Who’s Right?

Did the Washington Post just catch Newsweek Syndrome?

In a top-of-the-page headline today, the Post trumpeted “Military Was Set To Down Cessna: Authority Granted As Plane Strayed Deep Into Capital.” The lede of the article, by Spencer S. Hsu and John Mintz, was pretty unequivocal: “Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld gave military officials the authority to shoot down, if necessary, a small plane that wandered into restricted airspace over the nation’s capital May 11, according to two senior federal officials.”

Fast forward to this afternoon’s New York Times afternoon update: “No Order to Down Stray Plane, Pentagon Says.” The article, written by Matthew L. Wald, is equally unequivocal: “Top military and civilian officials convened a conference call on May 11 when a private plane strayed deep into forbidden airspace in the District of Columbia, but they never reached the point of authorizing jet fighters to shoot down the plane, a Pentagon spokesman said today.” The Post’s sources are “clearly misinformed” Pentagon spokesman Bryan G. Whitman told the Times.

Beyond the “two federal officials,” the Post sources only “a senior federal law enforcement official briefed on events” who “corroborated” what the others said.

This is clear-cut case: Either Rumsfeld did give the order or he didn’t. Who got their leg pulled here? The Post or the Times?

> One e-mailer writes: “This smacks of Nixonism if indeed the Rumsfield did put out the order. I wouldn’t put it past the Bush administration to use the doubts in media raised by Newsweek to implicate any media outlet that runs items it doesn’t want to see in print. They have that much more public opinion behind them because public opinion in media is so shaken. I’m worried about what they’ll get away with.”

> Another: “My take is Rumsfeld did give the go, then the WH came down on him and he went into denial mode.” Hmm. We mused whether that was what happened with Newsweek too.