In an exit interview with Poynter’s Craig Silverman, former New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane reflects on his time at the paper.
Silverman asked Brisbane which column or blog post he thought he would likely be remembered most for and Brisbane said it would be his “Truth Vigilante” column, in which he wondered if reporters for the paper could be fair and objective when choosing one correct fact over another.
Brisbane still doesn’t understand what all the fuss was about:
“Understanding the underlying reasons why the response was so strong is not one of my strong points. I have a theory on it, but I’m not entirely sure. I think the headline is provocative. ‘Truth Vigilante’ is a provocative phrase, but frankly when I wrote the headline, you know, I was doing what a lot of headline writers do: capture the idea, get the reader’s attention. And it was a catchy phrase. I still think that people read the phrase in multiple ways; it’s one of these things you look at, it’s like a Rorschach … people see different things in that phrase.”
He certainly caught the readers’ attention and more as conservatives pointed to the column as evidence that the Times does skew the news, while liberals fumed at having their reporting methods and motives questioned.
While Brisbane admitted to making some mistakes during his tenure, this column wasn’t one of them, despite the controversy it created.
That opinion wasn’t shared by his successor, Margaret Sullivan, who used her first column to make it clear that the Times embraces the facts and that Brisbane was off base.
But the damage is done. It will be hard for the Times to recover from the notion that readers are only getting select facts—those that support their liberal agenda—but not those that might contradict or undermine that agenda.