Patterico's Pontifications


More Books

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 2:36 pm

My advance copy of the “Anonymous Lawyer” novel arrived today. It looks like it will be a breeze to read. It is a story told in the form of blog entries and e-mails.

Also, last night, I picked up a copy of the new Mark Bowden book, Guests of the Ayatollah : The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam. It looks like a good read, but will be a little more time-consuming.

I’ll let you know my thoughts on both once I have read them.

The Power of the Jump™: In Determining Whether Someone Committed Suicide, Is It Important Whether They Were Suicidal and Had Previously Tried to Commit Suicide? Then How’s About Telling Us That on the Front Page?

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 1:18 pm

(Note: “The Power of the Jump”™ is a semi-regular feature of this site, documenting examples of the Los Angeles Times’s use of its back pages to hide information that its editors don’t want you to see.)

In my first “Power of the Jump”™ post, I said:

Numerous studies show that the overwhelming majority of readers do not bother to follow the story past the jump line [where a front-page story continues on to the back pages]. . . . By the way, everybody at the newspapers is acutely aware of this syndrome. I recently spoke to a Dog Trainer reporter and expressed my concern that the story he was writing would bury the relevant facts on the back pages. I told him that it was my impression that most readers do not follow stories past the jump. He forthrightly replied: “That’s what all the studies show.”

I was reminded of this fact when I read a story on the front page of this morning’s L.A. Times about the death of an inmate in L.A. County jail. The story explains that there is a lawsuit over whether the death was a suicide, or the result of beatings and neglect.

The paper gives you plenty of facts up front to support the theory that the inmate was killed by someone else, including: 1) broken bones and bruises that are inconsistent with self-inflicted wounds; 2) a snapped neck bone consistent with strangulation; 3) allegations that a deputy training as a boxer was responsible; and 4) evidence that he was deprived of medical care, mocked, and beaten. That’s a pretty good summary of all the facts reported in the entire article supporting that theory:

A Death in Lockup

Officials say a depressed and ailing Compton auto mechanic hanged himself shortly before his release. But the family contends he was taunted and beaten by a jailer.

On a Saturday in the summer of 2002, Ramon Gavira was pulled over for drunk driving and taken to Los Angeles County Jail.

Five days after his arrest, the 43-year-old father of five was dead.

Guards say they found Gavira dangling from the bars of a one-man cell with a torn bedsheet tightly knotted around his neck. Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives and the coroner concluded that he had killed himself.

But when Gavira’s brothers saw his bruised and battered body at the funeral home a few days later, they began to suspect there was more to the story.

Gavira’s body had six broken ribs, a broken collarbone and bruises that would be hard for any man to inflict upon himself. Most curious was a snapped neck bone that medical experts say is more often seen when someone has been strangled by a pair of hands.

Since then, Gavira’s family has been pressing a wrongful-death lawsuit that is set for trial early next year. A spokesman for Sheriff Lee Baca was adamant that Gavira committed suicide, and cast his death as an unavoidable tragedy in an understaffed and overcrowded jail system — the nation’s largest.

Regardless of how he died, testimony and other evidence suggest that Gavira — mentally frail and withdrawing from alcohol from the moment he entered custody — was deprived of medical care, mocked and beaten during his brief stint behind bars.

In addition, records and interviews show that sheriff’s officials did little to determine how Gavira sustained such severe injuries, brushing aside allegations that a female deputy — who trains as a boxer — might have been responsible.

Attorney Michael Gennaco, who serves as an independent watchdog over the Sheriff’s Department, said he could not comment on specifics because of the litigation. But he said he was convinced that Gavira was not slain.

[See Jail, Page A24]

Okay, so you have the controversy. Either he killed himself or he was killed by someone else. A fair article will give you the main facts supporting each theory, up front.

You just saw the summary of the facts supporting the theory that he was killed by someone else. Now, what facts does the paper give you on the front page to support the theory that he killed himself? These facts are much more limited: 1) he was found “dangling from the bars of a one-man cell with a torn bedsheet tightly knotted around his neck”; and 2) he was depressed and mentally frail.

Now, let me ask you to assume — just for the sake of argument — that he had twice previously tried to commit suicide. And that he told jailers upon intake that he was suicidal.

Ya think that might be important?

Ya think that might tend to support the idea that he killed himself?

You already know what’s coming next. Let’s turn all the way to Page A24 and see what we find:

Gavira spent most of July 9 being processed.

He was examined by a nurse and a doctor, records show. He was diagnosed as depressed, diabetic and suffering from alcohol withdrawal. A jail employee indicated on a form that Gavira, in responding to a standard series of questions, said he was hearing voices, had contemplated suicide in the past and was now thinking about it again.

During a separate interview hours later with Carmen Lima, a jail social worker, Gavira cried and expressed concern for his family.

“He was blaming himself for being in jail for drinking,” Lima recalled during a court deposition.

Gavira told Lima that years before, he had twice tried suicide by wrecking his car. But he said he did not recall having told anyone that he was currently suicidal.

So, in this controversy over whether the inmate committed suicide, the paper waits until Page A24 to tell you that he was suicidal upon entering the jail, and had twice tried to commit suicide before.

Judas H. Priest on a popsicle stick.

Why do we have to wait until Page A24 to read this?

Is it because, if the story had used the word “suicidal” instead of “depressed” or “mentally frail” on the front page, it would have lost a good deal of its punch?

