Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Unsubstantiated Accusations From The New York Times?

An astute reader e-mails an excellent observation:

Both Bumiller and Zernike and Alessandra Stanley's articles in today's New York Times contain a phrase revolve around the concept of "substantiated." The Bumiller and Zernike article calls the Swift Boat Veterans' charges "mostly unsubstantiated" while Stanley says the charges "have not been substantiated."

It was my understanding that in the newspaper business, "substantiated" simply meant independent sources who said the same thing. While there is a lot of dispute about the charges, there are numerous eyewitness sources unconnected with the two authors of Unfit for Command who have made these charges. Of course, to call the charges "disputed," as they should be, would cast the controversy in an entirely different light, because no one thinks it is wrong to air "disputed" charges; the name we have for that process is called an election.

Does the Times have a different meaning of "substantiated" than the one I understand?

The Times seems to be treating the testimony of everyone who endorses the Swiftee accusations - even the testimony of actual, live witnesses on the scene in South East Asia - as incapable of substantiating the "unsubstantiated" Swiftee accusations against John Kerry. If so, that would be more than odd. How would the Times apparent terminology work in other contexts? For example, is a murder conviction that is proved "only" by the testimony of accusing eyewitnesses really an "unsubstantiated" conviction or one that is "mostly unsubstantiated" or one that has "not been substantiated" - even where the courts find that the crime has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt by exactly that testimony, which often happens? By way of another example, the Constitution provides that no Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. Would the Times report that a conviction of "treason" on the testimony of two eye witnesses to an overt act was "unsubstantiated?" (Of course, just to be clear, no one is suggesting that John Kerry ever committed treason, although he did accuse himself of committing war crimes.) The Swiftees do seem to have many more than two witnesses testifying for many of their accusations.

The Times terminology would be especially odd in this case because at least some of John Kerry's exploits on which some of his honors were predicated seem to be documented only by his own word. In other words, those honors were documented not just by the testimony of only one witness, but of a highly interested witness with a big conflict of interest. In the curious apparent argot of the Times, that would seem to make at least some of those honors "mostly unsubstantiated" or lead to a conclusion that the honors "have not been substantiated." Is that the conclusion the Times or Kerry-Edwards wants the public - or the language - to accept?

Strange it was. Passing strange.

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