These Times

These Times

: Public Editor Dan Okrent tackles the question of campaign bias in The Times:

In fact, I can find many things to criticize in The Times’s election coverage. I’m as interested in the inside baseball of campaigns as the next politics nerd, but the paper’s obsessive attention to backroom maneuvers and spin-room speculation obscures, rather than enhances, my understanding of the candidates. Much seems directed not at readers but at the campaign staffs and other journalists. The chronic overreliance on anonymous comments from self-serving partisans in news stories is equally maddening. (I prefer the pieces tagged “News Analysis” or “Political Memo,” where at least we can hear the sound of the writer’s own voice, and take into account the writer’s apparent views.)

He goes on to say:

Here’s the question for a public editor: Is The Times systematically biased toward either candidate?


If there’s a commissariat at The Times ordering up coverage to help or hurt a specific candidate, it’s doing a lousy job; close reading shows bruises administered to each (and free passes handed out) in a pattern adapted from Jackson Pollock.

Okrent says that often, bias is in the eye of the beholder and, of course, he’s right. Conspiracies are never as evident and easy as their promoters believe.

Okrent then pins objectivity-envy on the wrong parties:

Those readers who long for the days of absolutely untinted, nothing-but-the-facts newspapering ought to have an Associated Press ticker installed on the breakfast table. Newspapers today and especially this newspaper are asking their reporters and editors to go deep into a story, and when and where you go deep is itself a matter of judgment. And every judgment, it appears, offends someone.

I’d argue that it’s not the readers who are guilty of nostalgia for some fabled but fictional day of objective journalism. Those people are watching FoxNews because it has a viewpoint and clicking to The Guardian because it has a different viewpoint and writing and reading blogs because they have viewpoints. It’s the journalists, instead, who keep singing the impossible dream — and some would say, selling the fraud — objectivity. It’s the readers and bloggers who are demanding transparency of perspective and process. The journalists are the ones resisting that.

Finally, Okrent quite properly goes after critics who turn vicious — even naming one. Fine. But then he tars all bloggers with that same brush:

Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don’t think they’d dare.

Not fair, my friend, and not right. There are bad bloggers as there are good bloggers, bad readers as there are good readers, bad journalists as there are good journalists. If we don’t buy the broad conspiratorial strokes regarding journalists at The Times, then we shouldn’t spread them regarding these new critics, bloggers. If you have complaints about specific bloggers, then name them. Otherwise, don’t pour us all into the same bucket.

It’s a good column, Dan, until that last graph.