Sunday, December 26, 2004

First of All, There's the Continuing Daily Mistakes . . .

I got another name wrong (won't be the last time). David Cobb was the presidential candidate for the Green Party and not "Peter" Cobb. The Year in Review has been corrected. Don't come this site for spelling or grammer unless you like to be disappointed. (And thanks to Shirley who does a great job of catching most mistakes. However, this one was caught by a new visitor and I thank him for catching that.) Always check my math too.

But this isn't The Common Ills Daily Mistakes we're focusing on here. We're happy to correct. I'm fine with admitting I got something wrong. So why isn't the paper of record?

Yes, this is about the New York Times.

Rob, "J" and Dallas have already sent in Daniel Orkent's latest nonsense from this morning's paper. "Nonsense" may seem harsh to some (though Yazz will probably be pleased) but in preparing for an entry on Okrent, I spent hours last night reading through his columns. Nonsense is being kind.

We'll address that later today. (Rob, I'm waiting on a reply from someone. If there's no reply within two hours of my typing this, we'll go ahead without it.) (And no, the reply I'm hoping for isn't from Okrent. He's got his own space to comment about himself and his actions and, having read those columns one after another, he loves talking about himself.)

So "little Danny Okrent who wet dreams over baseball" (as Kara likes to think of him) turns in another one of his increasingly useless columns. It's entitled "First of All, There's the Continuing Daily Miracle . . ."

We're not going to link to it. Anyone desperate to read his nonsense can go to the New York Times home page and search for it. (And as Marci wondered, "Why does a visit to the Times result in attempt to download spyware on my computer?") (Marci uses "Spybot." I downloaded it and then went to the Times. Spybot notified me of two attempts to download spyware to my computer. I don't understand what Spybot was alerting to me and it may be nothing of concern. But Marci wanted that passed on, so consider it passed on.)

At this site, we focus on the news in the paper, chiefly the front page. Nicky K's recent column putting forth the mistaken assumption (delivered as fact in that "last word" kind of way Nicky K's so fond of) that the left ignored the crisis in the Sudan was irritating. Your e-mails calling the op-ed into question were numerous (forty-two). But we don't focus on the op-eds or the editorials. We highlighted one editorial -- did not discuss it -- on Yukos for Krista who has recently become interested in the issue. We alerted to Paul Krugman's return to the op-ed pages because so many of you were e-mailing asking that we pass it on.

Other than that, the only thing we've commented on was an editorial taking NOW (National Organziation for Women) to task for endorsing in the Democratic primary . . . only NOW, no one else. That editorial was questionable and objectionable and the blog entry was discussing NOW so it was appropriate to mention it.

[We did weigh in on the op-ed issue with regard to William Safire's replacement. See]

We're addressing Daniel Okrent's column today because, despite what he thinks, he's not an op-ed writer. I checked first to see if Bob Somerby had posted anything on this at The Daily Howler. Somerby's on a brief hiatus. Had this column tempted him out of it, we wouldn't be addressing it. Instead we'd quote Somerby and link to him. But with him on hiatus and Okrent turning in his usual nonsense, we're going to comment.

Okrent's not an op-ed writer. "The public editor serves as the reader's representative." That's the first sentence in a block that's set off in each of his colums. He's not meeting that task. He never really has. I'd recommend that you refer to Somerby's The Daily Howler entitled "Good Grief! Daniel Okrent, Times public ed seems to be straight out of Dickens!" ( and especially focus on this paragraph:

In closing, let’s note the part of this piece that has come to define Okrent’s work for the Times. That is the open tone of derision he takes toward readers who bother him with their e-mails. As usual, Okrent takes sidelong shots at these “irate readers” and their reasons for disputing his judgments (see below). Okrent began displaying this tone in his fourth column (1/18/04), and the tone has been present from that day to this. By the way: Was there something he might have learned from the “hundreds of messages” he received about the Swift Vets? There is, of course, no way to know—Okrent brags that he has ignored them! Indeed, he hasn’t even read “every word” of the coverage in the Times! Nobody does that, he says.

