New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt's latest column tackles the
ACORN scandal - or as Times readers know it: "What ACORN scandal?"
In "Tuning In Too Late ," Hoyt criticized the Times for its lack of coverage of the juicy ACORN imbroglio, an omission that has prodded the paper into creating a new semi-position. It's assigned an editor to monitor opinion media and catch stories like this earlier (apparently not a single television at Times headquarters is tuned to Fox News, where they could have caught it quite easily.)
Hoyt summarized the video sting in which ACORN workers at several branches across the country were captured giving advice on child sex trafficking and tax evasion to a gaudy pimp and a hot-pants prostitute (actually conservative activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles). The tapes, whose gradual release were masterfully mediated by Andrew Brietbart at his new website BigGovernment.com, resulted in ACORN being cut off from federal funding and losing its ties to the Census Bureau and IRS. Yet the Times took little interest in the scandal and the consequences:
But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes - closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser - suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs.
Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.
This is quite misleading. The Times already monitors opinion media
for story tips. It's just that they only monitor the left side of the
blogosphere. Lachlan Markay provided some stark examples at NewsBusters on Sunday:
The Times consistently cites liberal blogs far more than ones on the right, undermining the claim that they missed these two stories because they don't monitor online media. A Nexis search reveals 477 combined mentions of five of the left's top blogs: Huffington Post, Think Progress, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos, and Media Matters.
But a search for five of the right's top blogs, Hot Air, Pajamas Media, NewsBusters, RedState, and TownHall turns up only 18 combined mentions from the Times.
The left-wing Talking Points Memo, run by Josh Marshall, was recently praised by Executive Editor Bill Keller . It's a favorite source for Times reporters .
Liberal columnist Maureen Dowd took its name too literally when she
plagiarized it. And the online version of Monday's front-page profile
of Elizabeth Cheney links to left-wing media watchdog Media Matters as
its source for an unflattering anecdote.
The Times's hesitation to pick up news from conservative media didn't start with ACORN, of course. Before missing the outcry over Obama environmental adviser and 9-11 Truther Van Jones, the paper ignored the affair of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards during the 2008 presidential campaign, until he admitted it in a television interview. Hoyt even criticized the paper for not taking the Edwards affair story seriously in an August 2008 column. Apparently no one listened.
Hoyt quibbled with the paper's delayed first story on ACORN, which ran under the headline, "Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe."
The article said that conservatives hoped to weaken the Obama administration by attacking its allies and appointees they viewed as leftist. The conservatives thought they had a "winning formula," the article said, mobilizing people "to dig up dirt," then trumpeting it on talk radio and television....I thought politics was emphasized too much, at the expense of questions about an organization whose employees in city after city participated in outlandish conversations about illegal and immoral activities.
Scott Shane's "Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe" hit the high points but overplayed the ideological angle, as the headline hints. There are six conservative labels in the story, not including the headline, and Shane portrayed the scandal in pure political terms, with "the right" as "gleeful" in claiming its "latest scalp," as opposed to expressing outrage over a tax-funded leftist organization with connections to the Census Bureau and IRS (!) encouraging tax evasion and child prostitution.
Hoyt then quoted Managing Editor Jill Abramson pretty much admitting
the paper is not in tune with what right-leaning people are thinking,
blaming "insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating
Fox News and talk radio." Then the big news:
She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person "a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere."
Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.
Abramson also previously admitted the paper was "a beat behind " in its Van Jones coverage, but blamed the Labor Day weekend and also denied any liberal bias.
- Clay Waters is the director of Times Watch , an MRC project tracking the New York Times.