Okrent: All the news that’s fit to print… or just NYT news?
Sunday, February 1st, 2004
A cutting self-analysis by Dan Okrent in today’s NYT, highlighting three recent stories that the Times missed. missed. “In the last several weeks, three stories launched elsewhere have been either diminished or disregarded by The Times. (Of course, among major news organizations, this not-invented-here attitude is no more exclusive to The Times than are commas.) In each case, the effort to maintain a high level of what people around here call ‘competitive metabolism’ has not served the readers well.”
1) “Last October, The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, published a series of articles revealing that ‘members of a platoon of American soldiers known as Tiger Force slaughtered an untold number of Vietnamese civilians over a seven-month period in 1967.’ The series was the product of 10 months of research conducted on two continents and in seven states.” The Times ignored the story until December 28. Executive Editor Bill Keller, writes Okrent, “told me that if his own staff had developed the Blade series, he would have put it on the front page. Yet at least partly because it was someone else’s, it ended up diminished, delayed and, in some eyes, devalued.”
2) The Times didn’t have access to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, when his book blasting the Bush administration was released. “For the historical record provided by the newspaper of record, explosive revelations about a sitting president by one of his appointees were consigned to Pages A11, A22 and A13.”
3) Finally, the Times failed to report a nuanced and powerful report about Iraqi arms in the Washington Post. Checking the facts would have been too hard, rationalizes the NYT, says Okrent. The Times excuses itself by saying it doesn’t rehash other people’s stories. “But it’s not as if The Times, and every other newspaper on the planet, doesn’t consistently publish material it hasn’t gathered on its own. When a district attorney announces an indictment, The Times doesn’t assume it needs weeks to interview witnesses, check allegations or otherwise vet the prosecutor’s charges. When a politician makes a speech, there’s often so much taken at face value a critic could argue (and in my e-mail, many, many do) that the paper is shilling for the politician. Having read Barton Gellman’s words for many years, why can’t Times editors have as much faith in them as in John Kerry’s, or Dick Cheney’s, or the Santa Barbara County prosecutor’s? They – the editors – may read The Washington Post. But how many of their readers do?”
“I understand why competition is necessary to inspire the troops. I also understand that Macy’s never carried anything with a Gimbel’s label sewn into it. But maybe The Times’s insistence on stamping its own brand on everything it touches ends up diminishing what it delivers. If the goal of newspapering is to inform the readers and create a historical record, shouldn’t the editors be telling us about everything they think is important, no mater where they find it?”
Okrent sure sounds like a blogger.