Hoyt gets one right

March 24, 2010

I criticize Clark Hoyt (the New York Times ombudsman) a lot, so it seems only fair to note when he gets one right. It doesn’t change the pattern; he’s still defending his paper, this time from the left. But at least he has the facts on his side this time.

Hoyt blows another one

October 8, 2009

Clark Hoyt, the NYT’s ombudsman, dedicates his latest column to defending his paper’s treatment (and, largely, non-treatment) of the ACORN scandal. It’s standard fare from Hoyt so I won’t bother unpacking it. But, he does make one outright error:

Conservatives have accused Acorn of voter fraud, but it has actually been charged with fraudulent registration, not stuffing ballot boxes. Prosecutors have said that Acorn workers were not trying to influence elections but were trying to get paid for work they didn’t do by writing fake names on registration forms.

Oh really? What about the case of Darnell Nash of Ohio? ACORN helped to register him nine times under various names, and last August he pled guilty to casting a fraudulent ballot. There’s also the case in Troy, New York, where an ACORN-linked organization forged dozens of absentee ballots.

That’s two one documented cases, but even setting those aside, Hoyt’s contention is laughable. In 2008, ACORN submitted hundreds of thousands of fraudulent voter registrations. We’re supposed to believe that none of those were intended to become actual votes? Please.

UPDATE (11/23): Contrary to reports, Nash was not convicted of casting a fraudulent ballot. He was charged with doing so, but plea bargained it to fraudulent registration.

Kerrey, the NYT, lies, and airbrushes

January 23, 2010

One of the media’s tricks for spreading misinformation is to quote someone uncritically who is telling a lie. The story may be technically truthful, if the person really did say it. Nevertheless, if the lie is reported without any rebuttal or caution that it might not be true, the story gives the impression that the lie is true, particularly when the lie is woven into the broader narrative of the story. That’s dishonest.

Indeed, my definition of “lie” is to make any statement with the deliberate intention to cause the audience to believe something that the teller thinks is false. By that definition, Bob Kerrey and the New York Times lied about Scott Brown:

“If he’s running against 60 votes and wins, that is not good,” said Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska. “It says that in Massachusetts, they are willing to elect a guy who doesn’t believe in evolution just to keep the Democrats from having 60 votes.”

For the record, Scott Brown does believe in evolution:

“Scott Brown believes in evolution but in the case of Bob Kerrey he’s willing to make an exception.”

Here’s where the story gets interesting. The NYT revised its story to remove the portion of the quote that referred to evolution. But it did so without noting a correction.

ASIDE: As of today, the original story still appears at the Seattle Times, with a byline indicating the story is from the New York Times. Also, Patterico has a screenshot of the Google cache.

What justification could the NYT have for airbrushing the story without a correction? If Kerrey didn’t really make the remark (the likelihood of this seems vanishingly small), then they’ve libeled Kerrey and they need to run a retraction. Much more likely, the NYT was being called on the lie and pulled it. Leaving out the evolution bit would have been the right thing to do in the first place, but they didn’t do that, and now it’s out there. Once they’d helped to spread misinformation, the NYT needed to issue a correction.

So why didn’t they? I can only see one explanation: Issuing a correction would draw attention to the fact that Democrats were lying about Scott Brown. Obviously, the NYT wanted Martha Coakley to win. That’s why they ran the lie in the first place, and if they ran the correction, the whole matter would have been a net positive for Brown. From the NYT’s perspective, that was unacceptable. Better just to leave the lie out there, and take the rip from people who hate the NYT already.

POSTSCRIPT: We can now look forward to Clark Hoyt’s column on the matter, in which Hoyt will defend the paper (as he nearly always does) writing that although they made an error in judgement, that error was not the result of bias.


December 7, 2009

When the climate scandal broke, the New York Times decided not to publish the leaked emails and documents, making the risible argument:

The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.

Of course, the NYT publishes illegally acquired documents all the time (often damaging national security). But that’s when the documents’ publication serves to further the NYT’s political aims.

