When I was a little boy growing up around here, Philadelphians had a nickname for the Philadelphia Inquirer; they called it “The Inky.”
Cute, isn’t it? Anyway, I grew up respecting the paper, because they used to do really cool stuff like this:

  • reported actual news stories, without regard to whom they might upset
  • kept the news in the news section, and the editorials in the editorial section
  • meticulously issued retractions when stories turned out to be wrong
  • Well, the times have changed, and the Inky has changed with the Times times. I have wasted countless hours of time this week searching in vain for the UNSCAM story. Nothing all week — despite the fact that it is considered the biggest story this year, and without question the largest UN scandal for many years (perhaps ever — because even the Kurt Waldheim Nazi scandal didn’t contaminate the entire UN leadership, nor was the UN discovered to be funded by Nazi money).
    I don’t know how many times I have said this, but I’ll say it again: THE STORY IS NOT BEING REPORTED. The Inquirer has not yet answered my calls or emails asking where the story is. Philadelphians do not know that the UN was running on Saddam Hussein money and the worst corruption, for years.
    Well, OK, so my local paper appears to guilty of non-reporting the biggest news story of the year. Because I grew up here and knew some of the reporters in the old days, I’d like to bend over backwards and at least play devil’s advocate.
    Might the Inky be afraid the story is fake? Especially in light of the major news scandals this week, I can understand the reluctance to report stories before all the facts are in. Otherwise, you might look bad, and have to issue retractions, right?
    This was all in the back of my mind I turned on my computer this morning and found yet another story of incredibly sloppy journalism: the misidentification of photographs of the Columbia crew’s coffins as American war casualties from Iraq. NASA issued this press release to newspaper editors:

    Columbia Crew Mistakenly Identified As Iraqi War Casualties
    Many news organizations across the country are mistakenly identifying the flag-draped caskets of the Space Shuttle Columbia’s crew as those of war casualties from Iraq.
    Editors are being asked to confirm that the images used in news reports are in fact those of American casualties and not those of the NASA astronauts who were killed Feb.1, 2003, in the Columbia tragedy.
    An initial review of the images featured on the Internet site www.thememoryhole.org shows that more than 18 rows of images from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware are actually photographs of honors rendered to Columbia’s seven astronauts.
    News organizations across the world have been publishing and distributing images featured on the web site.

    Via Glenn Reynolds, who notes,

    Here’s a partial list of outlets that were snookered. Apparently, they just picked these up from an antiwar website and didn’t do any further checking.
    Remember this when Old Media guys talk about how untrustworthy the Internet is. . . .

    Partial list?
    Surely the Inky wasn’t involved, I thought. I hoped not, because I hate having to search through piles of old newspapers. So, first I went to the Inquirer’s web site, where I found the story, which does complain of the government’s “crackdown” but which did not feature any of the misidentified NASA pictures.
    Not enough!
    One of the drawbacks of being a slob is that you have no excuse for not raking through journalistic muck to look for answers. So I dug and I dug, and suddenly VOILA! Paydirt!
    NASAcrackdown.jpg
    The photograph above is an exact match with this NASA shot. (More detail here.)
    Well, but NASA asked the Inquirer’s editors to confirm that these pictures in fact showed the Iraq dead. Did they?
    Well, sort of. In a later article about sensitivity to families (“Bush stresses privacy in coffin-photo debate”), there’s this:

    The photos were taken at the Dover base, and most were of flag-draped caskets used by the military to transport remains. But Anderson said yesterday that the photos also included images of the remains of the shuttle Columbia astronauts arriving at Dover, as well as casualties from Afghanistan. A NASA spokesman said that at least 18 rows of photos on the site were of the Columbia astronauts.
    The Inquirer and other media across the country published photos obtained by Kick. Two photos on the front page of yesterday’s editions of The Inquirer, and another on Page A11, showed flag-draped coffins containing the remains of military personnel killed in the line of duty. However, a caption with a second photo on page A11 mistakenly said the photo depicted a hearse containing the remains of U.S. war dead. The hearse carried the remains of a Columbia astronaut.
    According to his Web site, Kick, who has not returned phone calls or e-mail from the Associated Press, requested all Dover photos from Feb. 1, 2003, to the present. “He wasn’t distinguishing between what he wanted,” Anderson said. “He just wanted everything.”

