Thursday, November 25, 2004

Worthy Front Page coverage for the Times on Thanksgiving Day

The New York Times today (Thursday, November 25, 2004) featured six stories worthy of the front page: "Iranians Retain Plutonium Plan In Nuclear Deal" by William J. Broad & Elaine Sciolino; "Violence Taints Religion's Solace for China's Poor" by Joseph Kahn; "2 Top Officials Are Reported to Quit C.I.A." by Douglas Jehl; "Ukraine Premier Is Named Winner; U.S. Assails Move" by C.J. Chivers; "After 4 Hurricans, Trailers and Homelessness" by Abby Goodnough; and "Turkey Is Basic, but Immigrants Add Their Homeland Touches" by Kim Severson.

Had the Thanksgiving day crowd here today so I was able to get input on today's issue throughout the day. The only one that others questioned (was it worthy for the front page) was "Turkey Is Basic, but Immigrants Add Their Homeland Touches." I disagree for a number of reasons. Chief among them, today was Thanksgiving. But there's also the fact that Severson is attempting to deal with a cross section of people. Which is what the Nagourney & Elder piece on the NY Times/CBS News poll earlier this week attempted to do.

Severson's dealing with a smaller group. But she's dealing with them. The impression is that she spoke to these people (from various locations in the United States). This isn't a story about research conducted by others. This isn't a story about the 'wonderful' work that the Times & CBS News has done. Severson appears to have done her own research and used turkey and Thanksgiving as a road into discussions on identity and meaning.

Given the choice between Robert N. Bellah, et al's Habits of the Heart or reporters combing through the polling statistics done by their own paper (regardless of whether the poll itslef is questionable -- as I felt the one Nagourney & Elder wrote about was -- or whether the conclusions the reporters come to are questionable -- as I felt Nagourney & Elder's were) I'll always prefer Habits of the Heart.

No, Severson can't say "I spoke to 885 people." But in reality, neither can Nagourney & Elder. Severson can say that she had the opportunity to speak to people, ask them questions, hear their responses and clarify any confusion on her or their part. I have no idea how "random" her research was. For all I know, she only called numbers which she already had in her roladex or sent out e-mails to people already in her address book. But this isn't being presented as "THIS IS WHAT AMERICANS THINK AND BELIEVE." This is presented as a modest exploration.

Are there other stories within the paper that I think would have also been worthy of the front page? Yes. First of all John Burns returns with an article. Something for which I was thankful for. "Tape Condemns Sunni Muslim Clerics for Abandoning Iraqi Resistance" appears on page A14 ( and provides the solid coverage that a no-frills, old school journalist like Burns can provide. There's no "I" in the reporting, no first person, "this reporter" injecting him or herself into an event he or she should be covering (and whose presence really isn't the point of the story). (I have no general problem with "this reporter" appearing in print if there's a reason for it. If the reporter wants to make a judgement call, I'd prefer that s/he use "this reporter" instead of attributing the conclusion to conventional wisdom. But when it's used apparently to interject the reporter into the events -- "Look who I have access to!!!!" or "Look how brave I am!!! Not many people would be here!!!!!" -- I do question it being used in reporting because it strikes me as self-indulgent and it detracts from the what the focus of the story should be.)

I've provided a link to Burns' story (and note that Richard A. Oppel Jr. assisted from Mosul) but I'm not going to summarize it due to being so far behind tonight. It is worth reading and the information it contains (and the level of reporting) is worthy of the front page.

I also want to focus on page A25, specifically "National Briefing." This is the only thing that caused me to groan in the paper today. (Not that I agreed with every point in every article. I didn't. But I truly wasn't expecting a strong paper today. Page for page, the main section today was the strongest reporting overall that the Times has done thus far this year in my opinion.)

