Posts Tagged ‘New york Times’

A False Argument on ‘False Balance’

Sunday, September 18th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

donald_trump_king_of_the_birthersHallelujah! Praise the lord and pass the ammunition! The cavalry has arrived. Less than a week after its public editor offered a bass-ackwards interpretation of the “false balance” issue (“Here’s the Truth About ‘False Balance,’’’ Sept. 11), The New York Times ran an article at the top of its front page that perfectly demonstrated the proper way to avoid false balance in covering a political campaign: Tell the actual truth.

Saturday’s (Sept. 17) Times led with a story headlined: “Trump Gives Up a Lie But Refuses to Repent.’’ It carried a subhead: “No Apology After 5 Years of Nurturing ‘Birther’ Issue to Undermine Obama.” What followed was a carefully detailed accounting of Donald Trump’s “birther” lie, which was nothing more than a racially coded effort to delegitimize the nation’s first black president.

The piece, by Michael Barbaro, was actually a news analysis and was labeled as such, but the Times still led the paper with it, rather than the straightforward (presumably unbiased) story reporting on the big announcement by Trump. That’s because Barbaro’s piece put the whole sordid truth out there, in perspective, for readers to digest. There was no worry about whether the story was “too liberal’ (another worry of the new public editor) or too harsh. It was true. Every bit of it. What Trump said and continues to say (he claims Hillary Clinton started the birther rumors) is not.

The news analysis was, in effect, a front-page editorial leading the paper. The Times also ran an editorial inside the paper that echoed the truth that Trump has lied repeatedly about this and other issues. In my humble opinion, this is called good, aggressive, community-minded journalism that holds public figures accountable for their words and actions without worrying whether it will offend the public figure and/or his supporters. It belongs on the front page, especially when the liar wants to be president and lots of people want to believe his lies.

The public editor, Liz Spayd, might call this approach “preaching to the choir.” She’s apparently also concerned that a lot of people consider The Times to be “liberal.’’ Gambling? Here? I’m shocked, shocked!

She wrote a piece headlined “Why Readers See The Times as Liberal” (July 24), as if that’s a bad thing and as if it’s a new thing. In that article she suggested keeping editorials off the front page after a lot of people who said they were conservative objected to a front-page editorial on gun control. So the newspaper, which has argued unabashedly for gun control for decades, should timidly limit its views to the opinion page because they might offend some people whose political views probably revolve around guns and not much else, because those people might not read the paper if they think its reporting is skewed to the left.

News flash: They probably don’t read the paper anyway because: 1) It’s always been fashionable to bash the most-prestigious paper in the world, especially when its editorial views — not necessarily its reporting — don’t reflect yours; and 2) it costs too much.

In Spayd’s view, Times reporters must resist the arguments about false balance — in this case, giving political candidates’ statements, opinions and actions equal treatment (“fair” treatment) in reporting and writing, even though the truth argues otherwise — because, in their distaste for Trump the reporters might be tempted to go easy on Clinton.

Go ahead, finish laughing.

The Times, like the rest of the media, has been beating up on Clinton for years, searching for scandal and coming up short. This obviously can be frustrating when the editors and reporters also know she pretty much despises most of them, doesn’t hide it and, as a result, brings much of the negative reporting on herself.

But … if it’s only Clinton supporters now who are complaining about “false balance” in Times reporting on the campaign, that’s because virtually the entire mainstream media was guilty of this for months by treating Trump as a qualified candidate for president because the Republican Party didn’t know how to stop him. It’s also because much of The Times’ reporting on Clinton — presumably tough-minded and fair– has also been shoddy, not nearly up to the paper’s reputation. If you’re going to be fair on holding candidates’ feet to the fire, be accurate. If anything, that is what has built the newspaper’s reputation.

Besides, the Clinton supporters had no gripe with The Times during the primary campaign when Sen. Bernie Sanders was often an asterisk in the paper’s coverage of the Clinton coronation as Democratic Party nominee.

In her closing argument on “false balance,” Spayd writes, “Fear of false balance is a creeping threat to the role of the media because it encourages journalists to pull back from their responsibility to hold power accountable. All power, not just selected individuals, however vile they might seem.”