And yet what do you think the reporters and editors would tell you if you complained about this? They’d look at you with a blank face, blink a few times, and say condescendingly, as if you hadn’t read the story: “We reported it! And we said on the front page that he was depressed and mentally frail.”

The truth is, the reporters and editors waited to report the full truth about this inmate’s suicidal tendencies until the 19th paragraph, where they knew they would fall on the back pages. And they know that most readers won’t turn back that far.

This technique does not inspire confidence that the rest of the facts are being set forth in a fair manner. Sure, reporting the facts this way heightens the drama. But it’s not good journalism.

Swift Vets . . . Again

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 12:01 am

The New York Times has an article about John Kerry and the Swift Vets. No, you haven’t entered a time machine. It’s just that John Kerry is bringing it up again, for some reason.

The article says:

Mr. Kerry has signed forms authorizing the Navy to release his record — something he resisted during the campaign — and hired a researcher to comb the naval archives in Washington for records that could pinpoint his whereabouts during dates of the incidents in dispute.

He has “signed forms authorizing the Navy to release his record” — but to whom? Himself? As I noted in June 2005, when Kerry previously signed the Form 180, all of the records first passed through Kerry’s office. From there, they went into the hands of friendly journalists — journalists who then claimed that the records were now complete, even though they had made the same claim earlier, during the campaign.

Tom Maguire points to at least a couple of items that you’d think would be found in a complete set of records — yet still appear to be missing:

(1) Show us Kerry’s diary, aka the “War Notes”. Surely his first combat and first medal merited a contemporaneous account, yes? But that has never been made public, and Brinkley does not refer to Kerry’s notes for that portion of his Kerry biography.

(2) Show us the paperwork backing the first Purple Heart – it should include a witness statement of the circumstances surrounding his wound; Kerry never released that during the campaign.

The New York Times article also claims:

Naval records and accounts from other sailors contradicted almost every claim [the Swift Vets] made, and some members of the group who had earlier praised Mr. Kerry’s heroism contradicted themselves.

I’ll spot the Times the latter part of that statement. But I don’t agree that naval records contradicted “almost every claim they made.” I have previously observed that the people who make this claim are often the ones with a very tenuous grasp of the facts of the claims — such as the New York Times‘s own Nick Kristof. And when the L.A. Times made a similar claim, in an editorial about the Swift Vets titled “These Charges Are False,” I asked this question:

[W]hich charges are they talking about, anyway? The ones about John Kerry claiming he was in Cambodia in Christmas 1968? The claim that John Kerry initially sought a deferment to avoid the Vietnam war? The claim that he joined the Naval Reserves, rather than the Navy, at a time when men his age who believed they would be drafted anyway often chose the Naval Reserves as a safer route? The claim that, when Kerry initially volunteered for Swift boat service, it was considered relatively safe? The claim that John Kerry knew that three Purple Hearts would get him an expedited ticket home? The claim that his wounds were all relatively minor? The claim that he managed to use those minor wounds to shave about 8 months off the expected length of his tour of duty?

And Beldar once posed this challenge to the New York Times and others:

Can you identify even one specific and material SwiftVets allegation that you believe to have been fully “debunked” or fully proven to be “unsubstantiated”?

I am not aware that anyone ever met the challenge, though many tried. Read through his comments for some examples.

If anything is going to raise Beldar from his blogging slumber, this is it. I have sent him an e-mail with a link to the Times story. I hope to hear from him soon.

P.S. One other point from the Times article that I can’t let slide:

Another photograph provides evidence for Mr. Kerry’s version of how he won the Bronze Star. And original reports pulled from the naval archives contradict the charge that he drafted his own accounts of various incidents — which left room, the Swift boat group had argued, to embellish them.

Yet Tom Maguire (link above), who has followed this closely, says:

The Washington Post took a good look at one incident (Kerry’s Bronze Star), ran a pro-Kerry headline, and concluded that they could not sort it out. The WaPo did not research the possibility (really, a high probability) that Kerry himself wrote the report on which the Navy records are based.

The last information I had about this, I told you about here. It was a pretty convincing analysis that strongly supported the conclusion that John Kerry wrote the after-action report for the Bronze Star incident in which he pulled James Rassmann out of the water. If there is something new debunking this analysis, I haven’t heard about it, and neither has Tom Maguire. If it’s out there, I’m sure someone will let me know.

But I’m not trusting that something is true just because I read it in the New York Times. Quite the opposite, in fact.

P.P.S. The editors of the American Federalist Journal note this passage from the story:

The Swift boat group insisted that no boats had gone to Cambodia. But Mr. Kerry’s researcher, using Vietnam-era military maps and spot reports from the naval archives showing coordinates for his boat, traced his path from Ha Tien toward Cambodia on a mission that records say was to insert Navy Seals.

They respond:

You see, some records indicating that his boat went toward Cambodia at some point prove he was in Cambodia at Christmas-time in 1968.

One time, we drove from Los Angeles north towards Sacramento. This proves we were in Oregon in 1968.

Good point.

UPDATE: Unlike the records released to Stephen Braun, which were released by Kerry’s Senate office (see link above), the records released to the Boston Globe‘s Michael Kranish were apparently released to the paper directly from the Navy. (Thanks to Psyberian for the pointer.) But without Kerry releasing them to the public, this means nothing to me, because I don’t trust Kranish. To see why, read this post and the links cited therein.

UPDATE x2 [9-14-06]: Apparently all of the Form 180s called for the documents to be sent to the journalists themselves; you can see them here. Braun simply worded the story poorly, leaving the impression that they had been released though Kerry’s office.

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