Drive-By Reporting at the New York Times

Rush Limbaugh refers to the mainstream media as the “drive-by media,” a term that is all too often apt. This Editors’ Note in today’s New York Times reveals a case in point:

A front-page article on Sept. 14 reported that the inspector general of the Interior Department had accused top officials at the agency of tolerating widespread ethical failures. The article said that the inspector general in a 2004 report had described J. Steven Griles, a deputy secretary accused of more than two dozen ethical lapses, as a “train wreck waiting to happen.” That quotation was taken out of context. The quotation said in full: “Framed within the context of a train wreck waiting to happen, the Department of the Interior was presented with its most complex set of ethical issues with Mr. J. Steven Griles appointment at a time that, following years of neglect, demise and compartmentalization, the ethics program was wholly incapable of addressing them.”

The article also said that Mr. Griles resigned after the accusations against him surfaced. In fairness, the article should have made clear that his resignation came nine months after a government ethics office and his boss concluded that he had committed no ethical breach.

The article also said that efforts to reach Mr. Griles for comment the night before publication were unsuccessful. But the article was posted on the Web site of The Times that night shortly after a message was left for Mr. Griles. In fairness, further efforts should have been made to contact Mr. Griles between the time of the Web posting and the final deadline for the print edition.

Note that Griles was appointed as Deputy Secretary in 2001, so the “years of neglect, demise and compartmentalization” occurred during the Clinton administration. And the Times smeared Griles without bothering to mention that he had been cleared of the ethical charges that the paper repeated.

We keep waiting for the Times to hit bottom, but it hasn’t happened yet. The paper’s hyper-partisan culture has made it impossible for anyone to rely on its reporting.