The latest NYT crusade?

The latest NYT crusade?

The latest NYT crusade?

A mostly political Weblog.
June 2 2003 12:43 AM

A New NYT Crusade?

Plus: We've got your Brill's content right here!

Mark Steyn's report from Iraq--he not unexpectedly thinks things are going fairly well and the America-bashing international relief agencies are making things worse--would be a whole lot more convincing if he'd gone to Baghdad. Why didn't he? ...

Update:Steyn emails --

Hey, you: 

I hit the suburbs and turned north for a simple reason: Baghdad's already full of reporters. They can't all be talking bollocks, can they?

Also, capital cities are always grossly untypical. Take Ottawa or Canberra or Concord, NH. They're company towns where the company is government. So they're full of government employees and thus, when the government's just been overthrown, they're bound to be atypically steamed - just like sawmill workers in Berlin, NH are steamed when the sawmill shuts down. You can't draw general conclusions from whiney Iraqi DMV clerks. 


3:53 A.M.

WaPo's Kurtz--isn't he supposed to be on his honeymoon?-- does his best to keep the NYT crisis alive:

"The whole place is in total rebellion," says one veteran ....

Meanwhile, embattled NYT editor Howell Raines remains silent. ... There hasn't been a Raines with fewer public appearances since Claude in The Invisible Man! ... 2:47 A.M.


"Forget cancer. Is there a cure for hype?": Maybe Derek Lowe will correct me, but it's looking more and more like the irresponsible Gina Kolata was right in 1998 when she hyped Judah Folkman's anti-angiogenesis cancer-fighting theory on the front page of the NYT--and the responsible experts (such as the New Yorker's Atul Gawande) who huffed at Kolata were wrong. Five years later, a seemingly effective anti-angiogenesis drug has now made the front page of the Washington Post.  ... [But Kolata didn't know she was right at the time--ed. That's what the huffers will say. I say they should gracefully apologize. Kolata sensed it was a big story, she explained why, and it turns out she had a good nose. As did her (pre-Raines!) editors.] ... Panic is not a good thing:  Also, in the same WaPo piece ... Martha sold too soon!...Update: It turns out Lowe  already has a post describing some intriguing theories  about why the anti-angiogenesis drugs seem to work. Do they inhibit blood flow to tumors or increase it (enabling other cancer-fighters to get in and do their job)? ... ... 1:59 A.M.

Update:Drugusta! Drug industry insider Derek Lowe senses a NYT Augusta-like anti-pharmaceutical crusade in the making, of which the Robert Pear story criticized below is but a part. ... Lowe's story-by-story analysis isn't all that unflattering to the Times, but some sort of top-down Times directive would seem to be at work. That might explain Pear's apparent failure to follow the basic print journalism rules ... 12:48 A.M.

Sunday, June 1, 2003

In Salon, Kevin Canfield  exposesthe myth of Pete Yorn. ... My local NPR station, KCRW, has been heavily pushing Yorn, but none of his songs has ever done much for me. Now I realize why: He's not very good! ...  I'd go so far as to  propose a Yorn Index of Media Diversity. Specifically, if the levers of American culture are so concentrated in a few corporate (and public broadcasting) hands that they are able to make a near-mediocrity like Yorn a rock star by cramming him down the public's throat then it really is time to remove Michael Powell from office and pack the F.C.C. with populist trust-busters. I don't think we're there yet, though. ... Bonus music item: They've invented a better version of Natalie Merchant who is not, in fact, Natalie Merchant! (Sample this excellent track.) ...11:56 P.M.


Brill blasts NYT: My old boss, Steven Brill, e-mails:

In Today's Times we have a clear indication that the paper may now be so beset by internal strife that it has fallen off its basic game.

The story by the usually competent Robert Pear about documents detailing the drug industry's lobbying budget and goals for the year is a typically good, important scoop. But what's missing should be clear to anyone who's ever taken a high school journalism class – no effort to get the lobby group itself to comment. 

