Times Watchdog to Get Axed?

Once again the New York Times is embarrassed by exposure of its low journalistic standards, compounded by the paper's failure to retract a lie prominently published in a New York Times Magazine cover story. When I praised the work of the Times' public editor Byron Calame in showing up the fecklessness of two prominent senior editors, I worried that such praise could only worsen the job security of man doing his job a bit too well.

Today I learn that my fears for Calame's job may be well-founded. Writing in the New York Observer, Michael Calderone reports that the Times is considering eliminating the position of public editor when Calame's contract expires this Spring.

"Over the next couple of months, as Barney's term enters the home stretch, I'll be taking soundings from the staff, talking it over with the masthead, and consulting with Arthur," meaning publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., wrote Bill Keller, The Times' executive editor, in an e-mail to The Observer. ....

Mr. Keller wrote in his e-mail that "some of my colleagues believe the greater accessibility afforded by features like 'Talk to the Newsroom' has diminished the need for an autonomous ombudsman, or at least has opened the way for a somewhat different definition of the job."

Calderone notes that the public editor position was created in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, when it became obvious that the paper's editorial standards were a national laughingstock. The current scandal, first exposed by a pro-life group, and then investigated and further developed by Calame, is in a sense even more serious, because it reveals that editors have no problem with publishing a lie, in their refusal to post a retraction or otherwise officially acknowledge the serious misstatement, of direct relevance to a central point of a featured article.

Moreover, a seamy underside of the Times apparently common practice (no raised eyebrows, no change in policy) of relying on advocacy groups to provide essential services such as translation for its reporters was exposed by Calame.

It looks very much as though the Times is no longer even bothering to deny that it has become an advocacy organ, rather than its former pretense of providing unbiased factural journalism. In a sense, this is progress. Now, all they have to do is admit it in explicit language.

Hat tip: Lucianne Goldberg

Thomas Lifson is editor of American Thinker, where this article first appeared.