing

Brian Hart writes in to Romenesko:
Tom Squitieri was evidently forced to resign [from USA Today] over a quote from me which I have related to several reporters. It concerned a phone call in October 2003 from my son in Iraq a week before he was killed in an unarmored vehicle.

The quote was accurate. It was reported by others including Ted Evanoff of the Indy Star. Both Ted Evanoff and Tom Squitieri are excellent investigative reporters. Ted essentially broke the story that armored Humvee production was not anywhere near capacity. He and I worked together from time to time in understanding this national tragedy since Nov. 2003.

Tom Squitieri wrote one of the best researched articles in 2005 on the subject of underproduction of armored Humvees and the deceptions that allowed it. It is a subject to which I have become an unfortunate expert. The Pentagon has consistently misled the public on this matter amidst a mountain of disinformation; Tom got to the heart of the story.

On Friday afternoon, I was contacted by a reporter who asked if I had seen the news about Tom’s dismissal. I had not. I have received only one phone call from a reporter asking if the quote was accurate. As I told the USA Today editors, I was both happy with the quote and discussed the matter extensively with Tom. In fact a review of my notes indicates over 30 days of discussion. One of the last emails I got from him was that the Pentagon was going nuts over his story.

So is accuracy or attribution more important?

Of the many times I've been misquoted by reporters, not once has an editor volunteered to fire the reporter. Yet here is a quote I endorsed which evidently has gotten a reporter fired because he didn’t attribute it to a reporter I also worked with at a sister publication of his! Madness.

Imagine my outrage. The Pentagon told the press corps that the production of armored Humvees was near capacity for a year and a half and it wasn’t though reporters dutifully publish these press releases as fact to an unwitting public. Tom does his research and gets fired. Folks at the Pentagon must be grinning at the irony.


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