And if the explanation is that someone at the Times thinks quoting from the internal memos is allowing the group to speak for itself, that is not only absurd but also dangerous in the sense that nowhere in the story are we even told that Pear confirmed with the group that the internal documents are real – ie., that they aren't fake or aren't superceded by later drafts.

 Beyond that, where's the quote from the group saying, "We need spend this money and do all this because….."

Or, "How dare you use our internal documents, which have obviously been furnished to you by our enemies?"

Or, "the other side is going to spend twice as much to ruin the greatest, most caring industry in the free world."

Or, no comment.

And, again, where's the confirmation or no comment to the question about whether the documents are real and present the full picture?

How could anyone, let alone the Times, publish this story with no comment from the group that is the target?  [Link and emphasis added.]

I'd add two additional points:

1) Pear reports blandly, without comment, that a

"memorandum for the PhRMA [the drug industry trade association] board says the industry is on the defensive, facing a 'perfect storm' whipped up by several factors,"

including expanding overseas price contols, Internet sales, and state ballot initiatives, and demands for Medicaid discounts. ... But is the industry really facing a "perfect storm" or are its lobbyists just deploying a scare cliche to justify increasing the trade association's lobbying budget (which means more money and employees for them)? Pear is either unsophisticated or he doesn't want to raise this possibility, because it might undercut from the basic message of his piece, which is that there is a huge front-pageworthy fight brewing and the evil drug companies are out to buy their way to victory;

2) Pear also reports that

"the PhRMA budget allocates $1 million 'to change the Canadian health care system' and $450,000 to stem the flow of low-price prescription drugs from online pharmacies in Canada ... "

Those areshocking numbers--shockingly low. I think it's fair to say that if PhRMA is spending only a million dollars to "change the Canadian health care system" then PhRMA doesn't really hold out much hope of changing the Canadian health care system. Canadians surely can't be bought that cheap. The same goes for stemming "the flow of low-price prescription drugs"--except that the $450,000 figure is so low it's hard to believe it accounts for the drug industry's major effort in this area. (What does $450,000 buy in the corporate world? Half a web site?)  Yet Pear seems to want us to believe that all these numbers are alarmingly high.

I'd argue that the basic bias underlying these shortcomings--in essence, that Pear is playing the willing tool of those who oppose the drug companies' positions--is more important than Pear's failure to get an official comment from PhRMA (which he could then easily bury somewhere in the 'armpit' of his piece). But the latter is a failure too, and a revealing one. It also presumably violates the Times' rules, something they seem to be a bit sensitive aboutthese days. ...

Let the witch hunt continue! ...

P.S. Make 'em deny it! I admit I often haven't followed the "get a response" rule when writing for kf. (I didn't, for example, call Pear before posting this item--though I just sent him an email and will post his response, if any.)  I justify this in part by the difference between the Web and print journalism. On the Web, if the "target" wants to respond, you can quickly put the response in the same place as the original charge, and you don't have to wait a day to do it. And what if you're writing an item in the middle of the night? I say that if a response isn't easy to get, and the charge isn't libelous, and you have good reason to think it's true, it's OK to post the charge and post the response later. ... Then post a response to the response, plus the contributions of other e-mailers and bloggers--and presto, you have Dialogue! You'll get to the truth faster than with print rules under which you wait a day until you can reach some spokesperson (who might use the time to change the facts, or leak the news to a friendlier Web outlet). ...  But I also admit that almost every time I've called a "target" I've learned something--often that the target's P.R. people are liars, but not always. ...

P.P.S.: I didn't call New York'sMichael Wolff either before whacking at him last Friday, but he has sent in a response, which is posted below ...  9:19 P.M.

Friday,  May 30, 2003

Truth is for the Little People! Syllogism of the day:

1. New York's Michael Wolff thinks the kind of "literalism" that sunk Rick Bragg--e.g. that you shouldn't pretend to have been somewhere you weren't--is "the refuge of the non-brilliant."

