June 21, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Chris Spannos:
From reasoned reporting to drama and sensationalism, New York Times London bureau journalist Ravi Somaiya’s article today on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — and his move to acquire political asylum from Ecuador — shifted in form and content rapidly as he considered different story angles.
Using data generated by NewsDiffs, a website that uses version control to monitor each version of well placed Times articles after Times Editors publish them publicly on-line, NYT eXaminer (NYTX) tracked the on-line changes Somaiya and Editors made in his latest report on Assange.
The dead-tree edition carries the final print version of Somaiya’s article today, Thursday June 21, with the headline “Britain and Ecuador at Standoff Over Asylum as Assange Waits in Embassy.”
Times Editors began the first publicly recorded on-line version of Somaiya’s article with a significantly different title than their final product, “Assange’s Request for Asylum Puts Ecuador in Spotlight,” published yesterday, June 20, 11:19 AM, when NewsDiffs grabbed the article (all time stamps refer to NewsDiffs publication).
This headline implied a story about the future role of Ecuador and its President, Rafael Correa, in Latin America. However Somaiya does not mention Correa’s name until the 14th paragraph and only then suggests to readers that Correa may emerge as a new regional leader. Somaiya discusses this possibility in the final two paragraphs:
The asylum request could help Mr. Correa polish his reputation as a defiant provocateur in the relationship between developing Latin American nations and the United States. That anti-imperialist role has been played to great effect by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, but with Mr. Chávez ill with cancer, there is room for another political leader to take up the part, and many feel Mr. Correa is eager to do so.
Somaiya abandoned this angle in all article updates thereafter.
In other parts of Somaiya’s first version he reports important information about why Assange is seeking political asylum in the first-place — information that Times Editors subsequently deleted from all remaining versions.
The relevant information that Times Editors deleted include this paragraph:
The United States, according to persistent reports, has impaneled a grand jury to investigate Mr. Assange over the release by WikiLeaks of hundreds of thousands of classified American military and diplomatic documents in 2010.
This is not the first time that Somaiya’s reporting brought attention to the secret grand jury. Nor was it the first time that Times Editors deleted this context addressing potential U.S. political persecution of Assange. The quote below appeared in a May 30th article that Somaiya co-authored but was deleted after it had already been published on-line and without any editorial note explaining the correction:
reports that the Obama administration has obtained a sealed indictment charging Mr. Assange with espionage, as well as a range of other activities that WikiLeaks said pointed to plans to move against Mr. Assange as soon as the British court proceedings were completed.
The second version of Somaiya’s article (all four versions were updated at the same url without any correction note) contained a radically different headline and lede. “Assange Violated Bail by Seeking Asylum, Scotland Yard Says,” updated at 12:08 PM, expands on Assange breaching his bail conditions, “the WikiLeaks founder, has violated his bail conditions by seeking asylum at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Scotland Yard said on Wednesday, and is subject to arrest when he leaves the embassy.”
In all following versions Somaiya builds on this angle substantially reporting on Assange’s potential arrest in London or abroad however without ever mentioning that he has been detained for more than 560 days without charge. (Compare the first and second versions)
Times Editors gave the third version of Somaiya’s article — again — another title, “Britain and Ecuador at Standoff Over Assange’s Bid for Asylum,” updated at 5:03 PM.
To his credit, in this article Somaiya introduces the correct description of Assange’s asylum as “political asylum” rather than the less accurate phrase “protective asylum” that he used yesterday.
However, in all versions of his article, Somaiya continues to neglect the fact that both Assange and the Ecuadorean state refer to his “political asylum” application specifically in the context of Article 14. of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I look forward to when Somaiya upgrades his reporting to include this information in future articles.
In this version, however, Somaiya introduced new sensationalism — speculation about how Assange’s asylum application will play out:
It raised the prospect of a dramatic showdown: if Ecuador declines his application for asylum, he will have to leave the embassy to face arrest and probable imprisonment. If it accepts his application, he will have to make a literal sprint for South America, evading the hands of the British police in the vast tract of city between Knightsbridge and any international flight.
Somaiya carried this sensationalism into later versions of his article as well. (Compare second and third versions.)
“Britain and Ecuador at Standoff Over Asylum as Assange Waits in Embassy” (print title), is the fourth and final version of Somaiya’s article reviewed here, updated at 9:03 PM.
In this final version, Somaiya provides additional context and takes cheap jabs at Assange. For example, his passage commenting on Assange’s political asylum request:
It is a marked narrowing of horizons for a man who once sought to change the world and use radical transparency to shake what he saw as oppressive governments.
Assange is a journalist and publisher. The long-term effect of WikiLeaks’ publications, and their sources, will impact the world for the better and in ways far beyond what Somaiya or I can imagine. (Compare third and fourth versions.)
[NYT eXaminer note: NYTX does not apply version control to track updates to our site content however substantial changes will be noted here.]
[NYT eXaminer note of disclosure: Julian Assange is an NYTX Advisory Council member.]
Chris Spannos is Founder and Editor of NYT eXaminer (NYTX).
[6/21/2012, 9:50 AM - Update : This article has been corrected to indicate that all time stamps referenced in this article are not when the Times updates its version but when NewsDiffs grabs the updates.]