Letters from our readers.
April 18 1998 3:30 AM

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NewsHour Takes Umbrage

"Today's Papers" of April 15 alleges Jim Lehrer was not truthful Tuesday night when he explained on the NewsHour why Stuart Taylor was dropped as a Supreme Court reporter. The Slate column alleges the reason was that Taylor had had conversations with Kenneth Starr about a job with the independent prosecutor. That is absolutely wrong. In fact, Taylor appeared on the NewsHour during the period when we knew he was talking to Starr.

--Lester M. Crystal, executive producerNewsHour With Jim Lehrer

Editor's note: As we read that column, we find no allegation that Jim Lehrer was not truthful. Any such implication was certainly unintentional.


Defending Dad

This e-mail is in regard to the unfair, as well as poorly researched, article about my father, Henry Louis Gates Jr. It is very seldom that I take notice of any article that even mentions my father. This one caught my eye, not only because of the ridiculous picture of him on the front, but also the numerous pages of incompetent work.

I have grown to know my father's faults over the years, and yes, in many cases people are blind to them. I, for one, think they should be. Never in my life have I seen a man so dedicated. I do not mention only one thing he is particularly dedicated to, because I see him on a day-to-day basis, going to work and doing a job that only he could ever do. He never ever leaves the house before completing a daily routine that he has done every day for as long as I've known him. Part of the routine includes bringing coffee to my mother every morning to start her day, making sure the house is in order, kissing us all goodbye, and then taking care of himself. Although I don't think any of our home life is even any of your business, I had to comment on the fact that you quoted him as saying he was a bad father and husband. If in fact he said that, I am sorry. He is a wonderful father. My sister and I would be the only people to ever know if that is true. Printing it in your little article was, for lack of better words, stupid. I also know my father loves to do a million things at once. That fact holds true wherever we go. Even on slow, laid-back family getaways, where no reporter who is trying to get some recognition can follow us. When he reaches the last thing on the list, it may not be done to the best of his unsurpassable ability, but it wasn't due to any fault of his own. He is an amazing man, it is true, but he gets tired like the best of them do. You can understand that, can't you? You seem to have slept a little bit while you were writing this article. And you can quote me when I say that this article was an insult to your magazine.

--Elizabeth Helen Claire Gates


Interesting Conflict Over Conflict of Interest

In Michael Kinsley's "Ethics Upside Down," he notes that there are two possible reasons why conflict of interest is a bad thing for journalists:

1) The conflict causes some kind of personal advantage to distort either your perception of the truth or your willingness to honestly state what you perceive. In other words, it amounts to a bribe. Or 2) the conflict reveals a previously hidden incentive or tendency to misperceive or misstate the truth.

But I think he misses an important reason: Though the conflict may not reveal a previously hidden incentive (as in 2), it may create one. That is, the journalist's aim before the conflict may have been to present the truth as accurately as he could--whether additionally inserting his own opinion or not--without any hidden incentive or tendency to misstate the truth present. But the conflict itself might create such a tendency or incentive. I cannot judge whether Stuart Taylor fell prey to this possibility. But he certainly could have been instilled with a tendency to misrepresent in order to please a possible employer. Lastly, his incentive need not be financial (a "bribe"). It could be any one or combination of a number of things, including power, prestige, or even misplaced ethical values (values that he thought were right, even if they were, in fact, not). Again, all this is not to say that Taylor is guilty of such an offense. But it should not be so quickly ruled out.


--Rich GoldbergSilver Spring, Md.

Country Road, Take Me Home

It may be the last publicly acceptable stereotype in American journalism: the Appalachian. "Dear Prudence" disparaged this ethnic group with a statement that would be regarded as reckless racism if written about African-Americans or some other ethnic group. Prudie is not the only or the last to do this but only the latest. I have observed these slurs on television, radio, and print sources. I marvel at how supposedly sophisticated journalists can speak, write, or edit such transparently untrue and vicious statements.

You can and should do better than this.


--Steve Booth-ButterfieldMorgantown, W.Va.

How Much Is That Hund in the Window?

Apparently Mark Steyn ("The Worst Songwriter of All Time") has never heard the truly worst of all time. I have. While stationed in Germany during 1954 and '55, I heard German radio play "Wieviel kostet der Hund im Fenster?" Wow!

--Mort Weintraub

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