2. Michael Wolff pretty clearly thinks he's not "non-brilliant."

3.Ergo: Michael Wolff probably does not feel bound by the "literalism" of having to, you know, say what actually happened--a point reinforced in Wolff's most recent New York column, where he talks about  "the great tradition of the most creative reporters (like Joe Mitchell and Lillian Ross, for instance, at The New Yorker, both famous quote pipers)." Wolff also alludes to the difficulty of attempting to mark

the line between absolute fact and the instinctual sense of how far over the line of absolute fact it's safe to go, which is more and more the real tradecraft. Nor is it really possible to explain that smartness in a soft-news world involves a certain quality of plasticity. [Emphasis added.]

Something to keep in mind next time you start a Wolff 'topic-killer.' ...


Wolff responds:

How come you're going after me on the basis of a quotation in such an
august journal as the Hartford Courant? You didn't have time to check
the quote with me? Weren't curious if the reporter might not have
snipped a line from a more meaningful paragraph or two (such things
have never happened?)? You don't even mention, in fact, the source of
the quote--suggesting that it was something I wrote, instead of
something a reporter might well have truncated or gotten wrong. Given
the context--journalists and the short cuts they take--seems like you could have given your story a few more seconds. Just using what you pick up from Jim Romenesko (obviously you yourself don't read the Hartford Courant), without any sort of further verification, is playing a little easy with the facts, no? It certainly shows a reluctance to do a little extra work. Also, your combination of quotation and paraphrase of the sentences I did write without clearly marking my direct words is also something of a slight of hand. You see, you're pushing the line of absolute fact--which is why you're good at what you do (if not exactly noble).

Kf responds: I thought I'd linked to the actual Hartford Courant story, making it obvious to readers where I'd gotten the quote, but I hadn't. I should have-- here's the link. Otherwise, while Wolff says I should have checked the quote with him he doesn't dispute the quote's accuracy, which is further evidence it's accurate. I'd say we're not "pushing the line of absolute fact"--we're asymptotically approaching absolute fact! ... P.S.: Wolff's direct words are clearly marked in the item, so that particular complaint seems bogus. (I did belatedly take the phrase "topic-killer" out of double quotes to make it completely clear that Wolff wasn't the one who used that phrase.) I'd say Wolff's stretching to make it seem as if every writer is as ... er, ... brilliantly unconfined by literalism as he is.

P.P.S.: Jack Shafer, reviewing Wolff's book, Burn Rate, in 1998,  caught the same whiff of smarmy "plasticity:"

[B]y repeatedly reminding the reader of what a dishonest, scheming little shit he is, he seeks to inflate his credibility. A real liar wouldn't tell you that he's a liar as Wolff does, would he? The wealth of verbatim quotations--constituting a good third of this book--also enhances Burn Rate's verisimilitude. But should it? Wolff writes that he jotted down bits of dialogue on his legal pads during meetings while others composed to-do lists. Not to accuse anyone of Stephen Glassism, but I'd love to see Wolff post those copious notes on his promotional Web site ... [Emphasis added.]


4:46 P.M.

Ana Marie Cox says Rick Bragg was a cliche-hunting hack who should have been fired even if he "reported" it all himself.

I stopped reading him long ago, about the time I realized that any article carrying his byline would, more likely than not, be the Platonic ideal of Timesian condescension. More specifically, they would be about people who lived in trailer parks (or some such lower-class milieu) but had the kind of stubborn dignity -- or precocious skill -- that middle-class folks find so quaint.

Some of the Bragg quotes she picks are pretty embarrassing, in large part because Bragg could have written them from a barstool in Manhattan, in advance of any reporting. Why didn't somebody think of just doing that? ... Answer: Somebody did. The secret fraternity of  Bragg and Blair is that both specialized in serving up to Times readers what they wanted to hear. (See Katha Pollitt's points.)  [You sure that won't look fatuous in the morning?--ed. No. It's also heavily influenced by one of the comments on Cox's site, from Al Giordano. I'll blame him.] Link via Instapundit. ... 2:58 A.M.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Howell v. Howie: One of them's wrong ...

