Sunday, December 9, 2018

From the Public Editor of The New York Times

Editors' Note:  You may recall that two years ago The New York Times fired its Public Editor, the person who was supposed to respond to reader complaints and concerns and determine if they had any merit.  The Times decided that they didn't need such a position because apparently no reader complaint ever had any merit.  As we have reached something of an opposite conclusion, as a public service we have redeployed our versatile Meta-Content Generator to take on the job, without any additional compensation [WTF? – A.J.L.].  If you have any complaints regarding Times coverage, just direct it to him and he'll be glad to look into it.

By A.J. Liebling
New York Times Public Editor, apparently

Coverage of Sen. Warren's DNA test

Readers expressed concern over a front-page article appearing in the Times on December 6, with the online headline of

The story, written by Astead W. Herndon, of the Times Washington bureau, contended that Senator Warren's decision to take a DNA test to prove her mother was not lying about her Native American ancestry despite false charges to the contrary leveled by the President was continuing to weigh down her political fortunes,

Among the few on-the-record sources Ms. Herndon cited was a Democratic operative working for one of Sen. Warren's potential rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination.  It also quoted a self-styled Native American activist, one Twila Barnes, who has been critical of Sen. Warren in her appearances on Fox News.

Reader Paul W. of Washington, D.C. commented:

Welcome to “But her emails!”, version 2020.

Even if you think Warren shouldn’t have bothered with the DNA test, answer this question: So what? I mean actually answer it. See if you can complete this sentence without sounding ridiculous: Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test is extremely important to the question of what sort of president she would be and deserves endless discussion because ___.
We thought that Paul W. had raised a valid point.  Even if some of her Democratic rivals and other opponents were critical of her decision to rebut the President, why was this worthy of a front-page story, in lieu of considering Sen. Warren's actual policies and positions?

We asked Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet to respond to readers' concerns.  He replied, “Fuck off.  I don't have the time to respond to assholes like you.”

We think Mr. Baquet's comment did not fully reflect the legitimate concerns raised by Paul W. and others.  The story should not have run, and certainly not on page one.

Maureen Dowd's continuing obsession with the Clintons

Many readers were critical of Maureen Dowd's December 1 op-ed column in the Times, in which she criticized Bill and Hillary Clinton because they were not attracting sellout crowds in Toronto, Canada.  They saw it as the most recent installment of her apparently endless feud with the Clintons, based on Bill Clinton's failure to resist the sexual advances of an intern and Hillary's subsequent disinclination to divorce him.

Reader Sarah K. from St. Louis Tweeted in response to complaints about the column:
The gravamen of the column appeared to be Ms. Dowd's complaint that the Clintons have made a lot of money from their speeches and writing, like most former Presidents and Senators (or indeed like newspaper columnists).  Further, Ms. Dowd appeared to believe that the Clintons' interest in remaining a part of the national political conversation was illegitimate, without explaining why that should be for a former President, Senator, and Secretary of State.

We asked New York Times Editorial Page Editor James Bennet to respond to these concerns.  In an email, he said: “Fuck you.  Freddie would kill for columnists like her.  Why shouldn't she comment incessantly about the Clintons?  Who are you?  Nobody.  If you have any future concerns about my Op-Ed Page, eat shit and die.”

At press time, we were unable to ask Freddie Hiatt '76, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, whether in fact he desired Ms. Dowd's column for his page, but appreciated Mr. Bennet's invitation to engage in dialogue in the future.

Was a headline regarding the actions of the Wisconsin legislature misleading?

Last week, the Times reported on an extraordinary session of the Wisconsin legislature devoted to stripping the incoming Democratic Governor and Attorney General of their powers. The story accurately described a series of rushed last-minute moves all of which were aimed at thwarting the will of voters who elected Democrats to these offices.

Reader Jamison F.  Tweeted his dissatisfaction with the headline used by the online edition of the Times:

The reference to bedrock was to a quote by the Republican House speaker, but nonetheless failed to communicate to the reader the substance of what the Republican Legislature had done, as set out in the story itself.

However, by the time the Public Editor began his investigation, the headline had been changed to:

The story as it appears on December 9 does not disclose the change to the headline.  In the opinion of the Public Editor, it should have.

We sought comment from the copy editor in charge of online news and was told that he had been fired ten months ago and that headlines for online stories were written by unpaid interns from the Dalton School.  A source in the Dalton cafeteria told us anonymously that she thought the headline had originally been written by Ethan or Sophie, but was probably changed by Wei-Li because she's such a “Little Miss Perfect but just because she got into Yale Early Action doesn't mean she knows anything and she's so basic she buys her clothes at Target.”

The New York Times Public Editor follows up on reader concerns and complaints.  If you'd like the  Public Editor to follow up on something you read in the Times, just fill out the comment form below!

No comments:

Post a Comment