That’s a perfect example of false balance. Reporters, in other words, should not hold back on trying to find something bad to write about Hillary Clinton (again, an absurd premise to start with) just because Donald Trump has proven himself over and over to be (not “seem”) vile, deceitful, bigoted, narcissistic, misogynistic, uninformed, racist, unpredictable, volatile, immature.

And dangerous.

After his major announcement that he had been lying about President Obama’s citizenship for years, Trump said to an audience in Miami that Clinton wants to “destroy your Second Amendment.’’ As a response to that, he suggested: “She goes around with armed bodyguards like you have never seen before. I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. They should disarm. Right? Right? I think they should disarm immediately. What do you think? Yes? Yes. Yeah. Take their guns away. She doesn’t want guns. … Let’s see what happens to her. Take their guns away, okay? It would be very dangerous.”

The audience, as always at Trump rallies, applauded this threat.

Go ahead, by all means, New York Times, be “fair and balanced” and don’t stop investigating the Clinton Foundation. But also, do continue to ignore your public editor and keep telling the truth about this vile man on the front page every day. Other media follow your lead. The chorus may be convinced, but others may be ready to join.

If your public editor regards that as “taking sides,” so be it. This is not a high school debate; this is about the future of our country. A major responsibility of newspapers is to inform, educate and help mold public opinion. Unlike some other media (Fox News), The Times does this without lying. At least that’s the reputation. Live up to it.

(Full disclosure: The author was editorial page editor of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., for 23 years.)

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Fit to Print?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

Certain decisions by people with loads of money and monumental pretensions cry out for comment. The same goes for decisions by news editors.

In the Styles section of The Sunday Times just past, we were offered a story about the wedding of a couple in Santa Barbara. He is 30. She is 29 and comes from a rich family; her father was executive producer and co-creator of some popular TV shows.

The reporter gave us 29 breathless and fairly vacuous paragraphs about how the happy couple met (through friends out for a drink), and how the woman found the man acceptable even though he wore a fanny pack (“I knew when his fanny pack didn’t bother me that this was the real thing”), and the fact that she is stylish and he once had worked on the Harvard Lampoon, and that their feelings for each other got warmer during his absence on a previously planned vacation.

Packed into those 29 paragraphs were 1,586 words of which 27 were: “It is not guaranteed but if a stylish woman forgives her date for wearing a fanny pack, all that follows can be pretty much considered a breeze.” This wedding story contained about double the number of words in a typical column by the great Maureen Dowd one of whose recent pieces contained 889 words of which 37 were: “Standing a few feet away from Jerry Sandusky, as he laughed and reminisced with friends in the front row of the courtroom, made me want to take a shower. Just not in the Penn State locker room.”

One of the two pictures accompanying the wedding story showed the newlyweds playing skeeball on two alleys, a little something the bride’s parents had installed when they redesigned their barn so it could be used for what Dad called “the cocktail part of the party.” They also moved a half-acre of earth to create a hill. They felt they needed a hill so the guests would have, in the reporter’s words, “stunning water views during the ceremony.”

The story reported that the bride had consulted “the family psychic” about whether the man was right for her and that the soothsayer’s response was “You know that you know that he’s the one,” which sounds suspiciously non-committal on the seer’s part.

The story took up two-thirds of the page. I know about story placement. I know that a wedding story, unless it’s William and Kate, doesn’t go on Page 1 and that a story about children dying violently doesn’t go in Styles. Some news that got short shrift on the day of the story of the wedding with the ocean view demand attention because their treatment made The Times look foolish.

–That same Sunday edition contained a 466-word story about two Lebanese people killed by shells fired from Syrian territory. One of the victims was a boy in the village of al-Hisheh. He was 8. His father and four siblings were injured. A woman was killed when a shell landed in her home.

–Officials in Myanmar freed 20 people whom they’d seized en route to a major demonstration with political overtones. This was told in 328 words.

–In New York, the police reported that six people had been slain in the last few days. In one case, a woman bludgeoned her son to death. He was 9. A man was shot to death in Bay Ridge with a bullet in his neck. He was 65. The other four dead were in the Bronx and Queens. The Times gave it 632 words.

That’s three life-and-death stories, not one of which involved building a hill so wedding guests could see the water.

page@zestoforange.com