Wednesday, January 18, 2012


All the News That Fits

“Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times, went to his readers with a question (1/12/12): ‘I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.’

“Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had ‘misunderstood’ a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama gives speeches ‘apologising’ for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.

“The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.

“‘Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB.

“‘If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases.’

“‘I hope you can help me, Mr. Brisbane, because I’m an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?’”

—Clay Shirky, media author and columnist, “New York Times Public Editor Asks Whether Paper Should Fact-Check Politicians; Gets Resounding ‘Yes!’”, Jan. 15, 2011

Editorial Comment: Motto: “All the News that Doesn’t Offend”? Well, as publishing mogul Lord Thompson observed, news copy is useful in a newspaper because it prevents advertisements from bumping up against one another.


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  1. I agree with the sentiment, but my concern is that the two examples given are more judgments than facts, and I don't want NYT reporters labeling their own judgments as corrections.

  2. The quotation marks should be enough: "Thomas said he 'misunderstood' a question. . . ."

  3. Back in the 1968 election I was a reporter for a large Rocky Mountain newspaper. As a general assignments reporter, I was assigned to cover two contending congressional candidates in two week shifts with another reporter. He would cover one while I covered the other. My editor told me I was to report what they said and not get into whether or not it was 'true.' So, I told the candidates, each in turn, I wouldn't include any unsubstantiated assertions in my reports. Problem solved. But, such was the power of print in those bygone days.