Now the NYT ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, is doing his job, which is to defend the NYT regardless of how indefensible its position is. Hoyt says:

As for not posting the e-mail, Revkin said he should have used better language in his blog, Dot Earth, to explain the decision, which was driven by advice from a Times attorney. The lawyer, George Freeman, told me that there is a large legal distinction between government documents like the Pentagon Papers, which The Times published over the objections of the Nixon administration, and e-mail between private individuals, even if they may receive some government money for their work. He said the Constitution protects the publication of leaked government information, as long as it is newsworthy and the media did not obtain it illegally. But the purloined e-mail, he said, was covered by copyright law in the United States and Britain.

Oh, I see. The NYT’s policy is that it will publish illegally obtained documents when they belong to the government, but they won’t publish them if they are private.

Does that sound plausible to you? No, it didn’t sound plausible to me either. Of course the NYT would have no qualms of publishing private, stolen documents if they served the NYT’s purposes. You needn’t accept my judgement either, because it took less than a minute of googling to uncover this:

In May 1994, the Times published a series of stories about the tobacco industry that were based on the pre-Internet equivalent of leaked e-mails. The paper’s coverage later led to a book by reporter Philip J. Hilts titled Smokescreen: The Truth Behind The Tobacco Industry Cover-up.

The circumstances surrounding the tobacco industry then and the climate science community now are remarkably similar, yet the Times reached exact opposite conclusions about how to cover the news.

In the tobacco case, the NYT published documents that were illegally obtained and private, just as the climate documents. In fact, not only were they private, there was a legal injunction in place forbidding their publication. The NYT chose to defy the court and publish anyway. (ASIDE: I’m not saying they were wrong to do so.)

So let’s drop the nonsense about copyright law. That’s not even a good bogus argument. Obviously the NYT is perfectly willing to defy the law when they feel like it. The point is they didn’t want to publish these documents.

(Via Instapundit.) (Previous post.)

Bad faith

September 28, 2009

Clark Hoyt, the NYT ombudsman, has a formula when addressing complaints about his newspaper’s misconduct. First, he admits the paper made a mistake, then he denies it did so in bad faith. But lately, he’s had cases in which the NYT’s bad faith has been so blatant that it’s been necessary to withhold some of the facts. A few weeks ago, he did so in a small scandal involving David Pogue, the NYT’s technology columnist, and now he’s done so in the ACORN scandal.

He begins his latest column this way:

ON Sept. 12, an Associated Press article inside The Times reported that the Census Bureau had severed its ties to Acorn, the community organizing group. Robert Groves, the census director, was quoted as saying that Acorn, one of thousands of unpaid organizations promoting the 2010 census, had become “a distraction.”

What the article didn’t say — but what followers of Fox News and conservative commentators already knew — was that a video sting had caught Acorn workers counseling a bogus prostitute and pimp on how to set up a brothel staffed by under-age girls, avoid detection and cheat on taxes.

As James Taranto points out, this is only half true. Indeed, the NYT’s version of the AP article did not say anything about the sting. But the AP article did:

ACORN fired two employees who were seen on hidden-camera video giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman who pretended to be a prostitute. Fox News Channel broadcast excerpts from the video on Thursday. On the video, a man and woman visiting ACORN’s Baltimore office asked about buying a house and how to account on tax forms for the woman’s income. An ACORN employee advised the woman to list her occupation as “performance artist.”

In a statement, ACORN Maryland board member Margaret Williams said the video was an attempt to smear ACORN, and that undercover teams attempted similar setups in at least three other ACORN offices. Williams said no tax returns were filed and no assistance was provided.

The NYT actually edited the AP article to remove the information explaining the controversy. (“All the news that’s fit to print”!) That fact alone makes the denial of bad faith unworkable. No wonder Hoyt keeps it from the reader.

This incident, like the earlier Pogue incident, makes it crystal clear that Clark Hoyt’s job has nothing to do with holding his paper accountable. His purpose is to cover for his paper’s misdeeds, in order to reassure the NYT’s remaining readers that it is behaving responsibly. In other words, he is just another dishonest NYT journalist.

