"… new details from the Army's criminal investigation into reports of abuse of Iraqi detainees …
"… U.S. soldiers reportedly posed for photographs with partially unclothed Iraqi prisoners …"
"… the Army's Criminal Investigation Division has focused on these pictures, which may depict male and female soldiers."
"… there are 'credible reports' that there may be photographs of the alleged abuse."
Three days before the CNN report, on Jan. 17, the New York Times reported from Washington that "the top American commander in Iraq has ordered a criminal investigation into allegations that detainees at the sprawling Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad have been abused by American forces."
No details of the abuse were reported and the Times didn't run another story on the investigation until May 1, two days after the 60 Minutes report.
Vaughn Ververs raises this question in the NationalJournal.com: "The episode did get us thinking once again about how news becomes news."
I don't agree with Ververs that "there is more than a bit of false outrage on the part of those involved, as well as the media, about the whole story," but his question is valid, as is the answer he supplies: The abuse at Abu Ghraib became a big story when 60 Minutes broadcast the photographs. He writes:
"There is no way to overestimate the impact that visual images have on our world. Still photos or video, we've now reached the point where nothing happened unless it was seen on TV." (Emphasis added.)
That is, of course, correct for the more-than-half of all Americans who don't read a daily newspaper, but it overlooks the powerful impact of the printed word when it is backed by substantive reporting and displayed in prominent fashion.
If the New York Times had not apparently been content to leave the Abu Ghraib issue as a 373-word, Page 7, Saturday story, and had pursued and pushed it onto the front page, then it would have been a daily newspaper and not a weekly TV show and magazine who was leading the reporting on the story.
Neither the New York Times nor CNN followed up on their initial Abu Ghraib stories. I'm sure people in each organization are asking why. Newspapers must be more aggressive. They have more resources, more reporters and more space than any other news medium.
What matters most these days for newspapers is the quality of their work. Everything else is media noise. As Ververs says about the news media in general:
"In this country, there are three broadcast news organizations, three 24-hour cable news networks, a dozen or so major papers, dozens more mid-major papers and even more news magazines. Yet aside from feature stories on women's health or the 'Fleecing of America,' most cover the same news day after day, week after week." (Emphasis added.)
To make a difference, newspapers must differentiate themselves from the crowd. If they don't, they're destined to continue writing Page 1 stories whose first graph contains the words "according to 60 Minutes" or "Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker."
UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that "the US media was slow to jump on allegations of abuse by American soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison."
First Draft Digital Proof, Human Source