The Boston Globe’s ombudsman, Christine Chinlund, and columnist Ann Coulter each discuss the situation which began when a woman overheard a conversation between three Arab medical students. I make no representations as to the accuracy of either version, but they are interesting to compare and contrast. Chinlund’s piece was published on Monday, and Coulter’s appeared today.
Eunice Stone listened as the men, one wearing a Muslim cap, chatted at a nearby table. She thought she heard them joking about 9/11 and plotting to bring down Miami, so she called the State Patrol. The students, detained a day later, explained they were talking about bringing a car down to Miami from their home in Chicago, to drive while they completed their clinical rotation at a South Miami hospital.
They denied plotting violence or joking about 9/11. They also denied authorities' later suggestion that they spiced up their conversation for Stone's benefit once they realized she was eavesdropping - making them sick tricksters, if not terrorists.
By my count, the Muslims have given at least five versions of what happened. Eunice Stone has given one consistent story. She has been interrogated by law enforcement officials and is corroborated by another witness.
…the [students] first told law enforcement officers they did it on purpose. Stone, they said, was watching them too closely and this [annoyed them]. So they decided to scare her. [Chinlund, by the way, says this was unsourced.]
…Next, the Muslims told reporters that Stone had "put a little salt and pepper into her story." A stunned CNN correspondent blurted out: "Salt and pepper?" He reminded them what Stone had heard them say. "Well, yes, whatever," came the reply.
Third, they tried out the hysterical-woman defense… One of the Muslims tauntingly demanded to know "how many other people witnessed this event that supposedly took place, first of all?" Well, at least one other person. Stone's son was there and he heard the conversation exactly the same way. He just thought the men were playing his mother and him for suckers…
Fourth, the Muslims … advised Americans to "read about other people and read about what they believe before we jump to conclusions."
…it now appears that their final answer is: They were talking about a car. They didn't say anything about 9/11 or 9/13, but the "bring it down" bon mot referred to bringing a car down to Florida. This occurred to them only after meeting with their lawyers….
It is, of course, possible the medical students did change their story. It's hard to know exactly what was, and wasn't, said at the Shoney's breakfast table. Georgia authorities are still investigating the possibility of a hoax.
To the Globe's credit, its account did include comments from the students' relatives expressing doubt about Stone's allegations. And the paper did set the record straight a day later by publishing the denials - on page A18. But those efforts don't offset the omission of the students' denial in the initial front page story. Their words were essential for a fair portrayal of confusing events.
According to accounts in The New York Times, the men were uncooperative, refused to answer basic questions, gave false information and told contradictory stories. A bomb-sniffing dog reacted to the presence of explosives in both vehicles. After a careful search, however, no explosives were found and the men were released.
…the men and their families accused Americans, especially Southerners, of being ignorant racists. "Just because of the way we look or the way we choose to live our lives, we're persecuted," said the sister of one. Demonstrating her own open-mindedness, she explained the entire incident by saying, "Unfortunately, they stopped in a restaurant in Georgia."