Never trust the New York Times

September 7, 2009

There’s an interesting kerfuffle going on in Mac-land:

  • David Pogue, the New York Times technology columnist, writes a review of Apple’s new Snow Leopard operating system. He gives it a glowing endorsement, saying that “paying the $30 for Snow Leopard is a no-brainer.” In passing that he mentions that he experienced a few “frustrating glitches” in various non-Apple programs. No big deal.
  • Pogue expands on the “frustrating glitches” to Venture Beat. It turns out they are serious, of the you-can’t-do-your-work variety.
  • People wonder why Pogue would write such a glowing review for a product that doesn’t work right.
  • It turns out that Pogue has a book deal to write a how-to for Snow Leopard, so he has a financial incentive to encourage people to get it.

At this point Clark Hoyt, the NYT “public editor”, enters the story. As usual, Hoyt defends the column. But here’s the interesting part: he doesn’t let on what the controversy is about. He mentions that Pogue has a conflict-of-interest between his column for the NYT and the book deal, but frames it as a hypothetical issue rather than a real one. He does not mention that the controversy arose because Pogue found serious issues with the product and failed to mention them in his column. If one only read the NYT, one would never know that there’s a real issue here.

Via Colby Cosh, who remarks:

Once again, Cosh’s Law of Newspaper Ombudsmen holds true: we are supposed to believe they exist to defend the interests of the reader against those of the newspaper, but their actual job is precisely the opposite.

(Via Instapundit.)

All the news that’s fit to suppress

July 5, 2009

Clark Hoyt, the New York Times ombudsman, dedicates his latest column to a defense of the paper’s conduct in the affair of the kidnapping of David Rodhe, a New York Times journalist. Rodhe and one of his companions, an Afghan journalist, escaped and are now free.

I hadn’t heard of this affair, and that’s by design. In an effort to protect its employee, the NYT went to great lengths to suppress any mention of the kidnapping not only in its own pages, but elsewhere as well:

The Times went to extraordinary lengths to quash the Rohde story and to shape information that might be available to the kidnappers on the Internet. Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, was enlisted to keep word of the kidnapping off that site, even as user-editors tried to post it. Michael Yon, an independent journalist, posted an item on his blog in March and was quickly asked to take it down, which he did.

Michael Moss, a Times reporter, edited Rohde’s biography on Wikipedia to highlight his reporting that could be seen as sympathetic to Muslims and to remove the fact that he once worked for The Christian Science Monitor. Moss wrote similar information on Rohde’s Times Topics page on the paper’s Web site. He and Catherine Mathis, the Times’s spokeswoman, even persuaded a group of New England newspapers to remove Rohde’s wedding notice and photos from their Web site so the kidnappers would not have personal information they could use to pressure him psychologically. I found this last action troubling because The Times takes a hard line against removing information from its own archive.

Much of the column is dedicated to an explanation of why the NYT was willing to go so far to protect its own, while simultaneously reporting on other middle eastern kidnappings, including a U.S. soldier. Hoyt claims that the NYT would be just as willing to protect others, if it had only been asked. Readers will decide for themselves how much they believe that.

It’s well and good that the NYT wanted to protect its people. But it’s important to note the flexibility of the NYT’s dedication to The Public’s Right To Know. When running a story would endanger people, the public’s right to know depends on who those people are.

(Via Hot Air.)


May 26, 2009

Yet another bogus NYT story:

Edmund Andrews, Times financial reporter, is promoting a new book claiming to detail his personal journey through the dark underside of easy mortgages and financial distress.

The NY Times gave him space in the NY Times magazine to talk up his story and his book. But missing from the story is any mention of the fact that his wife has filed for personal bankruptcy not once, but twice. For a story about personal finances, that is a staggering omission, leading to some absurd phoniness in the Andrews tale.

(Via Instapundit.)

How did the book happen?  Clark Hoyt, the NYT ombudsman, explains:

In the fall of 2007, Andrews went to his editors with a book proposal. He wanted to tell how the subprime mortgage crisis happened — greedy lenders, regulators who looked the other way and people like himself who made foolish choices.

Though the timing was terrible for The Times — Andrews was the main Washington reporter on the story — he burned to illuminate a national crisis through his personal experience. And he had another strong reason: He needed money.

“I was desperate,” he said. He still is. Seven months behind on his mortgage, he may lose his home unless “Busted,” which comes out this week, is a hit.

