The NYT and Your Security Guardians At Work

Mark Liberman, in R.I.P. Jack Ely, quotes rather extensively from Sam Roberts, “Jack Ely, Who Sang the Kingsmen’s ‘Louie Louie’, Dies at 71“, NYT 4/29/2015, which includes this snippet:


High school and college students who thought they understood what Mr. Ely was singing traded transcripts of their meticulously researched translations of the lyrics. The F.B.I. began investigating after an Indiana parent wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in 1964: “My daughter brought home a record of ‘LOUIE LOUIE’ and I, after reading that the record had been banned on the air because it was obscene, proceeded to try to decipher the jumble of words. The lyrics are so filthy that I cannot enclose them in this letter.”

The F.B.I. Laboratory’s efforts at decryption were less fruitful. After more than two years and a 455-page report, the bureau concluded that “three governmental agencies dropped their investigations because they were unable to determine what the lyrics of the song were, even after listening to the records at speeds ranging from 16 r.p.m. to 78 r.p.m.”

It is true that Louie Louie was recorded by the Kingsmen, with Jack Ely as lead signer. It is also true that the FBI, who currently protects you from domestic terrorists and emotionally disturbed teenagers, did an obscenity investigation of the song, but, they concluded the lyrics were incomprehensible.

Where the NYT drops the ball is in attributed to the FBI a 455-page report. You can view the FBI report at: FBI Records: The Vault, under SUBJECT: LOUIE, LOUIE (THE 60’s SONG).

Like the Internet of Things, PDF viewers don’t lie and the page count for the FBI report comes to one hundred and nineteen (119) pages. Of course, the NYT did not have a link to the FBI report or else one of its proof readers could have verified that claim.

The lack of accuracy doesn’t impact the story, except the NYT doesn’t share where it saw the 455-page report from the FBI. Anything is possible and there may be such a report. But without a hyperlink, you know, those things that point to locations on the web, we won’t ever know.

What does the NYT gain by not gracing its readers with links to original materials? There are numerous NYT articles that do, so you have to wonder why it doesn’t happen in all cases?

Suggested rule for New York Times reporters: If you cite a publicly available document or written statement, include a link to the original at the first mention of the document or statement in your story. (Some of us want to know more than will fit into your story.)

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