Arthur Brisbane left his job as the public editor of the New York Times this past week, deciding before leaving to double the degree of damage he has done to that institution -- and to the newspaper business itself, of which the Times is the unchallenged leader. In an attack on the newspaper's alleged partisanship, he accused the Times of having a liberal bias by insisting that its many "departments share a kind of political and cultural progressivism -- for lack of a better term -- that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of the Times." Surprisingly, given the seriousness of this accusation, Brisbane offered up nothing -- literally nothing -- to support it.
The departing public editor opined that "developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in the Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects." Had Brisbane wished to prove his point rather than toss out a lazy and unsupported allegation resting on the weasel word "seem," he could have provided examples of what he meant. But he didn't.
One wonders if he would have been able to had he tried. For instance, Erik Wemple of the Washington Post notes that Brisbane should have looked a little more deeply into the specifics of the coverage he so recklessly termed a "crusade." Wemple recalls a conversation on Current TV between Keith Olbermann and the Philadelphia Daily News's Will Bunch in which the latter noted that even after the Occupy protest had been going on for four or five days, the Times had offered readers no news of it. As Bunch explained:
The New York Times, I mean, this is the hometown newspaper of Wall Street and there's been no print articles in the New York Times to date, with these people kicking around down there for four of five days now .... newsrooms are not in touch with the pain and suffering in the country .... I thought it was funny that the biggest story in The New York Times during the five days of protest -- the biggest local story -- has been the demise of Ray's Pizza.
Yes, the demise of Ray's was big news -- it is sorely missed. But so too was any respect accorded to the Occupy protests when they finally did make the news. For instance, Andrew Ross Sorkin, who regularly showers love on Wall Street bigwigs in his Dealbook blog, filed this report:
I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge. "Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?" the CEO asked me. I didn't have an answer. "We're trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this," he continued, clearly concerned. "Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?"
If that's not enough "overlove" for you, how about by Ginia Bellafante's no less condescending story on the protests from around the same time? The article was titled "Gunning for Wall Street, With Faulty Aim."
Despite these two stories -- which, coming so early in the days of the Occupy protests, are indicative of the true prejudices of the Times reporters -- it may be possible that the newspaper's coverage of the movement did eventually cross the line into advocacy once its main coverage got rolling. If this were so, however, we must surely have heard about it with some frequency from the public editor himself while it was taking place. Alas, this too is not the case.
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