Saturday, December 31, 2005

NYT's Ombudsman: About the NSA Surveillance Story ...

The New York Times' public editor, Barney Calame, has ended his string of insignificant columns for the paper with his Jan. 1 essay about the continuing b.s., and silence, from executive editor Bill Keller about the National Security Agency surveillance scandal and story, that could and should have run last year. Excerpted from his column:

> The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. That point was hard to ignore when the explanation in the article referred rather vaguely to having "delayed publication for a year." To me, this language means the article was fully confirmed and ready to publish a year ago - after perhaps weeks of reporting on the initial tip - and then was delayed.

> Mr. Keller dealt directly with the timing of the initial tip in his later statements. The eavesdropping information "first became known to Times reporters" a year ago, he said. These two different descriptions of the article's status in the general vicinity of Election Day last year leave me puzzled.

> For me, however, the most obvious question is still this: If no one at The Times was aware of the eavesdropping prior to the election, why wouldn't the paper have been eager to make that clear to readers in the original explanation and avoid that politically charged issue? The paper's silence leaves me with uncomfortable doubts.

Hey, Barney, I'm in agreement with you about the Gray Lady's silence.

Not only does Calame address these concerns, he also uses space on his web journal to give voice to readers about the spying and the paper's handling of the story. On top of that, Calame mentions several articles in other publications on the matter, and he links to them. Taken from his blog:

> In preparing the column, I got copies of two prepared statements from Bill Keller, the executive editor, that the press office of The New York Times Co. had disseminated in response to queries from other news media the day the eavesdropping article appeared. Given the paucity of comment from The Times about the article, I think readers might find these statements interesting.

> Just after the Keller prepared statements, you will find some letters from readers about the paper's decision to publish the article after a one-year delay.

> Finally, several news articles and commentaries about The Times's article have appeared in print and online in the past two weeks. Here are links to news stories that appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Observer, and on NPR. Those who have commented include Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times, Jack Shafer on Slate, and Jay Rosen on his blog PressThink.

The biggest question I have for Calame, after applauding both his column and what he's shared on his blog, is why doesn't he make more frequent use of his blog, like he does today, to help readers better understand how the Times works by providing us with increased transparency through his role as the public editor?

Speaking as a reader and shareholder, I want a public editor at the Times who often uses his blog, say three or four times in a given week, instead of one or two postings a month.

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