In an August 21 story posted on the New York Times website about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s talk to a veterans group the day before, reporter Jeff Zeleny attributed to Obama a dig at the anti-war movement that the Democratic candidate did not make.
After reporting that, “One of the biggest applause lines of his speech came when he pledged that during an Obama administration, veterans would not have to wait months — or years — for services at veterans hospitals,” Zeleny added, “He also said it was wrong for anti-war activists to protest at military funerals, declaring: ‘It needs to stop.'”
However, Obama never mentioned anti-war protestors in his speech, which is available as a video file on KCTV’s website. Here’s what Obama actually said about military funerals:
Zeleny presented no evidence that Obama was referring to anti-war protesters, who in any case have not been associated with protests at military funerals. However, several such demonstrations have been staged by the fanatically homophobic Westboro Baptist Church headed by Fred Phelps. These demonstrations celebrate soldiers’ deaths as God’s punishment for the military’s toleration of gay troops under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rules, brandishing signs with slogans such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “God Hates Fags” and “Thank God for IEDs.”
This is not the first time in the Times‘ pages that anti-war demonstrators have been confused with the rabidly homophobic cult. On June 12, 2006, a Times op-ed by blogger Karen Spears Zacharias claimed, “Hundreds of anti-war protestors…appear at military hospitals and funerals.” Responding to a FAIR Action Alert (6/16/06), the Times issued a correction acknowledging that the one organization they found that had actually protested at the funerals was the anti-gay Westboro church. (Anti-war demonstrations at military hospitals have largely been in support of troops and improved services for veterans.)
As FAIR wrote in that Action Alert, “such anecdotes have the potential to smear an entire political movement, and live on long after they are published.” Indeed, the Times‘ unsubstantiated smear of the anti-war movement appears to still live on at the Times, over a year after the newspaper published its correction.
ACTION: Ask New York Times public editor to correct the smear of the anti-war movement the Times erroneously put in Barack Obama’s mouth.
New York Times
Public Editor Clark Hoyt