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June 05, 2009

Today's interesting NYT Editor's Note -- UPDATED

A couple of weeks ago, just ahead of Dick Cheney's speech on national security, The New York Times ran a story saying that 14 percent of released Guantanamo detainees had returned to the fight. Interestingly, Cheney quoted the same statistic in his speech, which for some of us recalled the time when the Times published bogus "revelations" about Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, just in time for Cheney to quote the story on Meet the Press that very morning.

The problems with the Times's "returning" detainees story were evident right from the beginning. Here's Justin Elliott's early take on the matter from the day the story ran in print. The Times changed the story online but apparently saw no need for an in-print correction, according to this item from Michael Calderone at Politico.

But that was then. Today, this Editor's Note ran in the print edition, acknowledging that the original item had been deficient. Perhaps the editors were influenced by last Sunday's Frank Rich column, which pointed out there hadn't been a lot of skepticism about Cheney's national security presentation.

The Times tells Elliott today at Talking Points Memo that it wasn't spun, but the old saying still applies: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . .

One key question remains unknown: How many of these confirmed and suspected jihadis became such because of their experiences at Guantanamo and elsewhere? Here's what McClatchy reported: Did 'returning' terrorists become extremists in Guantanamo? Tom Lasseter's original report on the dangers of mixing innocents with hardened terrorists at Guantanamo is also instructive: Militants found recruits among Guantanamo's wrongly detained.

UPDATE: A more likely reason the Times acknowledged the deficiencies of its story: On Sunday, two days after the Editor's Note ran, Public Editor Clark Hoyt took the newsroom to task for the story. Read what he had to say.

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