Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005
"Eh, Space was Tight" Why do people sometimes mock the NY Times motto, twisting "All the News That's Fit to Print" into "All the News That Fits We Print?"

Perhaps it's due to the paper's failure to wedge both sides of a story into articles like this fawning piece about Westchester County DA Jeanine Pirro's "Hamlet on the Hudson" act as she considers what statewide office to pursue in 2006. Pirro is dogged by continuing questions about her husband, Al Pirro, a convicted felon (tax evasion), who has also recently been mentioned in FBI surveillance tapes in which mobsters claimed Al passed along tips about investigations in the DA's office.

For the record, despite the questions of his misuse of her office's information, and significant evidence that she personally benefitted from the fruits of Al's tax evasion, Pirro dismisses anyone who would question her fitness for office on the basis of her husband's character as a sexist who cannot accept the idea that she is a strong, independent woman.

Meanwhile, on the substantive issues, Al Pirro denies the mobsters' allegations (and has even filed a libel suit against one of them). As for the tax evasion, he believes he was the aggrieved party:

Mr. Pirro blamed his indictment on "the Clinton administration's investigative tactics into campaigns that are being run by Republicans." [emphasis added]
Fair enough. But it wouldn't have taken too much ink for the reporter to ask the logical follow-up: On whom does Mr. Pirro blame his conviction?

Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Out With a Whimper The NY Times' first experiment with a "public editor" is over. Daniel Okrent, the former Time Inc. editor who held the position for 18 months, finally penned his farewell column on Sunday. It was his typical mix of snarky cheap shots and navel gazing, including this gem directed at Paul Krugman (and other Times Op-Ed columnists):
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults ... some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist.

Let's stipulate, for starters, the when it comes to determining whether economic statistics have been selectively sliced, Okrent is not worthy to carry Krugman's HP Graphing Calculator. But I also took a moment to reflect on the lost opportunities of Okrent's tenure and why he was so bad at his job:

You have to remember that the top editors of the NY Times never wanted to hire a "public editor" -- the position was forced on them by the public reaction to the Jayson Blair incident. The Times' brain trust believes the paper speaks for itself. They never saw any value in illuminating the newspaper's practices for the public -- they much preferred to continue operating behind the curtain.

Seen in this light, Okrent was their dream candidate. He wasted gallons of ink on flashy, but under-reported claims about liberal bias and little issues like the arts listings and Tony coverage. But he never managed (or really tried) to get below the surface and examine the actions and motives of the newsroom's practitioners -- examinations that could have led to difficult questions about the institutional challenges that obstruct improvements to the the paper.

In the end, at least part of the problem was the Okrent was not familiar with the rhythms of a daily newspaper newsroom, and failed to embrace them for fear of jeopardizing his "critical distance." Here's to the hope that his successor, Barney Calame, a former Wall Street Journal managing editor, can manage to do a better job of applying a critical eye to the paper itself, while simultaneously building the relationships with the newsroom necessary to illuminate the decisions behind the coverage.

Sunday, May 22, 2005
Ask Not on Whom the "Kick Me" Sign Hangs ... It hangs on thee.

So I've been spending my evenings as a guest of a medical facility for the last several nights. As any hospital visitor knows, parking fees can kill you.

The first night, I was unpleasantly informed that a "day" in the lot starts over at midnight (not after you've been there for 24 hours, so coming in at 6 p.m. and leaving the next morning involved paying for two full days.

I shrugged and accepted the highway robbery for the first five nights ... until, entering the parking lot I noticed the small type at the bottom of the sign: "Lost Ticket ... $6.00" So by turning in my day-old ticket, I was paying $12, when I could have simply told them I'd lost it and gotten off for $6.

Now, I'm not the most organized person in the world, but suffice it to say, I'm going to have much more trouble locating my parking tickets going forward...