But as a general rule, nonstaffers only supplement our correspondents' own basic reporting. They do not substitute for it.

-- Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd,  today's defensive memo to New York Times staff

Milton Allimadi, a Times metro stringer for two years in the mid-1990s, said he routinely filed crime stories that were "barely touched" by editors and reporters but never got a byline. "I often wondered how readers I had interviewed must have been surprised the next day. While interviewing them I identified myself as Milton Allimadi, and the next day the byline would be totally different," he said.

 -- Howard Kurtz, today's Washington Post.

Advantage, Kurtz, I'd say. ... And what about Pulitzer-winning NYT rewrite man Robert McFadden? Does he never rely on nonstaffers for the basic reporting in his pieces (to which his byline is attached)?  Or does the Howell-Gerald "general rule" mean "51% of the time, unless we make an exception"? ... 4:02 P.M.

Excellent Katha Pollitt letter about Rick ("I know what an oyster boat looks like") Bragg on Romenesko:

Part of [Bragg's] appeal (or lack thereof) is the implicit claim that he, a Southerner with rural working-class roots, knows the REAL America and you, the urban Times reader, do not. ... Finding out that he's spent only a few more hours in Apalachicola than the reader calls his whole literary project into question. It shows that he is not, as his stories claim, going off on voyages of discovery, but has a pre-set view of what the story is going to be. He doesn't need to be there because he already knows what he is going to write -- the stringer is just filling in the blanks.

Right. But didn't this guy smell like a phony for years? And doesn't Howell Raines have a nose? Or would Raines then have had to do some sniffing around himself? (How much of the NYT staff's complaint about Raines is that he, like Bragg, seems to have a "pre-set view" of what any given story is going to be? Amoral Bill Clinton is going to sell out blacks on welfare. Iraq is going to be like Vietnam. Augusta is going to be like Selma. Everything is like Selma. Don't let the story bubble up from the field. Raines knows 'in his bones' what it is already.) ... 1:00 P.M.

Rumsfeld's Miscalculation--Not Enough Troops to Win the Peace: Phil Carter, the former Army officer whose blog  was so informative during the Iraq invasion, fleshes out a central argument against Bush's foreign policy:

But the hawks' gloating proved premature. The generals' argument had never been just about what forces it would take to decapitate Saddam's regime. It was also about being ready for the long, grinding challenge after the shooting stopped. By that measure they have been proven dizzyingly correct. ...

Psst, Democrats! Here's your foreign policy issue! Even Andrew Sullivan, the Iraq war's unsteady Orwell, has flipped from gloat to gloom on this issue. ... Carter's piece provides enough details to write at least one effectively damning speech. ... P.S.: Why are all Iraq quotes from "Col. Tim Madere"? (73 Nexis hits in the past 90 days.) He's "overseeing the WMD effort!" He's searching for Saddam's DNA! He's everywhere!  And he gives great, pithy, un-propagandistic sound bites. Does he really exist? ... 12:14 P.M.

Not enough troops in the Congo, where hundreds have been slaughtered. I agree that this is more important than Howell Raines' future. ... 12:10 A.M.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Susan Estrich--whose terrific recent Bill Clinton column has gone offline--seems to be right about him. He doesn't know how to get off the stage and give the current Democratic presidential candidates a chance to get a bit of attention. Just when some of them were beginning to win followings among Democratic voters, Clinton has to talk about repealing the 22d Amendment. ... 7:22 P.M.

Update:  Pulitzer-winner Rick Bragg has resigned from the NYT, as clouds slipped like paper airplanes overhead. ... But Bragg appears to be sticking with his controversial and divisive 'others do the same thing' charge. According to the A.P.,  Bragg

also said that using a freelancer's reporting as the main basis for a story is commonplace at the Times.