Okrent opens his column this morning with the following two paragraphs:

I really hadn't planned on doing this. Several weeks ago I decided that I'd write a year-end column enumerating a bunch of The Times's crimes and misdemeanors over the past 12 months -- the ones I never got around to writing about because they seemed of insufficient interests to support an entire column, or because they were replays of transgressions I had already addressed. Or because articles I'd clipped, notated and misplaced months ago suddenly showed up in my sock drawer.
Then I read "Changing Senate Looks Much Better to Abortion Foes," by Robin Toner (Dec. 2). This led me to decide that providing a catalog of sins would be churlish, not to mention unseasonable -- and that a very different sort of column would not only be seasonable, but what I wanted to write.

The emphasis above is mine, not Okrent's. Our problem above is not the mention of Toner's article (one we noted in But we noted that December 2nd article on . . . gosh, December 2nd. Okrent's either late in reading it or confessing to reader's of today's paper that back on December 2nd he decided what his Dec. 26th column would be about. (As Somerby has pointed out, see Daily Howler link above, six week vacations and twice a month column appearences don't leave Okrent a great deal of time to do . . . his job.)

He also recommends Dexter Filkins' "Gripping and intimate coverage of the battle of Fallujah." In his online version, he provides a link to this story . . . if a reader wants to pay to read it -- as public editor, Okrent couldn't speak to someone about making the article available for free just for this week? Would that have been "churlish?"

Would it have been churlish for him to have noted, as this site did in real time, that this Nov. 21st article (see ran on the Sunday front page despite being a story (gripping or otherwise) that was . . . many, many days old.

As we noted then:

The piece carries the dateline "Nov. 18" in this story published in the November 21st edition. Allowing for the time needed to put together a Sunday edition, I'm still questioning that. The story was filed on the 18th (Thursday) and pops up on the 21st (Sunday). And there's the added detail, not provided in Dexter Filkins story, that Lance Cpl. William Miller died November 15th( Perhaps we're all supposed to count the "eight days after the Americans entered the city on foot?" If so The Guardian places that as November 8th (,2763,1346721,00.html) and eight days later would be the sixteenth -- well Times reporters aren't necessarily noted for their math.
The point here is that the story on today's front page (November 21, 2004) begins with a battle from November 15th without ever alerting the reader to this fact. An occurence six days prior is their front page Iraq story. (Which makes one think of Chris Hedges' comments on the nature of war correspondence.)

Whether the story was gripping or not, it wasn't front page news, It was, in fact, old news --
no matter how well Filkens avoided alerting readers that the battle took place on the 15th. You'd think a public editor (one doing his or her job) would have noted that.

But Okrent isn't interested in doing his job as most of us would define the job of "readers' representative" -- Okrent's interested in "what I wanted to write."

And once again, Okrent doesn't want to write about what the readers care about. Okrent mistakes himself repeatedly for an op-ed columnist who can just toss out whatever topic he wants to write on and bear no accountabilty to the reader. (Yes, Rob, we will be dealing this in greater detail in a later post today.) He's not accountable. The position was created so that the Times could give some appearence of being accountable to the readers.

Long forgotten are his words from his December 7, 2003 column:

My only concern in this adventure is dispassionate evaluation; my only colleagues are readers who turn to The Times for their news, expect it to be fair, honest and complete, and are willing to trust another such reader -- me -- as their surrogate.

Anyone who's read the columns in one sitting (as I did last night) one after another will quickly grasp that the readers haven't been his "colleagues" -- they've been his target. However, repeated "shout outs" to Jack Schafer (of Slate) usually note a closeness. Today Okrent calls Schafer his "partner in whine." I don't read Slate but "whine" does describe Okrent's writings at least.

"What I wanted to write." That's all it's about and that's become increasingly clear. Readers are the topic of rage and ridicule from Okrent (again, Rob, we'll be dealing with that later today). He's unable to recognize or address readers' concerns because he's busy being chummy with Jack Schafer. That's sweet, Okrent, we're all glad you found someone to hold your hand at the playground.

