APer blasts ‘patently false’ scoop claims in NYT oil spill story

Romenesko Misc.
Associated Press oil spill reporter Harry Weber says of the New York Times’ Sunday “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours” story: “Their key assertions that the destruction of the Horizon ‘has escaped intense scrutiny’ and that the final hours are only now possible to piece together are patently false. …A dozen different AP staffers as early as May have done numerous spot, enterprise and investigative reconstruct pieces on every element in the Times story, plus many they didn’t focus on.”

From: Weber, Harry

To:
Subject: Times story

Friends,

Journalistically speaking, this has been the most incredible year of my life. I almost wish it didn’t have to end in five days _ so I could savor it with all of my talented colleagues at the AP for a while longer.

Most of all, I wish it wouldn’t end because I fear that once it does end amnesia will set in among the American public, and even some of our own top managers, and people will forget just how incredible the AP did on the Gulf oil spill story _ from public service, to breaking news, to investigative work to photography to video to multimedia.

The New York Times is counting on that amnesia.

Today, the Times published a 5,000 word reconstruct on the disaster, some eight months after the fact. In their nut graf, they assert that “this was a disaster with two distinct parts — first a blowout, then the destruction of the Horizon. The second part, which killed 11 people and injured dozens, has escaped intense scrutiny, as if it were an inevitable casualty of the blowout. It was not.”

They go on to assert that their story “based on interviews with 21 Horizon crew members and on sworn testimony and written statements from nearly all of the other 94 people who escaped the rig” along with thousands of documents “obtained by The New York Times describing the rig’s maintenance and operations make it possible to finally piece together the Horizon’s last hours.”

There’s just one problem, of course: Their key assertions that the destruction of the Horizon “has escaped intense scrutiny” and that the final hours are only now possible to piece together are patently false.

More importantly, the documents they refer to, from my reading of the story, are a compilation of documents released during the USCG-BOEM investigative hearings and other records AP long ago reported on. They also assert they have “newly uncovered images” of the disaster that bolster their point.

A dozen different AP staffers as early as May have done numerous spot, enterprise and investigative reconstruct pieces on every element in the Times story, plus many they didn’t focus on. The AP has aggressively and repeatedly scrutinized the subject in all media platforms. As for the images they included from a person on a “nearby boat” _ that is the most laughable. We had more than 100 exclusive images provided to us by the crew of the Joe Griffin, which helped fight the fire, in early May.

The timing of the Times story is interesting _ six days before the end of the calendar year. It seems to me they want to have the last word of the year on the oil spill, perhaps as a nod to the Pulitzer board in hopes the board has a bout of amnesia too. But the Times doesn’t own the history books.

My hope for the new year is that we don’t let people forget about what the AP did in 2010.

Harry

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  • Anonymous

    “Clarifying” has no bearing on his initial error.

    The author spoke to the truth.

    Read it again.

  • Anonymous

    What does your snarky comment have to do with the fact of the matter?

    Move on.

  • Anonymous

    As a former newspaper and later a newswire reporter, anyone from AP should know that the wire guys are lower than whale shit. The NYT editors do not even read Reuters or the AP and if they think the mainstream general news wires did a good job on an enterprise story, then they will absolutely positively you can bet your life on it send their own reporter to cover it. Harry should know this. AP does good work. But it is not a wire for the people. It is a wire for the media first and foremost. Im sure the NYT guys used a lot of AP stories for research. This is probably just really a letter to AP staffers, as a high five to one another re a job well done, which no one disputes. Lets put it this way, AP, you cover oil spills better than you covered the run up to the Iraq War and Hussein´s WMDs. Good job.

  • Anonymous

    As a former newspaper and later a newswire reporter, anyone from AP should know that the wire guys are lower than whale shit. The NYT editors do not even read Reuters or the AP and if they think the mainstream general news wires did a good job on an enterprise story, then they will absolutely positively you can bet your life on it send their own reporter to cover it. AP usually is the first on the scene, but average readers dont get the AP. They need newspapers. The AP doesnt necessarily write for the public. They write for newspapers.

  • Anonymous

    It seems Chris has clarified what he was saying. It seems some crow consumption is in order.

  • Anonymous

    I agree, but I also think most readers see right through the self promotion to focus othe meat in the story. Whether we like it or not most media outlets are ‘for profit’ businesses and as such are competing with each other. In that vein I understand Mr. Webber’s frustration, but whining about it in a public forum isn’t winning any sympathy from me. To me, that he felt the need to point out that this was a shameless Pulitzer entry demonstrates little respect for the actual Pulitzer board.

  • http://twitter.com/LVLegalNews Doug McMurdo

    The AP did a wonderful job reporting on the spill. What makes me lose sleep is how the media capitulated when BP and the US government conspired to keep reporters and photojournalists away from the destruction caused by the oil. Seems like we would have learned our lesson about letting others control the message after 9/11.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stufalk Stuart Falk

    Harry Weber’s bitter rant won’t fool anybody with a respect for the type of thorough and honest investigative journalism as practiced by the New York Times. I feel sorry for Mr. Weber and am disappointed in him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=789050619 Chris Clonts

    To try to clarify: I was not taking issue with AP’s claims either way. I was expressing a relatively universal frustration over the near industry-wide practice (as demonstrated here by the NYT “Final Hours” story) of braying and chest-thumping before delivering the actual news, if there is any.