    There’s also an accompanying paragraph entitled Clearing the Record:

    A caption for a photo showing an honor guard trailing a hearse in yesterday’s editions of The Inquirer contained incorrect information. The hearse carried the remains of a shuttle Columbia astronaut.

    Well, that’s all good and fine. But how do you clear a record that doesn’t exist?
    What intrigues me the most about the retraction is the complaint that the guy who supplied the photos “has not returned phone calls or e-mail.”
    That’s my complaint about the Inquirer!
    Inky don’t!
    UPDATE ON “OLD” NEWS: Speaking of Nazi Kurt Waldheim and the UN, I found a real underreported gem from 1998:

    By refusing to pay the UN “debt,” Congress would not only put a stop to the improper if not illegal practice of misappropriating funds to the UN; it would also acquire additional leverage for forcing tough reforms on that body. The latest UN scandal, uncovered by the New Yorker magazine, is that in 1994 Secretary General Kofi Annan, then director of peacekeeping, ordered UN troops in Rwanda not to intervene to stop a planned genocide campaign that took half a million lives. Annan, a veteran UN bureaucrat, has reacted to the controversy over his role in the genocide by blaming the United States for not doing more to save lives. It appears that much of our “voluntary” assistance to the UN for peacekeeping missions has been wasted.
    U.S. Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson insists that if Congress demands reimbursement or credit for all of this assistance, the UN might go bankrupt. In fact, the organization has accumulated a $15.5 billion pension fund; it even continues to pay a $102,000 annual pension to former secretary general Kurt Waldheim, who was exposed as a Nazi war criminal.
    The United Nations won’t go broke. Whether it should is another question.

    Did part of the money from Saddam Hussein’s UN slush fund help pay Kurt Waldheim’s pension?
    I don’t know, but I am not holding my breath in the hope of seeing the story in the Inky!
    MORE: I don’t know about the status of his pension, but according to this report, Kurt Waldheim is STILL ALIVE.
    ….Which is more than can be said for Waldheim’s Chief of Staff, former Iraqi UN ambassador Ismat Kittani, a Kurd who defended Saddam Hussein’s genocide against his own people. (I guess he learned a lot from his UN boss.)
    UPDATE: A big hooray to Glenn Reynolds for linking this story! Maybe now the Inquirer will answer my emails. As a matter of fact, I just sent another one earlier:

    NOTE: email addresses omitted as protection against SPAM.
    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: [Fwd: Missing news item]
    Date: Sun, 25 Apr 2004 13:57:58 -0400
    From: Eric Scheie
    To: advocate_AT_phillynews.com
    Hi,
    I am have been unable to find the hard copy of this story anywhere, and I am wondering if you can help me.
    I have received no response to my email but I am more concerned that the story itself is being ignored.
    Thank you!
    Eric Scheie
    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: Missing news item
    Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2004 09:52:06 -0400
    From: Eric Scheie
    To: nwarwick rbarron
    Dear Messrs Warwick and Barron:
    You are listed respectively as the National/Foreign Editor and the Deputy Editor/Copy Chief of the National/Foreign Desk. I have a simple question which I hope you can answer.
    I am trying to locate the hard copy of an article which appears at the Inquirer website:
    http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/8478139.htm
    Title: Probe Opens on Iraq Oil-For-Food Program
    By Dafna Linzer
    (AP)
    This is a very important story, but the problem is, I cannot find it in yesterday’s paper, and I was hoping someone there could help me. I am thinking I must be missing something, and I just wondered if either one of you might be able to tell me whether (and where) it appears in the actual newspaper.
    Thank you,
    Eric Scheie