Always good to lob a hand grenade through the door on your way out! ... P.S.: Bragg also hit on the NYT's mangement's weak point, namely its past reluctance to give freelancer's credit the way it now claims Bragg should have given his stringer credit. Bragg declares, "It is virtually impossible to get a freelancer a byline in The New York Times." ... P.P.S.: Hunkered-down NYT editor Howell Raines promises his staff "we will be talking with you more in short order." Something to live for. ...Or has Raines finally remembered that book he's always wanted to write? (Suggested topic: "Life Lessons I Learned from my Unbylined Interns") ...  6:43 P.M.

Bragg Backlash Backlash!

"What happened was unfair, but I'm not going to whine about it." -- Rick Bragg.

You coulda' fooled me!   Bragg's been whining for days. ... Meanwhile, aggreived NYT reporters have risen as one (in Romenesko's letter page, and in Mnoosweek) to dispel the impression left by Bragg that everybody does it -- that "most national correspondents will tell you they rely on stringers and researchers and interns and clerks and news assistants."  The NYT's David Firestone is especially indignant, arguing that stringers are used only in "exigent circumstances."

It would have been unthinkable for a national reporter to use a stringer for a descriptive feature story. It would have been laughable for a reporter to have a personal intern.

I'm not so sure. In fact, I know of at least one prominent NYT reporter--not Bragg-- who, beset with workload pressures, recently put out a feeler to hire a personal stringer. ... Bragg's sin may have been worse than other NYT reporters', for the reasons Jack Shafer gives. But it seems clear that a) the NYT policy is a lot more permissive than readers ever knew; b) the NYT rules are unclear, which makes them easy to stretch; and c) the paper is less willing to give credit (which would have the effect of discouraging stringer abuse) than other news organizations. ...

[But didn't the sainted Robert D. McFadden get a Pulitzer for rewriting the reporting of others?-ed. He did. But do I trust McFadden's stories? No. A few years ago he wrote (or rewrote!) a story on New York City's workfare program that alluded to "a recent state survey and other studies" that "suggested that relatively few" workfare participants had found meaningful jobs. I'd never heard of those "other studies," so I called McFadden to find out about them. He a) was an arrogant a__hole, clearly offended that anyone would dare call a NYT reporter to ask him what he'd meant (the way NYT reporters call people every day, when they're actually reporting!) and b) clearly didn't know much about the subject or about the mysterious "studies" he'd cited. I've always wondered why a Times reporter would be unable to answer a simple question about something he'd just written. Now I think I know!] ... [Speaking of reader expectations, do readers know I'm not Jacob Weisberg?-ed. A surprising number don't. Others repeat rumors, circulated for years, that you are really the angry voice of kf's unpaid live-in stringer, Miguelito. Kausfiles' management team has appointed an internal committee to clarify the situation.]  4:45 P.M.

Refugee Flow Resumes:  Sportswriter Buster Olney is joining the long roster of talent fleeing the NYT's Raines/Boyd regime. Olney's leaving for ESPN, and Raines' heavy-handed Augusta crusade is one cause, reports the N.Y. Observer's Sridhar Pappu.

According to sources, Mr. Olney, 39, was increasingly unhappy with how the department was being run from above. They said he'd been distraught over the treatment of former sports editor Neil Amdur, and over the management decision to spike two columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton on the Augusta National controversy.

2:46 P.M.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Where's Howell? Isn't it time we heard from embattled NYT executive editor Howell Raines about his role in the Rick Bragg mess, not to mention the ongoing "Blair Witchhunt" and the general turmoil in his newsroom? I think Kenneth Lay was more accessible to the press during the Enron scandal. ... Is Raines still in charge? His favorite reporters are being punished and humiliated--but by whom? Is Raines doing this himself to save his job? Is Pinch pushing it? Punch? The NYT board?  ... Attention, insiders with information on these questions: You can email me at . All tips appreciated. ...  2:47 P.M.

