Monday, December 19, 2005

NYT's Calame: Paper Holds Spy Story? Let's Talk Book Reviews

Last Thursday evening the New York Times web site posted the story by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau on the National Security Agency engaging in warrantless surveillance, and within an hour after it was posted, liberal bloggers and mainstream media critics raised ethical questions about the Times' handling of the story.

Many watchdogs demanded to know why the Times acquiesced to the Bush administration's request to not print the story, and for more than a year, the paper once known for publishing all the news fit to print without fear or favor, agreed to the administration's request.

The conservative Drudge Report site played up the angle that Risen has a book coming out soon on the surveillance story, suggesting the Times held the story to aid sales of Risen's book.

This is a sampling of additional questions raised: Was the Times justified in waiting so long before publishing this story? Did it show unreasonable bias in favor of the administration and its wishes to dictate to the media? What about other stories the Times is working on and may embarrass the administration? Is the paper waiting for the administration to give the go-ahead to print those articles?

And what does the public editor, Barney Calame, have to say about the brouhaha over the Times' ethical judgments on this story and how long it took to see the light of day? Nothing yet.

His column for the December 18 Week in Review section was about how the book section chooses reviewers to critique new books. Hardly a pressing national issue.

But to be fair, it was probably too early in this unfolding story for Calame to investigate the reporting and ethical qualms of the Risen and Lichtblau article.

However, in his latest blog posting, Calame failed to address any of the watchdogs' concerns. Not only that, instead of moving on to another more meatier issue facing the Times, Calame writes about his interview with the book section's editor, which he says he found informative. Hey, Barney don't hurt yourself too much patting yourself on the back!

From Calame's blog today:

> Sunday's public editor column about The New York Times Book Review involved several conversations and e-mail exchanges with Sam Tanenhaus, the section’s editor. His e-mail responses to two questions I posed to him yielded a couple of very worthwhile sentences for the column. But I think many readers may find his full answers as informative as I did. [..]

Is anyone at the Times paying attention to the increasing lame blog postings by the public editor? Do Times executives really think Calame is adequately meeting the needs of readers, especially when the paper and its editorial decisions are a vital part of current news? Perhaps the Times is _very_ satisfied with the window-dressing from Calame.

Speaking as a single reader and shareholder, I believe Calame is not the right person for the public editor's position and that the paper must rethink what it wants from a readers' representative. More and more, I wonder what the point is of having a public editor at the Times, when Calame posts so infrequently to his blog and when does, it's often on something relatively inconsequential.

No comments: