Media Blog

Tua Culpa

NY Times public editor Clark Hoyt was not impressed with his paper’s McCain story. The gist is this: 

The article was notable for what it did not say: It did not say what convinced the advisers that there was a romance. It did not make clear what McCain was admitting when he acknowledged behaving inappropriately — an affair or just an association with a lobbyist that could look bad. And it did not say whether Weaver, the only on-the-record source, believed there was a romance. The Times did not offer independent proof, like the text messages between Detroit’s mayor and a female aide that The Detroit Free Press disclosed recently, or the photograph of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart’s lap.
…A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.
… I asked Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, if The Times could have done the story and left out the allegation about an affair. “That would not have reflected the essential truth of why the aides were alarmed,” she said.
But what the aides believed might not have been the real truth. And if you cannot provide readers with some independent evidence, I think it is wrong to report the suppositions or concerns of anonymous aides about whether the boss is getting into the wrong bed.

This criticism is many days late and several dollars short, but it’s probably the best the Times will offer.
What is truly amazing is the response from Bill Keller & al., who are basically arguing that this isn’t a story about adultery, and that they are “surprised” that the unsophisticated rubes who read the New York Times have failed to see the “real issue.” In other words, this is your fault, readers, for being insufficiently enlightened to appreciate the fine judgment of the New York Times.

Am I the last young fogey who believes that adultery is not only wrong but wrong enough to disqualify somebody from public office? There are very few occasions in life at which we are expected to make public vows or oaths: being married and being sworn in to public office are two of those occasions. If you break a vow made to your wife, family, friends and–let’s not forget–to God, you shouldn’t expect people to trust you with the nuclear football and national fisc.
The editors of the New York Times express surprise that people find that angle of the story particularly interesting, which really does shed some light on how very differently they see the world from the way we hicks in the sticks see it.

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