Public Editor Has Problem With Paper's Front-Page Editorializing for Obama-Care

In his Sunday column "Hanging On as the Boundaries Shift," public Editor Arthur Brisbane agreed with a reader's complaining that economics writer David Leonhardt's liberal column of a judge's ruling against Obama-care appeared on the front page.

Brisbane admits that one of the "challenges" for newspapers like the Times is clearly delineating fact from opinion.

The most glaring recent example that drew my eye was the Dec. 15 front-page column by David Leonhardt analyzing the debate over health care reform. The piece, a day-two follow-up to the news that a federal judge in Virginia had overturned the health care law's central provision, drew complaints from readers like Sheila R. Markin of Sarasota, Fla., who wrote: "The Times does itself no good by putting these articles on the front page. It loses its status as an objective newspaper."

She added, "I want my newspaper to be known for its unbiased articles on the front page." Ms. Markin nailed it with this last sentence. I have no problem with Mr. Leonhardt's analysis; he's an accomplished economics writer and is entitled to his view. It was The Times's decision to place it on Page 1 that posed the difficulty, sending the message that The Times's take on health care is synonymous with Mr. Leonhardt's, which some see as progressive or liberal.

Times Watch pointed out in December that Leonhardt's front-page story equated Obama-care to civil rights for blacks. He wrote:

We've lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed....After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of "naked judicial power" that would sow "chaos and confusion" and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as "asking for trouble" and civil rights laws as being on "the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more."

There's nothing new about Leonhardt's front-page cheering for Obama-care.

Reporters got in on the front-page editorializing as well. Tara Siegel Bernard celebrated House passage of the Obama-care legislation with a front-page story claiming "almost everyone would benefit from new regulations, like the ban on pre-existing conditions that would apply to all policies come 2014."

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