Accuracy in Media

Surprise, surprise. Clark Hoyt, the ombudsman of The New York Times, has an ounce of objectivity in his bones — but only an ounce.

Hoyt’s latest column, “Tuning In Too Late,” took the newspaper to task both for ignoring the fall of ACORN and then dismissing the community organization’s demise as the work of evil conservatives out to “draw blood.” Here are excerpts from Hoyt’s wrist slap of the Times:

[F]or days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from ACORN, the Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like the Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself. …

Finally, on Sept. 16, nearly a week after the first video was posted, the Times took note of the controversy, under the headline “Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe.” The article said that conservatives hoped to weaken the Obama administration by attacking its allies and appointees they viewed as leftist. … I thought politics was emphasized too much, at the expense of questions about an organization whose employees in city after city participated in outlandish conversations about illegal and immoral activities.

As Hoyt noted, the Times’ anti-conservative lapse of news judgment about ACORN followed its equally inexcusable failure to report the controversy surrounding White House adviser Jones.

Yet Hoyt let managing editor Jill Abramson explain away both controversies as “insufficient tuned-in-ness” (what kind of grammar is that?) rather than “liberal bias.” He also lent weight to Abramson’s defense by citing Tom Rosenstiel of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, who said the Times has a record of attacking Democrats, too.

There is some truth to Rosentiel’s point. Journalists are “motivated by the desire to get good stories.” But ACORN and Van Jones are two of the best stories to come along this year, and the Times ignored both of them for days. In the case of ACORN, the paper ignored the story even as the federal government and the state of New York turned against the corrupt group.

It’s absurd for Times editors to contend that the paper missed the story because it is utterly oblivious to news reported from the right side of the political spectrum.

We’re supposed to believe that no one at the paper watches Fox News or even skims the headlines at The Washington Times or the Washington Examiner. No one reads National Review, The Weekly Standard or any other conservative publications? No one listens to talk radio unless they want to bash Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity?

And lo these many years into the new media revolution, no one at the Times reads Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, Hot Air, RedState, Right Wing News, Power Line or any of the other great blogs that keep their hand on the pulse of conservatism?

In part, it’s true that the Times is as clueless as Abramson says. That explains how a writer of Paul Krugman’s stature can claim that he has “hardly seen anyone cite” a Heritage Foundation study that has been cited by dozens of newspapers and multiple members of Congress. Journalists like those at the Times also shed light earlier this year on the axis of liberal media bias that keeps them inside the Daily KosHuffington Post echo chamber most of the time.

But if that’s why the paper missed the ACORN and Van Jones stories, it’s both a lame excuse and a shameful admission of willful bias. The only way a news organization of the Times’ size and reputation can be ignorant of the biggest news developments driven by one side of the political spectrum is if it chooses to be ignorant.

It’s clear from a long pattern of behavior at the Times that the liberal worldview of the paper’s editors and reporters has made them blind to legitimate news. They see the world in shades of blue — and have no interest in reporting any bad news revealed by the red half of America. They see “those people” as a bunch of racist rednecks trying to foment armed rebellion.

Newsroom leaders at the Times told Hoyt they now have seen the error of their ways. But their insincerity is apparent in their plan to “assign an editor to monitor opinion media.”

Opinion media? The Van Jones and ACORN stories were not opinion; they were news.

As long as the paper dismisses such developments as mere opinion, it will keep downplaying or ignoring that news. And the liberal staff’s own opinions will continue seeping into the news under headlines like “Conservatives Draw Blood From ACORN, Favored Foe.”

Hiring an opinion media monitor also won’t work if he or she is shielded from the public, and that’s what the paper plans to do. Keller said the monitor’s name won’t be disclosed because he doesn’t want the editor to face “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.” His statement is further proof that the Times doesn’t take conservative media seriously.

While assigning an editor to keep tabs on opinion makers of the right is long overdue, it won’t get to the root of the problem at the Times. Conservative news is in the paper’s blind spot, and the liberals who control the newsroom won’t deign to look over their right shoulders.

If the Times is serious about not getting scooped in the future by investigative journalists who think like conservatives, the paper will hire some of its own or make arrangements to feature their work. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

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