So the book arose in circumstances that maximize the likelihood of an ethical breach, and was nevertheless okayed by the editors. Thanks for the explanation. I have to say, Hoyt has a unique ability to write defenses of the New York Times that make it seem even worse than before.


October 19, 2008

In Clark Hoyt, the NYT has finally found the ombudsman they’re looking for: a man who (to maintain credibility) occasionally will gently chide the paper, but will not hold the paper to account for its extreme partisanship. It’s not working — the credibility part, that is — but that doesn’t really matter to a paper that didn’t even see the need for an ombudsman for the first 153 years of its 157-year history.

Yesterday Hoyt published his latest column, on an article about which he received complaints from liberals. (Via Hot Air.) Liberal complaints are the holy grail for a man in his position, because he can set them off against conservative ones to claim balance. But those complaints (that an article said a few positive things about Sarah Palin) are just the entry point to his thesis: it’s our fault. The Times isn’t biased, we just don’t like the news.

According to Hoyt, the NYT has made two mistakes in its election coverage this year: rejecting the McCain op-ed, and running a thinly-sourced hatchet job insinuating that McCain had an affair. As for the rest, Hoyt writes:

Bias is a tricky thing. None of us are objective. We like news that supports our views and dislike what may challenge them. We tend to pick apart each article, word by word, failing to remember that it is part of a river of information from which facts can be plucked to support many points of view. Perversely, we magnify what displeases us and minimize what we like.

That is true, to some extent, which is a reason why, on this blog, I don’t write much about media bias (other than quantitative analyses). Of course there is media bias in favor of liberals; it’s ridiculous to deny it, but it’s so subjective that it’s not fruitful to complain. Moreover, journalists are entitled to their biases; that’s what freedom of the press is really for.

Instead, I write about media failure, that is, inarguable misconduct by the media. Usually this takes the form of stories that are not merely biased but inaccurate or misleading: they either report outright falsehoods, or make allegations unsupported by their reporting, or carefully omit key facts. I also occasionally comment on other media malice and hypocrisy, when I think it’s inarguable.

Since I started this blog last March, the New York Times has provided my richest vein of media failure material. As just a sampling, during that time the NYT has: invented a McCain gaffe, called academic freedom for a Republican “inexplicable”, falsely accused McCain of corruption in regard to land-swap legislation, construed the Iraq surge as failed using carefully selected numbers (and refused to correct), confirmed an outlandish anti-American claim by Jeremiah Wright, given MoveOn.org a special deal on an ad attacking General Petraeus, misreported the corporate income tax in a manner favorable to Democrats, inaccurately reported that Sarah Palin belonged to the Alaskan Independence Party, inaccurately reported that Palin cut Special Olympics funding, promoted the Wasilla rape-kit lie, posted an incorrect transcript of the VP debate (unfavorably to Palin), misreported the substance of a charge that Obama interfered with Iraqi negotiations, and emailed schoolmates of McCain’s daughter looking for dirt on his wife.

All of this misconduct was hostile to Republicans. Can Hoyt cite comparable misconduct hostile to Democrats? (And would he want to?)

Sorry Mr. Hoyt, I don’t think it’s all in my head.

NYT ombudsman on the McCain op-ed rejection

August 3, 2008

Clark Hoyt, the New York Times ombudsman, has written his inevitable column on his paper’s rejection of McCain’s op-ed piece. (Actually, it came out a week ago, but it never got much attention and I only went looking for it today.)

Hoyt admits the paper screwed up. He concludes:

In the midst of an intense presidential campaign, publishing an Op-Ed from one candidate without a plan for one from his opponent, invites just the sort of beating The Times is taking this week.

But his critique is really that they should have finessed the issue better; he excuses the actual rejection:

Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page of The Times, said McCain’s Op-Ed was not rejected. Shipley was asking for revisions, just the way The Times asks every Op-Ed contributor for revisions, Rosenthal said. “Barack Obama’s Op-Ed was also edited,” Rosenthal said. “We asked for revisions, and it was edited. Every article in The New York Times gets edited.”

But McCain was not being asked for some minor, routine editing changes. What Shipley wanted amounted to a total rewrite.

This is a distinction without a difference. As anyone in academia knows, almost never is a paper rejected outright. Instead, the author is invited to resubmit the paper after making major revisions. Often, those required revisions are enough (or even intended) to scuttle the paper.