Meanwhile you once again ignored the readers.

There's a computer program the public editor's office uses. Some of you know about it, some of you don't. Your knowledge of it depends on whether you contacted his office. Why does Okrent acknowledge it in private e-mails but not in his column? *

Flashback to April 25, 2004, the opening to Orkent's column:

M[y] cellmate Arthur Bovino, who has at his fingertips data that could make a statistician weep, calculates that in the five months since the office of the public editor opened for business, we've received 589 messages that contain the phrase ''paper of record.''

How does he "calculate" that? He didn't, a program did. The "data" came from some computer program that Bovino utilizes. Okrent points that out in e-mails. Readers of the paper (who didn't complain about the nonsense of wasting column space or time counting out phrases used in e-mails -- phrases such as "the paper of record" or "all the news that fit to print") are left with the impression that Bovino knocked himself out going over each and every e-mail by hand to arrive at the figures.

Anything in that column tell you that there's a computer program and it took Bovino less than ten minutes for the program to give him that "data?" No. But in four private e-mails written by Okrent which were forwarded to this site, that fact is explained.

No, Okrent, we're not going to quote your private e-mails here. Lucky for you because they're far more embarrassing than your columns that pop up in the Times. But we are going to reference the conflict between what you suggest in print and what in fact happened
according to your e-mail replies.

Let's move on to note some of the topics and issues Okrent could have addressed in this morning's paper if he'd written not "what I wanted" but what his job dictates he writes -- about the issues concerning the readers of the paper.

A number of you (fifty-two people, 171 e-mails) wrote this site regarding the hideous coverage of the "junk news" story that was the Superbowl.

Elaine wants Alessandra Stanley highlighted as an exception, so we'll do that. But elsewhere you felt that the Times repeatedly elected to utilize a narrative of (in one e-mailer's words) "b---- got herself knocked up" -- focusing on the event as though Janet Jackson was on the stage by herself and ripped off her own top.

The racism in that narrative is offensive. The sexism in that narrative is offensive. How numerous stories by the Times (Elaine's exception for Stanley is noted again) repeated this offensive garbage is a question for many.

This wasn't a story that depended upon people traveling to far away places or that people had to meet with anonymous D.C. insiders to obtain information. But the reporting of this "junk news" demonstrated all the problems the Times refuses to deal with.

Most of you highlighted an article by Lola Ogunnaike, a writer who continues at the paper.
This isn't WMD or one of Judith Miller's infamous tales that didn't bear up under the scrutiny of research or real life events. But this is an example of the lazy writing and the lack of standards that go into the reporting at the Times far too often. And it is an example that bad reporting doesn't result in punishment for lazy journalists or in the paper issuing corrections, clarifications or apologies.

Ogunnaike's piece "Capitalizing On Jackson Tempest" was bad reporting. It was really bad reporting. The Times did a correction to it, one, (thanks to "J" for noting that). Ogunnaike claimed that the album janet resulted in four number one singles. It resulted in two. That's the extent of how the Times dealt with that report.

Let's talk about how they could have dealt with it. (Let's also wonder why Okrent didn't deal with it since five of you state you e-mailed him regarding this story and one person provided a scanned copy of a lengthy letter they mailed to Okrent that went paragraph by paragraph to point out everyone of the mistakes that appeared in Ogunnaike's article?)

They could have run a correction on Ogunnaike's claim that Jackson was out of touch compared to Britney Spears and other younger artists (not yet, forty, Jackson's already over the hill in Ogunnaike's reporting). Ogunnaike asserted that Jackson was releasing albums too infrequently compared to the new crop of female singers. But simply looking at the release history of the younger crop that Ogunnaike choosed to mention in her article demonstrated to many of you that Jackson's pattern contained no huge difference between herself and the younger singers named.

