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The New York Times Ponders: “Are We Biased Enough?”

The lefties on Twitter are very upset with their favorite paper, The New York Times.  They’ve even started a hashtag (#NewNYTSlogans) attacking them for the apparent lack of dedication to truth that the paper has exhibited of late in its pages.

An article titled, “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” is what has sent them into full fledged mock mode and, as best I can understand it, they believe that the Times has basically acknowledged that the truth and fact checking are not top priorities in The New York Times newsroom.

They don’t sound too terribly off from opinions expressed on the right about the Paper of Record.  Perhaps we’ve reached a point where we can all agree that this old world rag is nothing but a liberal front and about as unbiased as Dan Rather?

Not exactly.  These folks are actually upset that the newsroom isn’t inserting their opinion enough.  And it looks like the Times is interested in hearing out their complaint.

In the article, New York Times Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, is asking readers pointedly whether or not their “hard news division” is inserting enough of their personal perspective into articles outside of the editorial section.

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

I assume “facts” is put in quotes to indicate that they are anything but “facts,” which would leave only a handful of possibilities: they are opinions, interpretations, theories, or lies.  I further assume that such “facts” are therefore the responsibility of the “fact” giver to back up and would be subject to the counter “facts” from the Paper of Record if there is a verifiable way to disprove what is being said.

Brisbane helpfully provides some examples of the “facts” in question so that we can see what this brave new world could look like if the Times writers were to become “Truth Vigilantes” as the headline calls them:

One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas “misunderstood,” and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.

Interestingly, this reader seems to completely miss what a “fact” is.  In this entire excerpt there is only one fact: that Clarence Thomas is expressing what he personally did or did not understand, a perspective which he alone is capable of knowing.  If there were documents that could show something to the contrary (perhaps an email with Thomas saying “Dude, I totally knew that I had to report that) then I would agree that Liptak would be completely within journalistic standards to present that information as counter evidence.

But, let’s use this new method that the Times is playing with and the leftosphere is so intent on and see how it works out.  The following will be my attempt at rewriting the article while addressing the concerns that the reader had.

From the original article:

Justice Thomas said that in his annual financial disclosure statements over the last six years, the employment of his wife, Virginia Thomas, was “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions.”

[...]

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said he found Justice Thomas’s explanation about the omission to be “implausible.”

As a Supreme Court justice who regularly hears complex legal cases, “it is hard to see how he could have misunderstood the simple directions of a federal disclosure form.”

And now the “Truth Vigilante” version.  Changes in bold:

Justice Thomas said that in his annual financial disclosure statements over the last six years, the employment of his wife, Virginia Thomas, was “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions. What a load!11!

[...]

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said he found Justice Thomas’s explanation about the omission to be “implausible,” as I, the writer of this article do as well.
As a Supreme Court justice who regularly hears complex legal cases, “it is hard to see how he could have misunderstood the simple directions of a federal disclosure form.”  Given that this expert agrees with me, I will now accept his statement as a fact and subsequently call Clarence Thomas a liar liar pants on fire.

Brisbane plays the what if game as well with another critique:

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

This is also an interesting example.  While it perhaps would’ve been fine for a journalist to note that the word “apology” has never been uttered by President Obama in a speech about America’s position in the world (instead he just toured the world listing everything he viewed as utter American failures without ever actually saying he was sorry on our behalf), Brisbane goes on to show what the Times version of “truth vigilante” would look like. The “fact check” in this instance would’ve resulted in the writer asserting that anything hinting at an apologetic Obama, leans towards manipulation of the truth.  Brisbane asks the readers if this is what The New York Times should move to, and the left on Twitter resoundingly screamed in unison “yes!”

What the Times will do remains to be seen.  Brisbane acknowledges that being so openly interpretative would present its own problems:

Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another?

No, it’s not Mr. Brisbane.  But why should that stop you now when it never has before?

 

Cross-Posted at Big JournalismBenHoweShow.com

 

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