Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

There’s a new Public Editor in town!

with 3 comments

For the first time, the NY Times has a Public Editor (aka ombudsman) who actually is addressing critical issues. Consider today’s column, for example: Margaret Sullivan in the NY Times:

In one of the most fascinating media-related pieces I’ve read in a while, Dan Froomkin interviews Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two longtime Washington observers who wrote a book together and soon after, they say, found themselves near pariahs in a city that didn’t want to hear what they had to say.

Mr. Froomkin’s piece from The Huffington Post is titled “How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign.”

And that bungled story, he says, is that Republicans lied their way through the campaign with impunity. As Mr. Froomkin writes, the pair’s major splash took place last spring, when The Washington Post published their essay “Let’s Just Say It: The Republicans Are the Problem,” adapted from their book, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism.”

The two commentators, in this new piece, have harsh words for almost everybody, though they do give some credit to the New York Times Washington reporter Jackie Calmes, and a few others. Mr. Ornstein is also very tough on newspaper ombudsmen — and his points are duly noted here.

I find Mr. Ornstein and Mr. Mann’s observations smart, provocative and on target in many, though not all, places.

I disagree, for example, that the move toward fact-checking has made the press’s performance worse. On that subject, I agree with The Times’s political editor, Richard Stevenson, who told me last September in a columnI wrote on this subject that he saw the move toward “truth-squading” as “one of the most positive trends in journalism that I can remember.” But to take it one step further, I believe that fact-checking should be more integrated into every story and not treated as a separate entity off to the side.

And I think the two commentators fail to see the progress that The Times and other newspapers are making – away from false equivalence and toward stating established truths and challenging falsehoods whenever possible.

That progress, granted, isn’t happening fast enough or – more important — sweepingly enough. And their point of view ought to provoke some journalistic soul-searching.

I’ll be interested in Times readers’ reactions. Based on voluminous reader reaction whenever I’ve written about fact-checking and false balance, there seems to be almost nothing that they care about more.

Read the articles at the links. Fascinating. And long-overdue and most welcome.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 December 2012 at 12:17 pm

Posted in GOP, Media, NY Times

3 Responses

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  1. A Times figurehead thinks the Times should be congratulated on “making progress” away from countenancing deliberate lies and both-sides-do-it false equivalencies, and toward toward telling the truth — when “possible”.

    How … cute. Makes me wish I had a camera right now. Once upon a time I thought that was supposed to be their business.

    I guess I’ll believe it when I see it. Does Kit Seelye still have a job?

    Josh in CA

    11 December 2012 at 9:40 am

  2. I agree that the Times has a ways to go. But I see nothing at all in this column that I can object to—especially compared to previous Public Editors. I don’t think berating current reporters would help bring change, but praising and recognizing reporters who are moving in the right direction could be effective.

    Don’t overlook what you yourself point out: she is being paid by the organization, and if she goes into public rants against the Times her tenure would be quite short. Indeed, even this column makes me think steps may be taken to shut her down. As she points out, Mann and Ornstein have been ostracized since they published their critique.

    Not only does Kit Seelye still have a job (so far as I know), but Bill Keller, of all people, is still featured on the opinion page: Bill Keller, shameless Iraq War supporter, who held back the story of the warrantless wiretaps so that George W. Bush could be re-elected and went public only when the reporter who worked on it was about to break the story in another paper.

    The Times does have problems, but it seems to me that this Public Editor is addressing them quite forthrightly and openly—which makes me think that she will suffer some repercussions.


    11 December 2012 at 10:06 am

  3. Well, I grew up reading the NYT every day — from way out here in the West — but (a bit like a jilted lover) after the last 15 years or so I guess I’m feeling somewhat bitter toward them.

    By the way, you touched on one of larger reasons for that in Bill Keller’s decision to sit on the warrantless wiretapping story — at the Bush White House’s request — until after the election. (Well played, O Paper of Record.)

    If you recall, they also launched a “credibility project” in the wake of Judith Miller’s disgrace and golden-parachute departure (hilariously, that particular announcement was given to Kit Seelye to report; I’ll always wonder what happened to that assignment editor), but seven years later here is their own Public Editor still having to defend, not any actual accomplishment but merely some supposed progress toward truthfulness — because their somnambulistic reporting over yet another campaign and election has again lacked a certain something … like attention to facts, for example, or accuracy, or follow-up questions or ….

    Applause for the progress, whatever it may be, but for me the sound-track right now is still “Rock Salt and Nails”.

    Josh in CA

    11 December 2012 at 11:26 am

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