A number of you were bothered by the comparison to the newer artists and noted how Madonna (whom Ogunnaike works into the story for some reason all her own) and Jackson were described as aging stars resorting to desperate attempts to get attention. What of the young stars? Justin Timberlake didn't just stand on that stage with Jackson, he ripped off her top.
Was that a desperate bid for attention? Madonna didn't kiss herself on stage, she shared kisses with Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears. But it's Madonna desperately bidding for your attention? Only Madonna and Jackson?

Ogunnaike repeatedly demonstrates that she's writing about a subject she knows very little about. Not just on the above, but also when she attempts to push her own theory (presented as fact) that there are "two Janets."

There's "good Janet" and "bad Janet." "Bad Janet," according to Ogunnaike, first surfaces on the Velvet Rope (1997). While it's true that the Velvet Rope is a mature album and one that deals with sexuality, the "good Janet" that Ogunnaike claims existed on janet (1993) can be heard singing such "innocent" lines as:

Come for me
I can feel your body
Pressed against my body
Wrap yourself around me
Love to feel you throbbin'
. . . .
I can feel your body
Pressed against my body
When you start to poundin'
Love to feel you throbbin'

[from "Throb" written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis]

Take your time, we've got all night
You on the rise while you're touchin' my thighs
And let me know what you like
If you like, I'll go down on my knees
. . .
I'll hold you in my hand and baby
Your smooth and shiny feels good against
My lips, sugar
[from "If" written by Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis]

Baby, I've got on what you like
Come closer baby closer
Reach out and feel my body
I'm gonna give you all my love
Oh sugar, don't you hurry
. . .
Just close your eyes and hold on tight
Oh baby, don't stop, don't stop
Go deeper baby deeper
You feel so good I'm gonna cry

[from "That's the Way Love Goes" by Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis]

I don't wanna stop just because
People standin' 'round watchin' us
I don't give a damn what they think
I want you now
I don't wanna stop just because
You feel so good inside my love

[from "The Body That Loves You" by Janet Jackson, James Harris III and Terry Lewis]

And this is "good Janet?"

A Times writer can get away with presenting a false narrative that beginning on the Velvet Rope "bad Janet" emerges talking about sex but that "good Janet" existed on the previous album and that the sales reflected that the public preferred "good Janet."

Apparently the woefully underinformed Ogunnaike isn't even aware that the "good Janet" that appears on the album janet, does so naked on the front cover.

Ogunnaike can get away with this nonsense because the Times has demonstrated for years that the editors know nothing about popular music. Brandon points out that a recent Week in Review article spoke of how Michael Jackson declared in the song, video and on the album Thriller that "I'm not like other guys." That made it into print. Even though Jackson (Michael) only says it in the video. It's not on the album, it's not in the song "Thriller."

We say it, so it's true. That's the attitude that emerges when the Times tries to cover music.
We say it, and there's no accountability even if it's pointed out to us. Oh, we may correct something like Ogunnaike's claim that janet produced four number one singles when in fact it only produced two but we'll never address the false theories she presents as fact. We don't have to, we're the Times.

Kara is still furious over a "slam job" on Madonna during the period where she and Warner Bros. were in conflict and the Times sought to push the line that Madonna's album sales had drastically fallen. I'm sure Warner Bros. appreciated that the Times had their back. But the problem Kara noted with the article is a serious one. To establish her "strong sales," the writer utilized Billboard sales figures for Madonna's albums. To establish her "weak sales," the writer used SoundScan sales figures. For the record, SoundScan doesn't award "platinum" albums. It doesn't award any certification. Only Billboard does and only after someone has applied for the certification and for the cost required for Billboard to conduct an audit of the albums' sales. Get it? There's no audit with SoundScan (which relies on point of sale figures at retail stores). Billboard does an audit where they look at the sale of all albums (retail, web, music clubs, etc.).

Why use Billboard for half the article and SoundScan for the other half? To Kara it appears that the writer had it in for Madonna and wanted to portray her as a fading artist so it was better to ignore Billboard (which demonstrated that American Life did go platinum) and focus on SoundScan which revealed that store sales of the album didn't reach a million. (A platinum certificate means that a single disc album has sold over one million units. On that issue, I'll note that reporters for the Times who toss around figures like "platinum" or words like "million seller" don't appear to grasp that a multi-disc album didn't necessarily sell one million copies. A double disc album only has to sell 500,000 units to be awarded platinum certification, for instance. This fact has eluded many writers for the paper.)

