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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Complaining about the "Public Editor" 


Last month, the New York Times appointed a new public editor, Clark Hoyt. Judging by today's column, he will carefully defend the Times from the grave risk that it tilts too far to the right.

Hoyt considers the torrent of criticism the Times has received over two recent op-ed articles, one by Ahmed Yousef, a spokesman for Hamas, and the other Nina Planck's "Death by Veganism," a criticism of a popular diet. Hoyt begins his column with the usual tribute to the singular importance of the Times:

The op-ed page of The New York Times is perhaps the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions on the most contentious issues of the day — the war in Iraq, abortion, global warming and more.

Hoyt wonders, though, whether some "groups or causes [are] so odious [that] they should be ruled off the page?" Good question. Space on "the nation's most important forum for airing opinions" is not infinite -- virtually any activist for any cause would love to have his talking points published there, yet most do not. Because of the scarcity of space (which contributes to the page's alleged status as "the nation's most important forum"), the editors of the Times must choose which opinions to amplify and which to ignore. When readers complain, they are complaining about the morality embedded in the choices that the editors make.

Regarding the Hamas story, Hoyt approvingly cites both Rosenthal and his deputy:
The point of the op-ed page is advocacy. And, Rosenthal said, “we do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage, because it is opinion.”

David Shipley, one of Rosenthal’s deputies and the man in charge of the op-ed page, said: “The news of the Hamas takeover of Gaza was one of the most important stories of the week. ... This was our opportunity to hear what Hamas had to say.”

Shipley's argument is, of course, asinine. There are plenty of "opportunities" to hear what Hamas has to say, and plenty of means by which to share Hamas' arguments with the NYT's readers. It could have easily found an academic expert -- even a moderately sympathetic one -- to write about "what Hamas has to say." Shipley's argument obviously posits a false choice. The question is, should the Times turn over some of its immensely valuable op-ed space to a spokesman for a gang of terrorists? It decided to give voice to a man waging a propaganda war on behalf of a criminal organization that is -- at best -- an enemy of our ally and an ally of our enemy. Was this the right choice? Hoyt says that it was:
I agree that Yousef’s piece should have run, even though his version of reality is at odds with the one I understand from news coverage. He wrote blandly, for example, about creating “an atmosphere of calm in which we resolve our differences” with Israel without mentioning that Hamas is officially dedicated to raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” which would mean no more Israel.

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.

Again, it is astonishing that Hoyt does not see the difference between being "open especially to controversial ideas" -- which we all agree is a good and wonderful thing -- and publishing the talking points of an enemy under its press secretary's byline. That isn't journalism, it is deploying the brand equity of the New York Times in support of terrorism.

On the other hand, Hoyt thinks that the Times erred in publishing Nina Planck's criticism of veganism without presenting the other side:
Regular op-ed readers have seen a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have a lot of other information to help judge Yousef’s statements.

This wasn’t the case, however, with a May 21 op-ed by Nina Planck, an author who writes about food and nutrition. Sensationally headlined “Death by Veganism,” Planck’s piece hit much closer to home than Yousef’s....

If there was another side, a legitimate argument that veganism isn’t harmful, Planck didn’t tell you — not her obligation, Rosenthal and Shipley say. But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years. There has been scant news coverage in the past five years.

Is he serious? This is an article about a freaking diet. What sane person gives a rat's ass whether the other side is fairly presented? What I eat is my business, and if I don't have the confidence to keep eating it notwithstanding the disapproval of The New York Times op-ed page then I also probably lack the self-confidence to choose the best brand of toilet paper.

To recap: The new public editor of the New York Times thinks that it is appropriate to publish the unmediated propaganda of a criminal terrorist organization, but an error to criticise a fashionable diet without giving an opportunity for rebuttal. Obviously, we are at no risk that the Times will drift to the right under Hoyt's watchful eye. We do, however, eagerly await the spirited defense of veganism.

Here's what I want to know: To whom at the Times do I complain about the Public Editor?

29 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 10:22:00 AM:

Just as a rhetorical excercise tying two threads together here (which makes a knot!), have they (the NY Times) or would they ever, publish an Op-Ed by Salmen Rushdie?

Does the publishing of an Op-Ed by a member of Hamas incite anti-Semitism, or induce self-loathing by self-identified New York Jews who subscribe to the Times?

-David  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Jun 24, 10:25:00 AM:

Calame went way "off the reservation" in challenging Krugman's veracity several times.

That sort of thing simply couldn't be tolerated, so getting a carefully vetted lapdog echo chamber for the editorial board isn't surprising at all.

perhaps the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions

Ha, ha, ha, ha, I spewed soda out my nose and all over my screen when I read that.  

By Anonymous Allison, at Sun Jun 24, 11:40:00 AM:

A couple of years ago, when I couln't ignore the bias in the news reporting at the NYT, I complained to the subscription department.

I told them I didn't want them delivering their bias to my door any more.

It worked.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 12:12:00 PM:

New York what?  

