Monday, May 16, 2005

Media Matters has some questions for the New York Times

Media Matters has an excellent post up entitled "Open Letter to the New York Times." Here's an excerpt below:

As a media watchdog, we believe self-examination by news organizations is always useful, so we welcomed the arrival of The New York Times' recent report, "Preserving Our Readers' Trust." Because a democracy cannot operate without an independent, critical, and responsible press, it is incumbent on news organizations to continually assess their own performance to see if they are fulfilling their obligations to the public. Nonetheless, we are concerned about some of the ideas expressed in the report, and we take issue with some aspects of the Times' reporting that the report does not address.
Because of its importance to the functioning of our political and social life, the press will always be subject to criticism and critique. It is the press' obligation to take such critiques seriously; doing so requires not only responding to legitimate criticism, but having the fortitude and integrity to reject baseless attacks designed only to serve a partisan agenda.
If tomorrow the Times ran an article on its front page headlined "Bush is Second Coming of Christ," conservative activists would charge that it proved the paper's liberal bias because it didn't compliment the color of the president's tie. While we do not doubt that many conservatives genuinely believe that the Times, and the press in general, is biased against them, the "liberal bias" charge is above all a political tool they use to obtain coverage more favorable to their goals. All too often, news organizations have reacted to this pressure from the right by attempting to prove them wrong -- not with more objective reporting, but by giving them what they want. "The press responds to critics on the right by bending over backward not to look liberal," noted former Washington Post ombudsman Geneva Overholser. "The cumulative effect is the opposite: They're tougher on Democrats"
[Eric Boehlert, "The Press v. Al Gore," Rolling Stone, 12/6-13/01]. Though this tendency is not acknowledged in the report, it has been evident in the Times' reporting on numerous occasions.
While there is not space here to list every misstep the Times has committed recently, we would like to point out a number of problems, particularly as they relate to the concerns raised in the report. The first is Elisabeth Bumiller's "White House Letter," about which you have apparently heard from numerous dissatisfied readers but about which the report says nothing. In a recent
interview at, departing public editor Daniel Okrent said of Bumiller's reporting: "It just drives people who don't like [President Bush] crazy. It would have been the same if there had been a 'White House Letter' about Clinton 10 years ago." But of course, there was no "White House Letter" offering tender, soft-focus portraits of Bill Clinton. Had there been, conservatives would have been outraged -- and rightly so.
If the White House wants the American people to know what's on the president's iPod or how sweet his communications director is to reporters, it can turn to dozens of less serious news organizations that will happily pass that bit of fluff on to the public. But to waste a Times reporter's time and precious space in the paper on an endless series of People magazine-worthy portraits that read as though they were penned by the White House press office is, frankly, beneath you. This is not to say that every last article about politics in the Times must be serious and high-minded. But the "White House Letter" has been a steady stream of starry-eyed palaver, each installment more sycophantic than the last.

Again, the above is an excerpt, click here to read it in full.

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