And if you try to take any of this up with the public editor, well he's writing "what I wanted to write" about. There is no accountability. The readers' representative is interested only in what he's interested in. Your concerns are ridiculed and ignored.

Let's take the issue of Joe Levy. That's something Frank in Orlando (among others) is very furious about.

Frank in Orlando points out, "It's bad enough when the mistake appears in the arts section but they got it wrong on the front page! And in an obit on Ray Charles! That was disrespectful in my opinion."

What did they get wrong? The Times repeatedly credits Joe Levy as being "the music editor" of Rolling Stone. The problem? He hasn't held that title in years. (The position currently doesn't exist.) Joe Levy is one of two "Deputy Managing Editors" (Will Dana is the other one).

Jobi remarks, "I called the Times about that. The person on the phone told me, quote, 'Well that's how Joe Levy likes to be credited.' That's how he likes to be credited! Well then f---ing call me Master of the Universe!"

Jobi and Frank in Orlando are correct. It's not about what Levy wants to be called (if indeed he wanted to be called "the music editor"), it's about what his title is. It's called accuracy and the Times failed. Not once, as Frank in Orlando pointed out, but repeatedly and this failure included a front page obit on one of the legendary acts in music.

This isn't sloppy. Sloppy is when you don't know the facts. The facts were pointed out to the Times by Jobi and Frank. (Possibly by others, twenty of you have written this site about the Joe Levy job title issue.) They chose to ignore the facts. They chose to allow an on the record source to create a title for himself that he no longer holds. (And one that no longer exists.)

This is reporting? This is accuracy?

This is something Okrent could have dealt with but it wasn't deemed interesting or important by him apparently. Or mabye it just wasn't what he wanted to write about.

Twelve of you wrote about your concerns regarding what you see as the Times continued ridicule of Molly Ivins. I share your opinion and I'll quote Erika here on the subject, "Like an angry spurned lover, the Times apparently wants Ivins to 'just disappear!' Ivins left the Times years ago and the fact that she's gone on to greater success and greater fame really appears to pain them. Their cheap shots and insults are beneath the paper and Ivins has done nothing to deserve this sort of treatment."

Many of you wrote regarding book reviews. Those of you who had complained to the public editor's office and had received a reply (most from Arthur Bovino) noted that the reply mentioned it would be passed on to Okrent. Okrent never wrote about it.

So let's take the book review that has thirty of you still upset: Alan Wolfe's "The New Pamphleteers." It appeared in the July 11th Sunday Book Review. There's been plenty of time for the Times to issue a correction but the paper has failed to do so.
Calls, e-mails and letters have resulted in no correction.

What needs to be corrected?

Read the following two paragraphs closely:

Brock's previous book, ''Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative,'' his 2002 mea culpa for gutter-shouting from the conservative side, was engaging and informative. Too bad, then, that he now seems blinded by the left. ''The Republican Noise Machine'' is as petty in its discussion of people as it is sloppy in its handling of facts. Unable to keep an insult in his quiver, Brock gleefully announces that the Catholic theologian Michael Novak had his thesis rejected at Harvard and that the political scientist Abigail Thernstrom did not get academic tenure, factoids that are either irrelevant (anyone familiar with the academy knows what thesis committees can be like) or wrong (Thernstrom rejected a full-time academic career).

Brock also fails to grasp the conflicts that have emerged within right-wing punditry since he served in its ranks. Chris Matthews was not a supporter of the war in Iraq and Bill O'Reilly has serious questions about it. Lou Dobbs now sounds like Dick Gephardt when he discusses outsourcing. Andrew Sullivan's position on gay marriage is anathema to many other conservatives. Conservatives may well have shared a party line when they were out of power, but now that they have an actual president advancing their worldview, their ideas suddenly have consequences -- and turmoil is the inevitable result. Libertarians attack Bush's statism; fiscal conservatives, his big spending. This kind of behavior among liberals is called political suicide.