By Anonymous Boglee, at Sun Jun 24, 12:13:00 PM:

I sent a letter to the editor of the local paper asking "if you see yourselves as the watchdog on the government, who is the watchdog that watches you", obviously they
didn't print the letter, and haven't printed some more like it.
I am no longer a subscriber.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 01:56:00 PM:

A quick Google search shows that Rushdie has appeared in the Times op-ed page: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/02/opinion/02RUSH.html?ex=1182830400&en=267d2dc40d78b732&ei=5070  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 02:01:00 PM:

That's very slimy of you, pretending that the message Planck's op-ed was just about "a fashionable diet" when in fact, it making the rather unhinged assertion that veganism killed babies.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 03:18:00 PM:

If you do not like the NY Times and you do not like the "complaint dept," then simply stop reading the paper! How many papers can you name that have a guy to act as mediator?
Cleverly trying to be witty just doesn't work in this instance.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 03:25:00 PM:

To be honest, for a Republican to purchase the New York Times and expect a fair shake from that newspaper is akin to expecting a Jew to anticipate leniency from Heydrich.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jun 24, 03:31:00 PM:

Anon, I think you are looking for argument rather than enlightenment. Planck's opinion is indeed that veganism can be dangerous, and she gives her reasons for that. She does not say that it is of necessity lethal, but that it is not the benign healthful diet that is, ahem, currently fashionable.

Secondly, TH could indeed cease reading the Times, and perhaps generally does. I could simply ignore my congresswoman when I disagree with her as well, because she is a reflexive liberal who is unlikely to be persuaded by such as I. Yet because she has some power and influence in the world, I choose to write to her. What's the difference between that and writing to the NYT?

As to the OP, I think the explanation lies in Hoyt's characterization of the NYT as the nations most important forum. He doesn't see the controversial opinions as actually getting a hearing in the world until they have an editorial in the Times. That may be enormously arrogant, but is at least logical in its own sphere.

That would be similar to Al Gore, who seemed to believe that Love Canal was not addressed, nor the internet existent until the federal government had become involved. (He took unfair heat from folks falsely claiming he'd said he'd "invented" the internet, but the reality wasn't so great, either.)  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Jun 24, 04:01:00 PM:

Anonymous 2:01 PM:

You said: That's very slimy of you, pretending that the message Planck's op-ed was just about "a fashionable diet" when in fact, it making the rather unhinged assertion that veganism killed babies.

Slimy? I quoted the title of the article, "Death by Veganism." Since essentially all criticisms of all diets are that they are unhealthy, I don't think there is anything slimy about the way I dealt with it. Had Hoyt criticized an op-ed piece denouncing a fast-food diet on the same grounds I would have been similarly annoyed: "Veganism" may be dressed up in ideological garb, but at the end of the day it is a diet. Not quite the same thing as handing Hamas a megaphone.  

By Blogger Todd, at Sun Jun 24, 04:13:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger Todd, at Sun Jun 24, 04:17:00 PM:

So arguing that Yousef deserves the valuable NYT op-ed space but Planck doesn't, Hoyt says "regular op-ed readers have seen a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have a lot of other information to help judge Yousef’s statements... But unlike the Middle East, The Times has not presented another view, or anything, on veganism on its op-ed pages for 16 years."

If I'm following the logic correctly, no topic can be discussed on "the nation’s most important forum for airing opinions on the most contentious issues of the day" except those that already have been? Is that a fair reading?

[Double post, sorry]  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Jun 24, 04:21:00 PM:

How many papers can you name that have a guy to act as mediator?

That would be virtually all non-trivial newspapers.

The position is more commonly known as the ombudsman.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Jun 24, 04:22:00 PM:

To whom at the Times do I complain about the Public Editor?

There's a special phone number for that: 1-800-GET-LOST  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 24, 04:44:00 PM:

Anonynous 1:56 pm:

Thanks for the link. I thought that Rushdie had written for the NY Times at one time, but I didn't bother to "look it up". Actually, pretty on-point column, even written (Nov. 2, 2001) post 9/11, pre Iraq war.

Would they (NYT) have the guts to have him (Rushdie) write for them now?
-David  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Sun Jun 24, 07:44:00 PM:

If Rushdie volunteered an editorial it wouldn't be a question of whether the Times had the "guts" to publish it - I don't really think that the editorial page is afraid of anyone - but rather whether the overwhelming inertia of PC-ness at the paper would crush his contribution. The NYT is important whether you like it or not; many thinking liberals like myself go there for news and analysis of a particular issue, and then come to blogs like this to try and see the conservative take on it. It's interesting how often the two sides aren't even writing about the same thing on a given day - just talking right past each other!

If you really want to make a difference and try and convince people of your way of thinking you should be spending more time reading things like NYT or more left/center blogs and writing letters to the people who run them, so that other liberals can be exposed to your well-thought-out arguments, and so you can perhaps understand what motivates them better. What good does talking in a big echo chamber do, anyway? You may have the same reflexive dislike of academics that most people on this blog have, but take it from me, one thing we love to do is yak away about stuff and argue about the issues. And the vast majority of us are ready to change our mind, really we are - us liberals don't have the same kind of core immutable "family values" that you seem to have, we're open to change. Just be reasonable and open to argument yourself, and it's worth your time, I promise!  