The WSJ moves the ball on the Bragg story with a detailed (and very carefully bylined) story. a) According to a "Miami intern who later that summer became a paid stringer," Bragg published "four accounts" of a tobacco trial, even though he apparently only "briefly attended court hearings during the punitive-damages phase"  and "when the verdict came out." b) An Atlanta stringer reports that Bragg "relied heavily" on stringers, unlike Raines-dissed reporter Kevin Sack. But Bragg does appear to have deigned to actually interview a few people himself, after they were selected and pre-interviewed by his aides; c) The buried lede: The WSJ makes it pretty clear that NYT editor Raines must have known about Bragg's M.O., unless Raines is extraordinarily unobservant. Bragg, remember, was suspended for failing to credit the work of his unpaid intern, J. Wes Yoder. But

Yoder also helped cover for Mr. Bragg during the trial in Birmingham, Ala., of Bobby Frank Cherry, the last of the remaining Ku Klux Klan suspects in a notorious 1963 church bombing. Indeed, when Times Executive Editor Howell Raines, an Alabama native, visited Birmingham to watch the trial, Mr. Yoder says he sat with the Times' top editor in the courtroom and they spoke at length. "It wasn't like Rick was hiding anything from Howell, or anyone else at the Times," Mr. Yoder says. Mr. Raines went to dinner at least once with Mr. Bragg and Mr. Yoder, Mr. Yoder says. [Emphasis added.]

So if what Bragg did was wrong--justifying a humiliating suspension--and Raines knew it was going on and let it happen, why isn't Raines guilty too? He might be more guilty, actually, since as editor he's the one who is supposed to tell reporters' what the limits are. d) What's Raines' side of the story? He seems to be highly unavailable, hiding behind uninformative NYT spokesperson Catherine Mathis; e) It's revealing that Raines attended the Ku Klux Klan trial at all--more evidence, if any was needed, of Raines self-encasement in the identity of a "white man from Alabama," circa 1963; f) Times flak Mathis does reveal that "many reporters at the Times, including Mr. Bragg, have in the past asked that free-lancers receive bylines on stories but those requests were typically denied." So if Bragg had asked that Yoder get credit on the story, the NYT editors would have turned him down? Was that because they put the marquee-value of Bragg's name over the interests of truthful sourcing? If so, aren't the editors as much at fault as Bragg? ... [Link via Romenesko.] 11:27 A.M.

It ain't Bragging if you really done it! Some kf readers suggest I overreacted in thinking that the Rick Bragg story--and the 'what-did-he-do-wrong?' reaction of some Times reporters--indicates that the Timesuses the reporting of anonymous stringers to a surprising and semi-scandalous extent. What Bragg did was unique, these readers said.  But that is not what Bragg says, according to WaPo:

Month after month, year after year, Rick Bragg said, his mission was to "go get the dateline," even when that meant leaning heavily on the reporting of others.

"My job was to ride the airplane and sleep in the hotel," the New York Times correspondent said yesterday from his New Orleans home. "I have dictated stories from an airport after writing the story out in longhand on the plane that I got from phone interviews and then was applauded by editors for 'working magic.' . . . Those things are common at the paper. Most national correspondents will tell you they rely on stringers and researchers and interns and clerks and news assistants."

I suspect that what Bragg did was a worse case of stringer abuse than is typical, but that isn't the issue. The issue is whether the Times is routinely deceiving its readers into thinking that its stories have the credibility safeguard of a bylined reporter who has actually done the reporting in the story. When I read the above WaPo story, for example, I assumed that the reporter named as the author--one Howard Kurtz--was the person who actually talked to Bragg and got the quotes from him. That practice a) eliminates a potential error-introducing step in the chain of reporting that comes when a stringer interviews the subject and then transmits the information to the reporter who actually writes the story; and b) establishes accountability, since the named reporter can be held completely responsible--by editors, and readers--if he or she gets anything wrong. I think I'm fairly safe inassuming that Kurtz actually spoke to Bragg. But when I read the NYT, I don't know any longer what to assume. ...