The groan occurred over a paragraph in the "National Briefing" under the MIDWEST heading:

OHIO: JUDGE REJECTS RECOUNT BID A federal judge in Toledo rejected a bid by third-party candidates for a recount of presidential ballots in Ohio before the state certifies final Election Day results. The judge, James G. Carr, ruled on Tuesday that the state must be given until Dec. 6 to complete its official count before any new recount begins. State elections officials have been checking the vote and sorting out which of hundreds of thousands of provisional ballots to count. Representatives of the Libertarian and Green Parties argued that a delay for a second recount would not leave enough time to tally the votes before the Ohio Electoral College meets in mid-December. President Bush won the state by an estimated 136,000 votes. Albert Salvato (NYT)

A ruling on a state wide recount in Ohio, a recount of a presidential election, gets a mere paragraph? The Times has mocked this issue in its reporting. (Although on the editorial side, they ran an editorial noting many of the problems with election 2004.) In a snide front page article, Tom Zeller dismissed any concerns and went for the "tin foil hat" nonsense. (Is a writer on the front page supposed to be use a mocking tone?)

But the Times public editor Daniel Okrent commented on the issue in an online blog entry

Now, though, my mailbox has begun to overflow with criticisms of The Times for not looking more deeply into allegations of large-scale vote fraud in Ohio and Florida, a story (if true) that no one can ignore. . . . [Summary of the section I'm skipping: Feels no evidence has emerged -- aren't reporters supposed to dig for evidence? -- and that since the Kerry campaign isn't questioning it, apparently the reporters shouldn't be. He then cites Zeller's article -- apparently reporting he feels the Times should be proud of.]
And more, I expect, will be explored and explained in future articles if meaningful allegations can indeed be established as facts. Both Matthew Purdy, the head of The Times’s investigative unit, and Rick Berke, the paper’s Washington editor, assure me that reporters will continue to look into the issue. I’m confident that if they find something, they’ll publish it. A good investigative reporter (much less a whole staff of them) turning away from a story like this one — if true — would be like a flower turning away from the sun. Careers are made by stories that detail massive election fraud.

More would be explored? Exactly when? Seems to me a judge's ruling on a statewide recount of a presidential election is news. And it's news that requires more than a token paragraph in "National Briefing" sandwiched between a Wal-Mart heiress who may have cheated her way through college and a plane that crashed en route to picking up George H.W. Bush. I'm sorry, Mr. Okrent, I'm not confident now that if something is found, the Times will address it in a serious manner if this one paragraph on the Ohio decision is all the attention the Times intends to give the ruling.

A search of Judge James G. Carr turns up no story online (it's after midnight in NYC so Friday's edition is already up online) for November 26th. I doubt the print edition will contain anything. Now today was a holiday and possibly Saturday or Sunday will include an article that gives serious attention to this legal ruling and what it means. Or possibly Dexter Filkin can write a six day after the fact front page article on the ruling? (See blog entry "It's Just Another Day, Another Episode.")

But if this is to be all that the Times intends to say on the subject via reporting, then Okrent might want to reconsider his faith that any developments on the topic will be covered by the Times.

Paul R. Lehto comments on issues regarding the election and Okrent's online blog entry quoted above in this Buzzflash Reader Contribution ( entitled "New York Times: 'All the News that's Fit to Print' or 'All the News that's Already Proven'?"

I want to add that I'm going to leave the comments open because there were some comments being posted. I didn't realize that until an e-mailer notified me. Two people have felt comfortable posting so I'll leave it open. If you read down to the "When NPR Fails You Who You Gonna' Call, Not the Ombudsman" you'll find a comment by jnagarya.

I want to note first (and I'll try to do an update to the NPR post to include this in the post) that jnagarya has provided a toll free number for the ombudsman: 1-800-433-1277.

jnagarya also speaks of problems with NPR's WBUR in Boston and I'd recommend that you read his post. I'm curious as to whether any other NPR listeners have attempted to contact their local station and, if so, what the response was? If you live in the Boston area, I'd encourage to you to ask WBUR about the issues jnagarya is raising. You can find a contact form to use for contacting WBUR at

Finally, to note my own ignorance: It turns out that Sarah posted on "Here Comes the Madmen" and apparently posted on the day of that entry. So all this time that I've been speaking of the e-mail responses regarding posting on this site and saying things like "since no one wants to post . . ." Someone had indeed posted. And Sarah isn't "no one" so my apologies to her. She is doing an advice site for kids and teenagers at so if anyone has any questions they'd like to ask her click on her site. And, although I'm neither a kid nor a teenager, I will ask her to please accept my apology.