rn: NYTimes fails to cover Chinese Embassy bombing truth


Jan Slakov

Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2000 01:33:35 -0600
From: Mark Douglas Whitaker <•••@••.•••>
Subject: [FAIR-L] ACTION ALERT: NYT on Chinese Embassy Bombing: Nothing
  to              Report (fwd)

[A little comparative media article, showing that, likely, for the United
States there's nothing to compare to.]

                    Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting
               Media analysis, critiques and news reports

New York Times on Chinese Embassy Bombing: Nothing to Report

February 9, 2000

To dozens of activists who asked why the New York Times had not reported
allegations that the U.S. deliberately targeted the Chinese Embassy in
Belgrade during the Kosovo War, Times foreign editor Andrew Rosenthal
responded that his paper was still investigating the charges. Of late he has
indicated that the investigation is complete: Unable to verify the
allegation, the Times will publish no story.

The story the New York Times will not report emerged in October 1999, when
the London Observer and the Danish paper Politiken jointly produced major
investigative articles reporting that the U.S. military, acting without
authorization from other NATO countries, deliberately attacked the embassy
in May 1999 after learning it was transmitting military signals to
Yugoslavian forces in Kosovo. The story was sourced to several well-placed
NATO officials--unnamed, but identified by position--although NATO's
official position was and continues to be that the strike was an accident.

Despite being picked up by a number of major European newspapers, the story
received virtually no attention from mainstream American media.
(See http://www.fair.org/activism/embassy-bombing.html .)

Last fall, after receiving numerous messages from readers asking the New
York Times to cover the Observer's findings, Rosenthal repeatedly wrote
personal replies saying that he had assigned reporters to look into the
story, and would publish their findings if they could verify the Observer's
and Politiken's reports. But in January 2000, Rosenthal wrote, in response
to a message from a reader:

"Our reporters spent a great deal of time on this. They found nothing to
substantiate the Observer's stories. You may notice that neither has any
other newspaper that I know of. Some carried the original Observer story,
mostly as wire service dispatches, but none found anything there on which to
follow up."

But it is not clear how seriously the Times investigated this story.
Although Rosenthal claims his reporters "spent a lot of time" investigating,
Helsoe and his collaborators say they were never contacted by anyone from
the Times. FAIR asked one of the reporters, Ed Vulliamy of the Observer's
U.S. bureau, whether contacting the authors of an expose would be out of the
ordinary for a journalist following up on the story: "That's the first phone
call I'd make," Vulliamy said.

A similar lack of outreach hampered the Washington Post's November 8 attempt
at a follow-up. An article by online military columnist William Arkin,
posted to the newspaper's website, claimed to "reconstruct" the sequence of
events leading to the embassy bombing. (See
http://www.fair.org/activism/embassy-follow-up.html .) But the chronology
Arkin came up with, involving the well-known "faulty map" explanation,
turned out to be identical to CIA director George Tenet's public account of
the embassy "mistake." One obvious explanation for Arkin's findings is that,
as he admitted in his column, he interviewed only American military
officers--a curious approach to checking a story that has European officials
pointing accusing fingers at the U.S. military.

On learning that the New York Times was unable to find sources who could
corroborate the Chinese embassy story, Helsoe expressed surprise. "If you
ask the defense chiefs of NATO, they know. If you ask the intelligence
chiefs, they know." Indeed, when Helsoe called in reporters John Sweeny and
Ed Vulliamy of the London Observer last year to help him follow up on a tip
about the embassy attack, they were readily able to find a wide variety of
sources to corroborate the story.

As FAIR reported last October, those sources included half a dozen current
and former military and intelligence officials from NATO countries,
including a four-star NATO general. The next month, both papers reported
that additional military officials had come forward to confirm the story.
Helsoe says senior Danish and British foreign ministry officials are also
aware that the bombing was deliberate.