P.S.: Why would the Times be so obsessed with 'getting the dateline' if not to give the impression that the bylined reporter has done more reporting work than he or she has actually done? Why not let poor, diabetic Bragg stay at home, conserve his energy, and work his "magic" in comfort--the same way Newsweek writers sit in New York and rewrite files? Just be honest and label it "by Rick Bragg with stringers." Or would that give the game away? ...

P.P.S.: Bragg could have gone quietly. Instead, his parting shot hurt the Times. Will whoever is running the show on 43d St. now retaliate against him? ... 12:48 A.M.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Don't let Terry McAuliffe think about this item:

"So much has to be done for marketing, publicity, commercial tie-ins, and the merchandising."

That's  Arnold Schwarzenegger, explaining why he's not ready to focus on a possible run for Governor of California. We think he was talking about what has to be done for his next movie, Terminator 3, and not what has to be done for his gubernatorial bid. But we're not sure. ... [This reads like a Lloyd Grove item-ed. Maybe Mort Zuckerman will try to hire me.] ... Link via Drudge.11:20 P.M.

"Diversity" backstory: New York' 's Carl Swanson points to something I hadn't known: Gerald "Call It Journalism" Boyd, the New York Times #2 editor who has now botched a series of Raines-era controversies (including the Augusta Spike, the discontent in the D.C. bureau, and the promotion of Jayson Blair) was himself almost certainly promoted because of his race as a crucial part of Howell Raines' campaign to become the #1 editor by sucking up to publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger:

A former Metro editor known for his dry wit in large meetings and his often brusque style, Boyd has been portrayed as a crucial element in the succession drama that pitted Bill Keller, Lelyveld's managing editor, against Raines for the top job when Lelyveld was nearing retirement. Keller said that if appointed executive editor, he would pick Jonathan Landman as his No. 2. Howell told Sulzberger he'd select Boyd, which was widely perceived as a canny political move, since Sulzberger was committed to diversity and Boyd was the only serious possibility.

"Keller said, 'We can't have Gerald as the next editor of the paper," says a well-placed Times reporter. "And Howell picked Gerald to please Arthur."

"It's totally why he picked Boyd, and he's not the best person for the job," says one well-placed Timesman. [Boldface added.]

Hmmm. Landman, who tried to stop Jayson Blair, now seems like a pretty sound choice--while Boyd, who headed the committee that promoted Blair over Landman's opposition, is looking moosier by the day. ... What does this say about a) Pinch's judgment; b) Raines' use of the "diversity" issue to promote himself; c) the consequences of privileging diversity over competence, as a grad student might put it. ... Insider non-race wrinkle: Landman, however, apparently doesn't get along with NYT national editor Jim Roberts--a possible reason, not revealed in the Times' epic self-examination, why Roberts didn't learn of Landman's doubts about Blair. ...

P.S.: Swanson's New York piece is solid, in not-unexpected contrast to Michael Wolff's companion cover story, which is basically histrionic gumbeating. (Wolff buries one provocative point--he seems to argue that reporters almost inevitably bend "absolute fact." But, instead of making his case with examples, he uses it as another platform for sneering.) So why is Wolff New York''s media columnist and not Swanson? ... A friend of mine calls Wolff's pieces "topic-killers." Wolff gets on good stories quickly and then does a mediocre job with them. But he does it splashily enough to preempt the attempt by someone else to do a better job. ...

Update: Some on the right (e.g., and e.g.) seem so eager to blame Raines personally that they are willing to downplay the essential role of race preferences in creating the Blair disaster (in part by creating the Boyd disaster). It was encouraging, then, to see veteran preference foe John McWhorter state the obvious:

It's a "'slam-dunk case,'' McWhorter says: ''The Times values black writers more for their contribution to a headcount than for whether they are truly top-quality reporters, and for all of Raines' good intentions, the result is as dehumanizing as good old-fashioned racism was.''

