The videos posted by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles at Big Government exposed ACORN housing officials around the country as eager to lend a hand. They wanted to help O’Keefe and Giles set up brothels in which minors from Central America would be set up as working girls. The New York Times did its damndest to ignore the story, until the political consequences of the videos made it almost impossible.
New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt takes up some of the obvious issues that arise from the Times’s treatment of the exposure of ACORN. Hoyt does a good job even if his column reads like deadpan comedy. Here Hoyt considers an exercise in suppression by reporter Scott Shane:
Abramson explained that the Times had missed the Jones story in part because its Washington bureau was undermanned. Otherwise the Times would have been right on top of it.
The Times quoted a statement by Bertha Lewis, Acorn’s chief executive, saying that the two activists, James O’Keefe, 25, and Hannah Giles, 20, spent months visiting Acorn offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia before getting the responses they wanted. But the article left out one city Lewis cited: New York. Between the time of her statement and the publication of the article, a new video surfaced, featuring an Acorn worker in Brooklyn advising Giles to bury money from prostitution in a tin.
Some readers saw a deliberate effort by the paper to help Lewis out of a tight spot. Scott Shane, the reporter, said he had been unable to reach Lewis and felt that including New York among the cities she mentioned would have implied unfairly that she was lying, something for which he had no evidence. He said he thought it was unlikely that employees in New York would inform her of their misconduct before the video appeared. I think he should have included New York. One persistent complaint about Acorn is that it fails to manage its staff. Lewis’s statement was removed from Acorn’s Web site after a video was posted with an Acorn worker from San Diego suggesting how to smuggle girls across the border.
I thought that Abramson might have a similar explanation this time around, but Abramson diplays her comedic chops with more originality:
Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” 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.
“Insufficient tuned-in-ness” is a new diagnosis of what’s ailing the Times, but now that we’ve got it, I’m sure we’ll find it handy in the future. It explains a lot, and not just at the Times.
Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz sniffs around the ACORN story in “Guerrilla journalism.” It’s a long column, but Kurtz never gets around to discussing the Post’s drive-by treatment of O’Keefe by Post reporters Darryl Fears and Carol Leonnig.
When the Post got around to covering O’Keefe’s work, Fears and Leonnig fabricated the existence of an O’Keefe quote demonstrating O’Keefe’s racial animus. The Post subsequently admitted the quote didn’t exist and ran a correction conceding the point in weasel words.
In his column on the ACORN story, Kurtz contrasts the Post’s modus operandi with that of O’Keefe and Giles. Kurtz writes, “lying is a firing offense at many news organizations.” He implies that the Post is therefore above the “guerrilla journalism” of the likes of O’Keefe and Giles.
That’s not what the case of Darryl Fears makes out. At the Post, lying may result in a “correction” while the lie makes its way around the world. And the “news organization” will go merrily on its way. As for insufficient tuned-in-ness, there’s a lot of it going around.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin comments on Hoyt’s column.
MORE: Glenn Reynolds helpfully adds: “ADVICE TO CLARK HOYT: Have the NYT editors read InstaPundit. It’s painless, and they’ll learn a lot about political stories their own reporters are ignoring. Plus, frequent nanotechnology updates! And they’ll enjoy it more than Fox News.”
JOHN adds: Scott makes the main points that need to be said about Hoyt’s column. I would add that Hoyt couldn’t resist taking a shot at O’Keefe and Giles, who committed the offense of embarrassing the newspaper he is paid to defend (if at all possible) against all comers. So he came up with this:
And the two were sloppy with facts. One Acorn employee who bragged about killing one of her former husbands said she knew she was being scammed and was playing along. The police said they found her ex-husbands alive.
But it was the ACORN employee, not O’Keefe and Giles, who was “sloppy with facts.” They just recorded what she said, they didn’t vouch for it. You can watch the video yourself and judge the claim that the ACORN worker was “playing along;” I think most observers would judge that she was a lunatic–but not one who had any objection to aiding and abetting prostitution, mortgage fraud, tax evasion, etc.
As he has in past columns, Hoyt assures his readers that the Times isn’t a shill for liberal causes and politicians. But he confesses that the widespread perception of liberal bias is a problem for the paper, quoting a journalism expert to the effect that “[e]ven the suspicion of a bias is a problem all by itself.” To say that the New York Times is suspected of liberal bias is like saying that Ted Bundy was suspected of being an unsuitable prom date.
PAUL adds: As Scott suggests, the “insufficient tuned-in-ness” Jill Abramson cops to is just another name for the liberal bias Hoyt says his paper is suspected of.