February 23, 2008

CLARK HOYT, THE NYT PUBLIC EDITOR, EXAMINES the journalistic ethics of the McCain story published last Thursday:

“If the point of the story was to allege that McCain had an affair with a lobbyist, we’d have owed readers more compelling evidence than the conviction of senior staff members,” [NYT executive editor Bill Keller said.] “But that was not the point of the story. The point of the story was that he behaved in such a way that his close aides felt the relationship constituted reckless behavior and feared it would ruin his career.”

I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room. A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than The Times was able to provide.

“Ignores” is putting it way too mildly. It’s a ludicrous argument. It would mean that editors could purvey all sorts of trash as long as it is embedded it in a larger story. And when we get outraged, they could look down their noses and insult us about our poor reading comprehension.

Here’s Jeff Jarvis on the subject:

[Keller] tries to tell us that we’re concentrating on the wrong thing here, that we don’t see what the real story is….

Do they have no news judgment? The lede in this story was obvious to everyone but the Times…

That the editors of the Times don’t see that is incredible — that is to say, not credible.

More at the link, but I’ve boiled it down to make it clear that Jarvis thinks Keller is dissembling.

(Cross-posted here, where you can comment.)

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