The NYT's ombudsman


Byron Calame, the NYT's second "public editor" (their term for ombudsman), has finally admitted in his web journal that the paper was slow in covering the Air America scandal. Mediacrity is all over the case. Here's my analysis.

Calame wrote

pieces of the unfolding story fell in the domains of three different parts of the newsroom: the metropolitan desk, the business desk and the culture desk. There was, my inquiries suggest, a lack of coordination and awareness of what the paper's competitors across town were writing.

The first excuse offered is phony self—justification, not a reasonable explanation. The different parts of the newsroom were able to cover Air America for numerous puff pieces at its launching, after all. The entire point of having reporters in those noisy crowded newsroom is so that they can share information. The big stories usually involve multiple domains.

The second excuse is hedged with the phrase "my enquiries suggest". Why the distancing? Is he afraid to tell his colleagues that it looks to him like they are biased? Weasel words, in other words?

Why does he mention "what the paper's competitors across town were writing"? I think he is alluding to the Bronx Community News here. Which means he is letting his colleagues off the hook for not realizing the blogosphere and then the NY Post, Washington Times, and now a trickle of metropolitan dailies, were reporting and commenting on the story.

The isolation of the Times staff from an entire universe of news and commentary is the biggest reason Calame is making excuses for the paper. But it nowhere enters his consideration.

Even worse, he goes on to write

There's another reason to get to the bottom of the scandal. It's the perception problem — a perception of liberal bias for which I haven't found any evidence after checking with editors at the paper.

Mediacrity is justifiably stunned that he cannot uncover any evidence of bias. But I also find it stunning that he admits his search for bias consists of asking the editors. They will never admit their bias because they don't see it. And neither does Calame.

Thomas Lifson   8 18 05