Among mid-ranking military officers, Helsoe has said that "nearly everyone
involved in NATO air operations or signals command knows that the embassy
bombing was deliberate." (Pacific News Service, 10/20/99)  Helsoe thus
appears to have good reason to be surprised that the New York Times--one of
the world's leading international newspapers, with tremendous resources and
highly placed sources--has been unable to find officials who can verify the
Observer's charges.

The Chinese embassy bombing should not be treated lightly by journalists.
Relations with China and with the NATO allies remain deeply affected by the
incident. On January 27, the Chinese foreign ministry declared that Beijing
is still dissatisfied with NATO's explanation for the attack
(Deutsche-Presse Agentur, 1/27/00). In the U.S., China's anger was widely
portrayed as disingenuous grandstanding. The possibility that the bombing
might have been anything other than a well-intentioned mistake--or even that
the Chinese have reason to be suspicious--was usually dismissed out of hand.

Perhaps even more significant is the effect the Chinese embassy bombing,
among others,  has had on U.S.-European relations. Since the Kosovo war, the
European Union has taken major steps towards developing an independent
military identity--a trend that U.S. policymakers of both parties have
viewed with alarm. In the U.S. media, including the New York Times, the
motives driving Europe's recent moves have generally been characterized in
euphemistic terms: "The Europeans' obvious military shortcomings in this
year's war in Kosovo convinced them that they still depended far too much on
the United States to handle trouble in their own backyard." (New York Times,

But according to Helsoe, the U.S. decision to strike targets unilaterally
during a supposedly allied operation--including the Chinese embassy--has
been a major factor. "This has created a lot of friction and controversy
[between the U.S. and Europe] because the U.S. hit targets that NATO would
not have agreed to. The U.S. going it alone without the consent of its NATO
partners is very much a line" in the debate over a separate EU defense
identity. As a French defense ministry official told Helsoe: "On a
structural level, this leaves us asking questions about whether NATO can
continue to function in such a way in the longer term."

A November 1999 New York Times article (11/11/99) reported an event that
relates to part of the story: the release of a French defense ministry
report asserting that NATO operated under a de facto dual command structure
during the Kosovo war. The article reported the French claim that certain
"allied" bombing missions were actually planned and executed solely by the
U.S.--and noted that one of these missions was the raid that "alliance
officials said mistakenly hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade."

By merely describing the content of the French report--and not even
obtaining U.S. reaction to the allegations--the Times largely sidestepped
the story. After all, many European officials obviously *think* the Chinese
embassy was struck on purpose. Why do they think that? Have those countries
communicated their concerns to the U.S.? What has the U.S. reaction been?
Which other targets did the U.S. strike unilaterally during the Kosovo war?
What are the ramifications for U.S.-European relations? Clearly there is a
story here, regardless of the real reason why the embassy was bombed. As a
leading American newspaper, the New York Times is in a unique position to
try to answer these questions.

Rosenthal justifies the New York Times' silence on the story by noting that
other international papers also failed to publish original reports
corroborating the Observer story. But, as  FAIR pointed out last fall, many
of those foreign papers had run prominent wire-service accounts of the
Observer's findings. At the time, Rosenthal made a point of insisting
that--unlike the foreign news outlets--Times journalistic standards required
independent corroboration before the story could run. Now Rosenthal points
to the foreign papers' lack of corroboration to support his own paper's

A newspaper that has already published a wire-service account might well see
little need to follow up, since the Observer and Politiken themselves
published a follow-up story a few weeks later with many new sources and
details. The Times, however--like most of the U.S. media--has not published
anything at all.

ACTION: Please contact New York Times foreign editor Andrew Rosenthal, and
ask him to publish the results of his reporters' investigation into the
Chinese Embassy bombing. The bombing has caused an ongoing international
controversy, which is newsworthy regardless of which way the Times believes
the evidence points. Printing a report will also allow readers to judge the
evidence for themselves--and allow them to judge whether the New York Times'
investigation was thorough.

New York Times
Andrew Rosenthal
Foreign Editor


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