    I have never gone to this much trouble to track down an article in the paper.
    Anyway, a big welcome to all new readers here from InstaPundit!
    UPDATE: Sometimes I think I am living in two separate worlds: the online world and the “real” world. In the online world I take it for granted that I can get the news, even if it means having to sort through various stories, looking past bias here or an inaccuracy there. In the online world I can read news stories saying that UNSCAM is:

    the biggest scandal ever to engulf the organisation.
    At least $1.1 billion was paid directly into UN coffers, supposedly to cover the cost of administering the $67 billion scheme, while Saddam Hussein diverted funds intended for the poor and sick of Iraq to bribe foreign governments and prominent overseas supporters of his regime. (Via Friends of Saddam. )

    In the “real” world of the Philadelphia Inquirer, I see that there is no such scandal, because it is not reported. Yet that same paper then lectures me about “the importance of an informed electorate in a democracy.” From today’s editorial:

    ….57 percent of the 1,311 Americans questioned last month still believe that “before the war Iraq was providing substantial support to al-Qaeda.” That is simply not so. Twenty percent believe Iraq had a direct connection to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Also not so. Thirty-eight percent believe prewar Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
    Many Americans cling to these beliefs, even as inspections and investigations have found no proof of them. Believers conceivably could still be proved right regarding WMD, but proof so far is shockingly lacking.
    What these findings put at center stage is the importance of an informed electorate in a democracy.

    The figure I’d like to see is what percentage of Philadelphians know about the biggest scandal to hit the UN, funded by Saddam Hussein.
    The electorate is uninformed all right….
    UPDATE: THE REAL WORLD REPLIES! I was amazed to receive the following reply this morning from Marlena Slowik at the Philadelphia Inquirer:

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: RE: [Fwd: Missing news item]
    Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2004 10:42:14 -0400
    From: Slowik, Marlena
    To: escheie
    Dear Mr. Scheie: This story ran last Wednesday. Please contact our back issues dept at 215-854-4444 to obtain a hard copy.
    Thanks.
    Marlena
    —–Original Message—–
    From: Eric Scheie
    Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2004 1:58 PM
    To: advocate
    Subject: [Fwd: Missing news item]
    Hi,
    I am have been unable to find the hard copy of this story anywhere, and I am wondering if you can help me.
    I have received no response to my email but I am more concerned that the story itself is being ignored.
    Thank you!
    Eric Scheie

    You can imagine how foolish this made me feel. Chagrined, I decided to spend more time, and carefully go through Wednesday’s entire paper, paragraph by paragraph.
    No luck. The story could not be found. So I replied to the email:

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: Re: [Fwd: Missing news item]
    Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2004 11:40:36 -0400
    From: Eric Scheie
    To: Slowik, Marlena
    References:
    Marlena,
    Thanks so much for replying. Could you just tell me what page it’s on? I still have the paper, but I just can’t find it. I have looked carefully through Sections A, B, C, D, and E (F is the Classified), but it just doesn’t seem to be there.
    Thanks again!
    Eric

    I was starting to think, “Well, I’m out in the slurbs, and maybe this was in a later edition or something. Maybe there is a hard copy.”
    But then I got this:

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: RE: [Fwd: Missing news item]
    Date: Mon, 26 Apr 2004 11:55:52 -0400
    From: Slowik, Marlena
    To: Eric Scheie
    Hi Eric: I checked with our Online Editor who replies:
    in double-checking, i see that it did not run in the inquirer. It’s a story that Knight Ridder Digital posted in its national news box directly from AP. So he won’t find the story in the newspaper.
    So the story only ran online and not in the paper. I hope this answers your questions.
    Thanks.
    Marlena

    “It did not run in the Inquirer.”
    Nor has it run since.
    Philadelphians are not supposed to know about such things. That’s because of the “importance of an informed electorate in a democracy.”