Did you note the emphasis? Let's go to the book Wolfe is supposed to have read to review it:

During the George W. Bush era, [Chris] Matthews distinguished himself as the lone host of a cable talk show who opposed the Iraq war, joining hands with both the liberal Left and some members of the Far Right, such as Pat Buchanan (p. 240 of The Republican Noise Machine).

We can quibble over Bill O'Reilly's "serious questions" (if they're so serious, why did O'Reilly admit he was wrong about the war on ABC's Good Morning America -- when pressed to do so -- and not on his own show?). But the fact is Wolfe makes the claim that David Brock doesn't realize some on the right are against the war. Brock is aware of that and notes Pat Buchanan. Wolfe asserts that Brock doesn't realize that Chris Matthews didn't support the war. Right there on page 240 of Brock's book is Brock addressing that issue. The book Wolfe was supposed to have read before reviewing it.

Translation, Wofle is wrong and the Times has addressed this matter by ignoring it.

This is the sort of issue a "readers' representative" could address, if such an advocate was concerned about the readers and not more interested in "what I wanted to write" about.

We focused on the problems in the arts section and the book review because, from the start of this web site, many of you have asked that we move beyond the front page. That's where our focus has been. It's probably where it will stay. But when both the Times and the public editor refuse to address the mistakes that pop up in those sections there's a problem.

We could have examined Juan Forero's reporting (as Francisco reguarly e-mails about) for instance. Or Elisabeth Bumiller (another popular topic in e-mails) but we've addressed both of those writers at various times. When the public editor choses to go a full year without noting the errors (and lack of corrections) to the books and the arts pages, The Common Ills can pull away from the front page for one day to note what otherwise won't be noted.

And this goes back to the main section because when you are frustrated with a falsehood that makes it into the main section, you need to realize it's not just the main section that's getting things wrong.

I also want to note (Yazz will groan and e-mail about this) that the Times puts out a daily paper. That's a lot of work. Mistakes will be made regardless of the size of their staff. That's just reality. But the issue here isn't that a mistake was made, it's that time and again a mistake wasn't corrected. These mistakes were pointed out. Readers e-mailed their replies from people and departments at the Times when they were lucky enough to get a reply. But the paper did nothing to correct the mistakes in question. Okrent didn't care enough to address any of this in his columns.

So where is the accountability? It's not that a mistake was made (which will happen), it's that the paper refuses to correct them even when they are pointed out. Readers of the paper were led to believe that the creation of a public editor would at last deliver some accountability. That hasn't been the case. So when and where will the accountability come from?

I understand when someone writes "I'm p---ed off and ready to dump the rag" (Karl) or "Does anyone take pride in their work!" (Rachel). The Times appears to think these mistakes are forgotten. They aren't. People remember them. They take it to this site and who knows where else. It effects the paper's credibility. The public editor post was created to deal with readers concerns over issues of credibility. The execution of that post has failed to do either. Instead, Okrent has written about "what I wanted to write" about over and over and repeatedly ignored the concerns of readers -- not just over questions of tone or opinion, but factual errors that have been allowed to stand with no correction.

David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine is worth reading. He is also the president and CEO of Media Matters for America which can be found online at
Please also note Susan J. Douglas's "What the FCC?!?" from In These Times ( :

And, of course, this hyper-sexualized media environment would not be complete without the double standard. We see who had to apologize and who got kicked off the Grammys: the woman involved in the incident but not the man.

[Note: This post has been corrected. Thanks to Shirley for her oversight. And yes, I did get upset while writing it which caused a "written stammer."] [Note II: More corrections via Alec. Thank you, Alec.] [Note III: I was wrong when I credited The View as bieng where O'Reilly apologzied. Nora e-mailed that it was Good Morning America. Thanks for the catch on that, Nora.]