What revisions did the NYT ask of McCain? Just this:

“We don’t use the Op-Ed page for people to respond directly to articles in the paper or other Op-Eds. That’s what letters to the editor are for,” Rosenthal said. “The McCain campaign was aware of that before they sent in their draft.”

Shipley told Michael Goldfarb, the deputy director of communications for the McCain camp, “It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece.” The article “would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory – with troop levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the Senator’s Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan.”

The first bit (arguing that they don’t publish responses to op-eds as op-eds) is not really true, but more importantly it’s a red herring. If they wanted a non-response, they could have simply asked for that. Instead, they went on to give a set of requirements that were tantamount to an outline of the op-ed they would be willing to publish.

Here’s the point that Hoyt misses.  The New York Times is hostile to McCain.  They don’t want to publish an effective McCain piece, and even if they did, they don’t think like he does (as is quite evident from their outline’s talk of timetables).  The New York Times simply cannot expect to dictate the content of an op-ed by the candidate they hate.  If they really wanted to publish a piece from McCain, they needed to give him the latitude to convey his own message.

Hoyt misses two other points as well.  First, their claimed “no response” rule, even if we accept that it is a real rule, hardly makes sense in this context.  Obama’s op-ed attacked McCain, and attacked the policy McCain has advocated (i.e., the surge).  Is it reasonable that Obama can attack McCain, but by virtue of having published first, he cannot be rebutted?

Second, even if we set aside the NYT outline, a piece explaining McCain’s policy would be pointless.  He already has a record, and has consistently and publicly advocated the course that we are finally on.  Unlike Obama, there is no need for McCain to explain what his policy is.

NYT decides it was right

July 8, 2008

The New York Times has finally found the ombudsman “public editor” it needs, one who will stand by the paper no matter what.  Clark Hoyt’s latest column defends the paper’s decision to identify a CIA interrogator (who is not accused of any wrongdoing) by name:

I understand how readers can think that if there is any risk at all, a person like Martinez should never be identified. But going in that direction, especially in this age of increasing government secrecy, would leave news organizations hobbled when trying to tell the public about some of the government’s most important and controversial actions.

Left answered (and indeed unasked) is the question of why then it was so bad for Robert Novak to identify Valerie Plame by name.  Plame, after all, was a central character in a huge story about another of the government’s controversial actions.

As I’ve said before, it’s a good thing the Plame-Novak-Armitage affair has largely run its course.  After this, any more crocodile tears from the NYT on Plame’s behalf would be awfully hard to take.

(Previous post.)

NYT admits flawed Wright coverage

May 5, 2008

Public Editor Clark Hoyt admits that it might have been useful to report the news:

While The Times was aggressive with its coverage on the Web, it was slow to fully engage the Wright story in print and angered some readers by putting opinion about it on the front page — a review by the television critic of his appearances on PBS, at an N.A.A.C.P. convention and at the National Press Club — before ever reporting in any depth what he actually said. . .

Carol Hebb of Narberth, Pa., spoke for many when she wrote that she found the newspaper’s initial coverage “very strange.” If editors did not think Wright’s remarks were newsworthy enough to be on the front page, she asked, why did they put the review by Alessandra Stanley there? “I was very surprised that her piece was not accompanied by a ‘factual’ article reporting the content of Mr. Wright’s comments more completely and perhaps adding some meaningful context.” . . .

Peter Weltner of San Francisco wrote that he wished The Times had examined what he said were falsehoods in Wright’s remarks — like the claim that blacks and whites learn with different parts of their brains — instead of “merely guessing why Mr. Wright said it.”

I’m with Hebb and Weltner. For a newspaper that showed great enterprise on the subject last year — breaking the story that Obama had disinvited Wright to deliver the invocation at the announcement of his presidential campaign, and publishing a deep examination of their relationship before most Americans had heard of Wright — it was a performance strangely lacking in energy at a potential turning point in the election.

“Strangely” lacking? Not so strange, I would say.

Incidentally, Tom Maguire notes that the NYT still has yet to report the “God damn America” phrase in any news story.  (Via Instapundit.)