Friday, August 19, 2005

The NYT excuse: choosing incompetence over bias

On Aug. 7, I wrote an exceedingly polite e-mail to the editors of the New York Times, the Associated Press and Editor & Publisher, asking them to explain the news judgment that went into ignoring the Air America story. I called them "esteemed editors" and I didn't call them names or speculate about their motivation, but I did, literally, question their news judgment.

At that time, the scandal was more than two weeks old.

Ten days later, an answer, of sorts, comes from the NYT's "public editor."

Byron Calame admits that the NYT screwed up. He characterizes the lack of coverage as "slowness," not sitting on the story in hopes that it will go away.

He appropriately points out that the Times was all over the starry-eyed beginnings of the Air America boondoggle.

The problem, Calames says, is that the story naturally fell to three different desks in the newsroom: metropolitan, business and culture. It sounded as if he were describing three Little Leaguers in the outfield bumping into each other and dropping the ball.

But that would be more like the way I played softball when I was in elementary school: sitting in the grass looking for four-leaf clovers when the ball came bouncing my way and while the runners rounded the bases. Overeager Little Leaguers would be fighting to cover the scandal from all three desks.

With its vast staff and resources, the NYT was scooped by the bloggers and the New York Post, and the institution apparently doesn't even have the initiative to be embarrassed.

Calames insists that left-wing bias has nothing to do with it. I would think an admission left-wing bias would be less humiliating than the kind of sedentary bureaucracy that can't rise to report on a criminal investigation of an alleged fraud of a charitable organization.

How long will anybody care what the Times has to say?

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