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The Public Editor Busts Linda Greenhouse

The Times public editor talks tough about Linda Greenhouse's anti-Bush speech at Harvard: "It seems clear to me that Ms. Greenhouse stepped across that line during her speech."

Times Public Editor Barney Calame deals with the case of Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse's fiery left-wingranting atHarvard in front of fellow alums this June. Butthe headline, if not the meat, of his column paints the problem not as one for misled readers but for endangered journalists: "Hazarding Personal Opinions in Public Can Be Hazardous for Journalists."


But first, a musical interlude. Besides her left-wing anti-Bush ranting documented here, Greenhouse's infamous speech also featured a cringe-making anecdote about crying at a Simon an Garfunkel concert which sounds like something a conservative must have made up:


"About halfway through, they sang their wonderful song 'America,' the one about the two kids riding through the night on a Greyhound bus, 'counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.' When they came to the chorus, 'They've all come in search of America,' I began to cry....I worked hard in the ensuing days to figure it out. Finally, it came to me. Thinking back to my college days in those troubled and tumultuous late 1960's, there were many things that divided my generation....Yet despite all these controversies, we were absolutely united in one conviction: the belief that in future decades, if the world lasted that long, when our turn came to run the country, we wouldn't make the same mistakes. Our generation would do a better job. I cried that night in the Simon and Garfunkel concert out of the realization that my faith had been misplaced. We were not doing a better job. We had not learned from the old mistakes. Our generation had not proved to be the solution. We were the problem."


This is an uncanny echo ofwhat her boss, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., told students at the State University of New York at New Paltz:


"I'll start with an apology. When I graduated from college in 1974, my fellow students and I had just ended the war in Vietnam and ousted President Nixon. Okay, that's not quite true. Yes, the war did end and yes, Nixon did resign in disgrace but maybe there were larger forces at play. Either way, we entered the real world committed to making it a better, safer, cleaner, more equal place. We were determined not to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. We had seen the horrors and futility of war and smelled the stench of corruption in government. Our children, we vowed, would never know that. So, well, sorry. It wasn't supposed to be this way."


ThenGreenhouse went into the familiar part of her rant: "And of course my little crying jag occurred before we knew the worst of it, before it was clear the extent to which our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism."


Calame talks tough: "It seems clear to me that Ms. Greenhouse stepped across that line during her speech. Times news articles are not supposed to contain opinion. A news article containing the phrase 'the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism' would get into the paper only as a direct quote from a source. The same would go for any news article reference to 'the ridiculous actual barrier' on the Mexican border.


Greenhouse defended hers "statements of fact" to Calame: "Ms. Greenhouse told me she considers her remarks at Harvard to be 'statements of fact' - not opinion - that would be allowed to appear in a Times news article. She said The Times has not suggested that she avoid writing stories on any of the topics on which she commented in June. 'Any such limits would be completely preposterous,' she said."