Bench Memos

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Response to NYT’s Public Editor on Greenhouse Conflict—Part 4


In the course of his recent column disapproving of the New York Times’s decision to hire Bill Kristol as an editorial-page columnist, public editor Clark Hoyt noted that Kristol (who, I’m pleased to note, serves on the policy advisory board of the institute I head) had declined to discuss with Hoyt his previous assertion that the Times is “irredeemable”.  If Hoyt is still puzzled by the merits of the proposition that the Times is irredeemable, he need only examine his own conduct in handling the matter I raised.


Hoyt purports to be the “readers’ representative”, but he has instead shown himself to be a shill for the Times’s editors and for Linda Greenhouse.  Consider:


1.  Part of the job of a newspaper ombudsman is to receive and assess complaints in order to advise whether internal policies are being followed or need to be changed.  What ought to matter to readers is whether the complaints are meritorious.  That matter does not turn on who is making the complaints or the tone in which they are made, and it is an obvious ad hominem fallacy to imagine otherwise. 


2.  The best way to discourage meritorious complaints from being made is to attack the person making the complaint.  That’s exactly what Hoyt has done to me.  At the very time that he validates the heart of my complaints, he goes out of his way to sling baseless charges at me (as I discuss in Part 3).  I’m ready and able to defend myself against Hoyt’s attack, but a lot of other potential complainants won’t have blogs at their disposal or will be deterred by the prospect of being maligned in print. 


3.  Hoyt’s assertion that my complaints “feel more like bullying” is revealing, for Hoyt is putting himself entirely in Greenhouse’s shoes and fighting her battle—or perhaps merely what he imagines to be her battle—for her.  (In connection with my flipping of the “bullying” charge, I’ll add this fine comment from a reader:  “Bullying? That’s rich! Here is the alleged ‘reader’s representative’ of one of America’s largest and most profitable newspapers descending to personal abuse of a blogger and head of a small non-profit organization whom he, forsooth, with all the resources and the vast audience of The New York Times to back him up, accuses of ‘bullying’ for pointing out a simple conflict of interest.”)


4.  As I discussed in Part 2, in sharp contrast to his irrelevant and baseless charges against me, Hoyt offers only the softest of indirect criticism of the sloppy thinking of Greenhouse and the editors on the core substantive question. 


5.  Hoyt’s recommended approach to disclosing conflicts of interest is driven not by any sensible assessment of what would best serve readers but by his perception of how the Times can best defend itself from the “constant partisan assault” that he imagines it to be under.  (See Part 1, points 2 and 5.)

Tags: Whelan


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