Monday, July 22, 2013

Fact checking at the New Yorker

How the mighty have fallen (from the standards established by Harold Ross and William Shawn);
Fact pieces had to be approved by the Fact editor and/or Ross or later Shawn. Topics, or persons in the case of Profiles, were "reserved" by writers, or for writers by editors. After the writer wrote the first draft he or she collaborated with an editor (by letter or more often in person) in line-by-line revision. For Fiction no reservations were made; stories were considered only on submission; they were read by several editors and then a vote on acceptance was taken.
Proofs of edited stories went to the editor, copy editor, and fact-checking department. The editor reviewed all the corrections made on the proofs with the author by phone, mail, or in person. New Yorker editors were famous for "suggesting" changes; while editors were always tactful, never adversarial, writers were aware that refusing certain suggestions might mean his or her story would not appear in the magazine.
That was then, this is now (Jeffrey Toobin, who also was a 'legal expert' appearing every night during the trial on CNN) in a piece in the magazine titled, The Facts in the Zimmerman Trial;
On the night of February 26, 2012, [George] Zimmerman was patrolling the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a town-house development in Sanford, Florida. 
Not exactly, Jeff.  He was on his way to the grocery store to do his weekly shopping.
At 7:09 P.M., Zimmerman called the non-emergency police-response line. (He did not call 911.) Was he inside or outside of his car at that point? It’s not clear. 
Yes it is. He called from inside his truck. One can hear the sounds of windshield wipers at the beginning of the call, and throughout it. Toobin continues;
The range of his observations suggests that he was outside, but he also says that it’s raining. Since you can’t hear any rain on the call, it might mean that he’s still inside the vehicle. 
One would have had to have bothered to watch the re-enactment video by investigator Chris Serino and the Sanford police, we guess, to know how silly Toobin is being. However, since that was offered into evidence at the trial--which Toobin watched?--it's clear that Zimmerman first observed Trayvon Martin in front of one of the townhouses in the community, drove on (hint; he'd have to have been inside the vehicle to do that) and parked in front of the community clubhouse (he not only tells this to the dispatcher, he gives its address).  
While there, talking with the dispatcher, Trayvon approaches him and passes by Zimmerman INSIDE his truck. Back to Toobin;
(A sound that might be a door chime raises the possibility that he got out of the car during the call.) 
We'd advise Toobin not to quit his day job, but since this is his job, he ought to. In addition to the door chimes, we also hear the sound of wind indicating Zimmerman is getting out of his vehicle.
The fact of the call alone presents different avenues for interpretation. Zimmerman was conducting a neighborhood watch. Does that mean he was a frustrated, wannabe cop? Or does that mean he was a good citizen trying to help a community that was beset by break-ins?
As we've already seen, Zimmerman was on his way to the store, not 'conducting a neighborhood watch'. He explains to a dispatcher that he's seen a suspicious character--Sanford police officer Doris Singleton later tells Zimmerman that he'd done the right thing in calling it in, because that's the recommendation of the police to neighborhood watch volunteers.

....Almost immediately, the dispatcher asks (Zimmerman does not volunteer the information) the subject’s race, and Zimmerman answers, “Black.” 
Here's the actual conversation;
0:25 Dispatcher: OK.  And this guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?
0:29 Zimmerman: He looks black.
That's enough of that. Here's how Toobin ends his piece;
We’ll probably never know with absolute certainty what happened during those four (or so) critical minutes. But how people see the evidence of what happened—then and elsewhere, in this case and others—probably says more about them than about the evidence itself.
It sure does. It also tells us a lot about how the New Yorker is run these days.

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