Saturday, May 24, 2003

I've been in the journalism business for a couple of decades now, including a brief stint at a daily paper. I always thought that when I read a New York Times reporter's byline on a story it meant the Times reporter had actually gone out and reported the story. I was so naive! ... The sensational news from yesterday's Editor's Note  isn't so much that the New York Times' Rick Bragg fraudulently suggested he was present when a quaint oysterman spouted quaint, perfect quotes as he pushed his quaint boat over Apalachicola Bay (if, in fact, this ever happened at all). As Jack Shafer notes, Bragg has been an editor-protected scandalette-waiting-to-happen for years. But I'm genuinely shocked--not for-show shocked and not "shocked, shocked"--at the apparent complaints from other Times reporters that they're now confused because they routinely rewrite the reporting work of stringers (non-Times freelancers) and slap their own bylines at the top! Blair was arguably an aberration. This seems to be systemic. According to the New York Post's Kelly and Barack:

Many Times staffers said they were surprised by the note, since it is common for Times reporters to use material from stringers without giving credit.

"People write off memos filed by stringers a lot," said one insider. "The policy was that the person writing the story got the byline." [Emphasis added.]

Instapundit has posted reader e-mails confirming this NYT practice, and he's shocked too! ... More: Isn't this sort of rewriting-from-files what Newsweek and Time famously do? Wasn't the N.Y. Times's form of journalism alway considered a bit purer because the person who did the reporting also did the writing and stood by it? It turns out we weren't reading the reporting of the famous, cream-of-the-profession Times employees, but the reporting of unidentified "stringers" we've never heard of. ... Conventional journalists sometimes sneer at blogs because there's no way for a reader to know whether what a random, unknown person says on his Web site is true. But it sounds as if the Times is not so different from a  blogafter all--what you are reading is really the work of random, unknown "legs" and stringers. ...

P.S.: Of course, in other ways the Times and the typical blog are very different forms of jounalism. One obsessively reflects the personal biases, enthusiasms and grudges of a single individual. The other is just an online diary! ...

P.P.S.: According to WaPo's Howie "Konflict" Kurtz, an internal memo from Allan Siegel, head of the newly appointed NYT in-house reform committee (or was it his stringer?), asks, "Would we be embarrassed if readers knew the extent of stringers' contribution to reporters' work?" Gee, do you think? Could that be why the stringers' contributions are, you know, kept hidden? ...That one should take a few months to answer. ...

P.P.P.S.: An obvious solution to the Time's secret-stringer problem is to name the actual reporters, the way Newsweek typically does. (It also helps Newsweek and Time that many of their actual reporters are well-known figures, not unknowns.) ... But the other solution is to go in the other direction--eliminate all bylines and let the reader assume that every story is the product of a collaborative rewrite. That's what the Economist does. But a)Times reporters would never stand for the Economist solution; and b) The Economist system, unless rigorously policed, seems like a recipe for Bragg-style fakery. ... Not that British journalism has a reputation for that sort of thing! ...

P.P.P.P.S.: Not only did the Times, as Andrew Sullivan notes, pick a Friday before a holiday to announce the potentially tipping-point-tipping Bragg reprimand. It picked a holiday Friday when Romenesko was on vacation! ... Embattled Times editor Howell Raines really must be worried. ...

P.P.P.P.P.S.:Kausfiles' East Coast stringer, the rumpled, homespun Robert M. "Bobby" Kaus, confirms the deep, deep antipathy toward Raines at the Times. ... [Hasn't the Times had autocrats before? Remember Abe Rosenthal?-ed. Yes. But I guess it's one thing to have an autocrat, like Rosenthal, who is an autocrat in pursuit of some idea of institutional greatness. It's another to have an autocrat who is seen as pursuing his own vendettas and crusades.] .... 4:41 P.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run:Reason gone wild! Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]