Thursday, February 21, 2008

McCain v. NYT -- update

Following John McCain's denouncement of its story about his relationship with a female lobbyist in its print edition this morning, the New York Times has responded through its executive editor, Bill Keller, to "McCain as well as media commentary about the timing of the publication of the article:"

“On the substance, we think the story speaks for itself. On the timing, our policy is, we publish stories when they are ready. ‘Ready’ means the facts have been nailed down to our satisfaction, the subjects have all been given a full and fair chance to respond, and the reporting has been written up with all the proper context and caveats. This story was no exception. It was a long time in the works. It reached my desk late Tuesday afternoon. After a final edit and a routine check by our lawyers, we published it.”

I searched in vain for a more formal presentation of the statement or anything that would expand on it. (If anyone knows of further comment from Keller and would direct me to it, I would appreciate it.) Perhaps it would shed light on some of the several issues here:

  • Keller stands by his reporters' use of anonymous sources: "We think the story speaks for itself."
  • Keller believes that the use of anonymous sources meets the paper's "proper ... caveats."
  • Keller acknowledges that the story reached his desk late on Tuesday afternoon and went to press 24 hours later. Apparently, Keller believes that 24 hours was enough time to carefully review a story that had been in the making for four months -- and the lawyers agreed. (Incidentally, McCain says it's been in the making for seven years, but that's another argument ...)
  • Speaking of lawyers, apparently it is standard practice at the NYT for at least some stories (and that's something else: Is it all stories, or just some stories? What's the trigger? Who decides when the lawyers get involved? Do they have to sign off, or does ownership just prefer that they do? Can the lawyers alone kill a story?) to be cleared through a team of lawyers. Ahem ... awkward silence ... It begs the question: What does this indicate about the NYT ownership's confidence in the knowledge and understanding of standard reporting practices, ethics and media law possessed by its editors?
  • Finally, what does it say about a newspaper and that newspaper's credibility when its leadership is forced to respond to a response from the subject of a story? Actually, we can probably leave this on off the list ... I think we all know the answer.

Bill Keller, if you're reading this, I think you and your colleagues owe the institution of journalism a MUCH more detailed explanation.

(See original post on this article below)