    As we’ve all seen at various times, the practice often leads to inflated or fleeting claims of exclusivity, insight and marketing hubris like “reporting horsepower that only (name of organization) can bring to bear on this important issue.” All of which matter very little to the audience and serve to reduce, not heighten, the impact of the information being revealed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Yeesh. You’re a real Internet commenter, aren’t you.

  • Anonymous

    The AP writer didn’t say anything about plagiarism, only that the NYT’s is trying to garner recognition for “breaking the story,” when in fact they did nothing of the kind. You and others here are confusing the issue, but based on your comments I still think a reading comprehension course is in order.

    The AP was the first on the scene, did most of the initial reporting, and I’ve yet to read any comments relating to any inaccuracies via their sources or reporters.

    The fact that the NYT’s is accurate, at least in your estimation, doesn’t negate the fact that they’re trying to say they were the first to report…and that is patently false.

    THAT is what this article is about…period.

  • Anonymous

    You have a lot of gall going back to the “reading comprehension” thing after your embarrassing misread of Chris Clonts’ post.

    What you fail to “comprehend” is that most readers of the article really don’t care much who “scooped” the story first. What I care about is the accuracy of the story. I read this post in the first place because the title led me to believe that the NYT story was inaccurate.

    Now, I get it that journalists are competitive and want credit for being the first to report something, but this post reeks of weakness and whining about how unfair the NYT is. I have to assume that the Pulitzer board is much more tuned-in to the reporting history of a major story like this than me, the average reader, and would conclude whether or not the analysis was original.

    Like I said before, if there was really fire here, the APer would accuse the NYT of plagiarism. He didn’t so he’s just complaining that it’s not obvious to everyone how great the AP is and how pathetic the NYT is. Like I said, weak.

  • Anonymous

    Yikes. Sounds like someone doesn’t like watching a once-powerful, respected news organization fade into syndicate status. Like screaming to a nearly empty auditorium that your show is a hit.

  • Anonymous

    No one is saying the article in the NYT’s is not “well presented,” just that they’re taking credit for the “scoop.” The AP was all over this story way before many of the major papers thought to jump in. Do some research and see how many stories are dated “before” the AP’s.

    I think many here need to enroll in a reading comprenshion course or maybe you can have someone else read it to you, and explain it.

  • Anonymous

    So you think Chris was referring to the NYT’s article, and not what is printed above…as in:

    “Journalistically speaking, this has been the most incredible year of my life. I almost wish it didn’t have to end in five days _ so I could savor it with all of my talented colleagues at the AP for a while longer.”

    Read it again and get back to me.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, didn’t mean to double post.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, bitter. He’s bitter that everyone who reads the NYT piece doesn’t immediately think “LIARS SCOUNDRELS”. The whole piece sounds like a bunch of whining about how unfair the NYT is and that they should have written an article honoring the AP. He doesn’t dispute any of the analysis or conclusions in the article. He’s bent because the NYT asserts “it’s finally possible…”. When I read “it’s patently false..” I expected him to challenge the conclusions or analysis,he didn’t. He also didn’t directly accuse the NYT of plagiarism, which would have been something.

    I read the 5000 word NYT article online and found the information well presented with useful graphics and animations. I consume a lot of news form various sources and must have missed the numerous AP stories that told is tale. All I heard is this APer whining ‘no fair, my story’.

    Also, your ad hominem attack speaks for itself.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Weber, that the NYT piece is giving itself far too much credit. There is a bit of a twist in the angle they take on a body of info that has been reported on extensively over the last 8 months by AP/WSJ and those of us as smaller papers — the idea that the crews failed to use the tools on hand at the moments of the blast. But it’s hardly revelatory, unless one stopped following the story after the first couple of months. I had the initial reaction to the story as Weber: it seemed like the Times is finishing up its Pulitzer package application. The WSJ tick-tock done while the oil was still spilling still seems to be the best explainer (done without the benefit of many more weeks of open testimony), while the Times-Picayune animated graphic of the accident and the aftermath was also the tops in the coverage.

  • Anonymous

    I’d agree that the NYT piece gives itself far too much credit. The way they package the large body of information that has been out there for months and reported on extensively by AP/WSJ and those of us at smaller papers was a bit new — that the crews failed to use the tools on hand at the moments of the blow out. But they hardly broke new ground. My first reaction was the same as Weber’s: that its an effort to tie-up their Pulitzer entry package.

    I still think the WSJ ‘tick-tock’ stories done much earlier in the year while the oil was still flowing did a better job of cutting to the heart of the matter. And the Times-Picayune still has the best animated graphic of the disaster and spill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=504633504 Dan Mitchell

    Speaking of comprehension, I’m pretty sure Chris was referring to the Times’ story, not the AP guy’s complaint. Hence,”story.”

  • Anonymous

    I think the point is not how “awesome” the AP is, it’s that the NYT’s are lying.

  • Anonymous

    That’s all you got out of this article? That he’s “bitter?”

    You need to take a course in reading comprehension.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, I taste sour grapes, salted with tears and a dash of bitters. Yuck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=789050619 Chris Clonts

    Anytime you have that much pretentious throat-clearing at the top (or anywhere in) a story, it reeks of (with apologies to Dave Barry) “Caution: Contest Entry In Progress!” Just tell the dang story. Don’t tell readers how awesome you think you are.