New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane asked what I’m sure he thought was an insightful question: “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?”
Setting aside the bias evident in the way the question was phrased (Vigilante? Really?), I believe it’s safe to say that the response left a mark. More like a mushroom cloud that could be seen from orbit. Luckily, the Guardian was all over it:
Brisbane (who, as public editor, speaks only for himself, not the Times) referred to two recent stories: the claim that Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial reporting form when he left out key information, and Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Obama gives speeches “apologising” for America. Brisbane asked whether news reporters should have the freedom to investigate and respond to those comments.
The reaction from readers was swift, voluminous, negative and incredulous.
“Is this a joke? THIS IS YOUR JOB.”
“If the purpose of the NYT is to be an inoffensive container for ad copy, then by all means continue to do nothing more than paraphrase those press releases.”
“I hope you can help me, Mr Brisbane, because I’m an editor, currently unemployed: is fecklessness now a job requirement?”
Wow. That’s going to leave a bruise. I guess if you’re going to admit you haven’t been doing your job, doing so in front of customers might not be the wisest choice.