- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

Getting recognized
In a business as competitive as ours, it is tremendously satisfying to break an important story and then watch as the titans of the industry scramble to follow up your report. Conversely, there are few things more frustrating than to break a story and have it go unnoticed, only to watch one of those same titans claim it as their own exclusive a day or a week later.
Often the incidents are humorous, such as when The Washington Post reported in a front-page story June 11 that the United States had deported 131 Pakistanis held mostly on immigration charges in a secret airlift to their homeland.
As "Inside The Beltway" columnist John McCaslin pointed out the next day, our own diplomatic columnist James Morrison had reported the deportations 10 days earlier. As for the airlift being a secret, Mr. McCaslin noted that Mr. Morrison's column was based on a Pakistan Embassy press release.
The Post reporter, to his credit, sent an e-mail to Mr. Morrison apologizing the next day, and the Post ombudsman also acknowledged the overstatement.
I had no such satisfaction after filing what I considered a ground-breaking story early last month.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the Bush administration's point man for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, had turned up on short notice at a weekend conference sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy to discuss the administration's plans for a post-war Iraq.
He said a post-Saddam Iraq would enjoy a broad-based democratic government, tolerance for religious minorities and an effective judicial system. A major reconstruction project would be undertaken, and a limited number of Saddam's top aides would be tried for crimes against humanity.
I thought I had an important story and wrote it for our front page the next day, but it sank like a stone, exciting no comment of any kind that I am aware of.
Mild disappointment turned to frustration four days later when the New York Times published a front-page article laying out the administration's postwar plans.
It covered all the points Mr. Khalilzad had made plus one gem: that Iraq, in the initial phase, "would be governed by an American military commander who would assume the role that Gen. Douglas MacArthur served in Japan after its surrender in 1945."
That much was just good reporting. What irked was a later paragraph that said: "Today marked the first time the administration has discussed what could be a lengthy occupation by coalition forces, led by the United States."

China's change
All this came to mind as we watched another news organization get short shrift during coverage of the Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing this week.
All the reporters were lusting for a list distributed to delegates Monday with the names of candidates for the party's new Central Committee. If President Jiang Zemin was on the list, it would confirm the rumors that had swirled all summer that he was resisting plans for his retirement from his key post as party chairman.
Reuters news agency reported that the list had been circulated but was "enveloped in secrecy." The Associated Press on that day skipped the issue altogether and dealt with other matters.
Alone among the major news agencies, Agence France-Presse got a delegate to show its reporter the list. In an article bylined by Cindy Sui, it reported definitively that Mr. Jiang and several of his most senior colleagues were not included as candidates, confirming their decisions to step down.
Though most major papers overlooked it, it was a fine piece of reporting, unmatched by any other organization until a Reuters reporter got a look at the list two days later.
I couldn't help but feel for Miss Sui, then, when Reuters wrote a story identical to hers in all its essential points but pitched it as if no reporter had seen the list before.
"Delegates to China's Communist Party Congress ended months of speculation on Wednesday, confirming Jiang Zemin would step down as party chief and make way for a new generation of leaders this week," their lead said.
It may be some comfort to Miss Sui that few papers will have printed the Reuters story either. That was overtaken by events when the names of the retiring officials were formally announced before U.S. deadlines that night.


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