More on the NYT Public Editor's misguided column

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

It's the one Jamison detailed yesterday about how the Times was way too late on the oh-so hugely important ACORN story, and how the Times is going to assign somebody to watch the "opinion media" (i.e. the right-wing media mob), to make sure the newspaper doesn't miss out any more ground-breaking stories in the future.

Hint to NYT: No matter how much you flatter them with news coverage, the right-wing is always going to hate you and is always going to claim liberal bias. But hey, good luck with your wild goose chase.

Just a couple quick points to highlight how, in making his point, Public Editor Hoyt Clark engaged in some rather questionable journalism himself. First, note this phrasing, as Hoyt describes the premise of the ACORN hidden-camera story [emphasis added]:

It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior.

So even before the latest headlines emerged this month, ACORN, in the eyes of Hoyt, was "a controversial outfit." The wicked irony here is that in a column in which Hoyt claims the Times is too slow to embrace right-wing stories, Hoyt embraces right-wing rhetoric by describing ACORN as "controversial."

It's interesting that Hoyt never bothers to explain why ACORN was considered "controversial," before the hidden-camera story broke. The only point he makes is that ACORN had been "long criticized by Republicans as corrupt." Is that what made ACORN controversial, the mere fact that Republicans criticized it? Is that Hoyt's definition of "controversial"?

It's true Republicans have been chasing ACORN for years. In fact, last autumn Fox News mentioned ACORN more than 1,500 times in a mindless crusade by the right-wing to blame the low-budget community organizing group for everything from housing marketing bubble to stealing elections. Fox News and the GOP Noise Machine accused ACORN of every crime under the sun, but Fox News couldn't actually uncover one new damning fact about ACORN.

But voilà! Because Republicans have "long criticized" ACORN "as corrupt," journalists like Hoyt embrace the language and claim that even before the hidden-camera videos ACORN was "controversial." False. ACORN was the subject of a mostly fact-free, unhinged right-wing crusade. And just because far-right partisan declare a phony war on a group that helps poor people, doesn't main serious journalists like Hoyt ought to adopt the language.

Second, after spending an entire column detailing how the Times needs to react quicker to right-wing stories that are hatched online, note this passage near the end of Hoyt's column:

And Republicans earlier this year charged that the [Times] killed a story about Acorn that would have been a "game changer" in the presidential election — a claim I found to be false.

Was the irony completely lost on Hoyt? He writes a column about how the Times has to scoop up whatever charges the right-wing mob cooks up, yet Hoyt himself concedes that last year the same mob cried bloody murder over some supposed "game changer" article that the Time sat on; a charge Hoyt himself concluded was "false."

So tell me again why the Times has to now obediently follow the mob?

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