The top news editor at the New York Times has revealed an alarming new standard for what now passes as news in that paper.
The Public Editor’s Journal of Oct. 27 quotes him explaining why a news story containing an error should not be thought mistaken: The Times, he said, was only reporting what was common knowledge and that “It’s hard to imagine some version of this is not true.”
Just not the version reported.
Previously, the basic standard for publishing news required reporters to confirm facts. Specific, concrete, verifiable facts. Only talking heads and bloggers spouting fringe opinions relied on assumptions about what is common knowledge or the comforting excuse that surely some version of the events in question must be true.
Every old-school journalist has heard the saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
From now on, readers of the Times will have to do their own fact-checking before relying on news that’s printed whether it’s fit or not.
No less an institution than the New York Times has begun violating the traditional separation between news and advertising on what used to be considered sacrosanct space – the front page.
It isn’t the first to do that, but following the herd isn’t what made the Times into one of the world’s best newspapers.
“Stories from our advertisers” now appear on the Times’ digital front page. These are not news stories, which are researched, written and edited by professionally impartial journalists, in which facts are laid out as accurately as possible regardless of whose ox may be gored. These front-page entries are advertisements, meant to manipulate consumers into buying products they may or may not need.
Thus, they skew information to be convincing. One of today’s “stories” is from a maker of digital home devices that purport to turn your lights on or off, adjust the thermostat and lock or unlock your front door with the touch of a button on your smart phone.
“In a Flash” weaves impressive graphics of raging flames and quotes from expert, supposedly neutral sources into a story about how internet-connected smoke detectors are critical to saving the lives of you and your loved ones if a fire breaks out in your home. Its use of scare tactics is like that often seen in political campaigns, an overwrought insistence that disaster will surely befall anyone unwise enough to vote for the other candidate or chose a different brand of smoke detector.
The Times, of course, is paid for shilling this product to its readers. What used to be the premier newspaper in the United States has chosen to compete for advertising dollars by mixing the slickest ads into space once reserved for the most important news. The front page was the last place where Times readers could be assured that their interest in being informed of the facts – “impartially, without fear or favor,” as its founder put it – came first. Now they’re just another commodity to be shilled to advertisers.
Gun extremists insist that liberty depends on unlimited access to guns. In their view, firearms protect their freedom of expression to threaten a lifelong gun owner with death, but not his right to disagree with them.
Gun journalist Dick Metcalf, 67, suggested in his column at Guns & Ammo magazine that requiring 16 hours of firearms training for gun purchasers was not an unreasonable infringement of their Second Amendment rights. Every constitutional right, he wrote, is regulated in some way. He used the old example of that well-known First Amendment limit on free speech that prohibits people from falsely yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater. More recent versions of this argument would be joking about blowing up an airplane while going through security screening, or posting idle musings on Facebook about which fellow students you might like to shoot.
Unfortunately for Metcalf, his editors fired him after caving to threats about cancelled subscriptions from outraged readers and loss of advertising revenue from gun makers.
Democracy requires consensus, a meeting on middle ground achieved through compromise on both sides. What gun nuts endorse, with their hysteria, distortion and willful refusal to acknowledge rational arguments, is armed-to-the-teeth anarchy. Every person a law unto himself and no central authority to tell him otherwise – if that’s what they want, they might like living in Afghanistan.
There is no law requiring the Catholic Church to report pedophile-priests to the police. If there were, it’s likely the Catholic hierarchy and its supporters would denounce it as “a stunning assault on freedom of conscience and religion.”
With those words, a Chicago Tribune columnist lays out the case that requiring insurance coverage of birth control for workers in Church-run secular businesses also amounts to a “gross violation of a civil liberty” on Catholics.
Let’s get this straight: The law does not require practicing Catholics to use birth control. But that’s not good enough for the godly. They object when anyone uses birth control.
Catholic authorities are not alone in this stance; it’s shared by Protestant fundamentalists. It’s not a view shared by most Americans, including the large majority of American Catholics who use birth control.
The important word here is “control.” This isn’t about freedom of religion or conscience, despite the Church’s attempts to frame its resistance in those high-minded terms. It’s about the Church’s furious efforts to maintain control over its members (especially its female members), even though in this case the horse has already left the barn.
If the Church wants more control over its members, it ought to start by exercising more control over the shepherds of its flocks. It sacrificed the moral authority to preach about matters of conscience when it chose to protect the pedophiles among its priests and to cover up their crimes.
The Chicago Tribune has covered yet another act of censorship in a cloak of journalistic purity worn threadbare by its own double standards.
It refused to run today’s “Doonesbury” comic strip, which includes a pitch for the nonprofit Donors Choose, a charity that connects potential donors with cash-strapped public-school classrooms. In a note to readers on page 2, it explained that today’s strip included “a direct fundraising appeal for a specific charity that the author favors. The Tribune’s editorial policies do not allow individuals to promote their self-interests.”
They do, however, allow Tribune editors to exercise hypocrisy.
There is no more evident self-interest in the “Doonesbury” pitch for this charity than there was in the numerous mentions of the same charity in articles, photos, editorials and letters to the editor published in the last several years by the Tribune and its sister publication, the Los Angeles Times. The Trib’s editors also saw no problem in letting one of its staffers launch and publicize a “Book on Every Bed” campaign to benefit the Family Reading Partnership, or in allowing another staffer to devote one of his columns to pitching his book.
So if the self-interest explanation isn’t the real one, what’s going on?
This isn’t the first time the Trib has censored the work of Garry Trudeau. “Doonesbury” habitually (but not exclusively) skewers right-wing politicians and pundits. The Trib, always staunchly conservative, has taken a very hard turn to the right lately, pounding away at union bosses enjoying unearned pensions and decrying illegal immigrants who flee home to avoid facing criminal charges here. This kind of selective demonizing would have warmed the heart of its long-ago publisher, Robert McCormick, who was known for his extreme right-wing views.
The Trib’s false claim of virtue and its petty insult to Trudeau, which sideswiped a worthy cause, will do nothing to enhance its reputation.