By Anonymous Josh, at Sun Jun 24, 09:25:00 PM:

Phrizz11, the problem with a vast many of liberals can be seen in your very comment, and I do not know if you even realize it. You say you are ready to change your mind because you are liberal...and then basically say that conservatives will not change their mind because of an immutable "core" of "family values." The assumption that conservatives cannot change their minds is built into the logic of your comment. Being condescending does not help your case; people usually hate that type of thing. Let's switch your language around: Us conservatives have a core set of values
that guide us and don't have the same kind of "we're so open our brains fall out" politically correct ideas.

And you never did actually address the real issue. What do you think of the NYT allowing it's op-ed pages to be used as a terrorist's mouthpiece?  

By Blogger DEC, at Sun Jun 24, 09:47:00 PM:

This comment has been removed by the author.  

By Blogger DEC, at Sun Jun 24, 10:05:00 PM:

"...one thing we love to do is yak away about stuff and argue about the issues."

I know. That's great if you talk for a living (lawyer, teacher, etc.). But it makes you a poor choice to manage anything (such as the agencies of the federal government).  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Sun Jun 24, 10:05:00 PM:

Josh: I'm sorry if you are offended by my observation that conservatives seem to me to be more close-minded than liberals. Granted my comment turned out a little snarkier than I intended, and that's probably counterproductive. But frankly, you can have the rhetoric your way, if you want, because even with the insults you don't manage to suppress the central point: openness *is* a core value - the ability to change one's mind about something is of fundamental importance, to me and most other liberals as well. If as a conservative you set your own ideals up in contrast to that, well, that's what I was trying to say all along.

I'll address your (rather loaded) question: "What do you think of the NYT allowing it's op-ed pages to be used as a terrorist's mouthpiece?" I think it's appropriate for the NYT to publish Hamas propaganda on their editorial page, if they for some reason really believe that Hamas' official lies haven't gotten recorded yet properly. I don't think it would be in the paper's interest to do this often because people will not want to read an editorial page where corrupt men from Hamas are routinely given a place to prevaricate about their means and aims, but there should be a place in the paper of record where these statements can be preserved, if only so that they can be disagreed with or demonstrated to be false. As long as we make an earnest attempt not to fall prey to crippling PC-ness, it's fine to publish the propaganda even in the "immensely valuable op-ed space" of one of our most important newspapers.

I'll close by noting that your comment avoided the substantial question I was posing, which was, "What good does talking in a big echo chamber do, anyway?" My original post was advocating that more people on blogs like this should engage with the NYT, rather than ignoring it. What do you think of that?  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Sun Jun 24, 10:07:00 PM:

dec: so what do you believe does make you a good choice to run a federal agency? A predilection toward rash unilateral action without consultation or discussion with anyone?  

By Blogger DEC, at Sun Jun 24, 10:17:00 PM:

To phrizz11:

Pragmatism, not idealism.

Most liberals are dreamers. It doesn't matter whether their ideas are good or not. Liberals seldom implement their ideas well.

Most often, the best executives are libertarian Republicans. Libertarian Republicans are part of the so-called conservative coalition, but they are not true conservatives.

P.S. I have no desire to run a federal agency. I couldn't afford the cut in pay.  

By Anonymous memomachine, at Sun Jun 24, 10:20:00 PM:

Hmmmm.

I'm sorry if you are offended by my observation that conservatives seem to me to be more close-minded than liberals.

We're not close-minded.

However we are extremely demanding on facts. If you make an assertion and then follow that with a "because I think that's the way it should be", we're going to laugh at you. If you want us to take you, or any other liberal, seriously then you need to step on up and actually provide facts and logical reasoning to support that assertion.

A case in point is welfare.

Conservatives have maintained for decades that welfare is destructive to families, bad for individuals, makes people trained in how to game the system vs acquiring job skills and makes people overly dependent. During this same time liberals have defended welfare by every means imaginable *except* by addressing those concerns.

Now welfare has been cut back and lo and behold, conservatives were right yet again.

And no. Liberals aren't alone in being required to defend their assertions. In point of fact conservatives are far harder on each other in this regard than we ever are to liberals.  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Sun Jun 24, 10:45:00 PM:

memo: I wish more people of all stripes thought the way you did, and not just about politics!  

By Anonymous Blaise, at Mon Jun 25, 02:17:00 PM:

Regarding the editorial "Dangers of One Sided debate", I am eagerly awaiting a Pro-life op-ed piece in the New York Times. I suspect, however, that I will calcify before one appears.  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Mon Jun 25, 08:11:00 PM:

Blaise: you might want to check out some of (regular times columnist) David Brooks' editorials. It could save you from calcification!  

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