NY Times public editor Calame: Part of "worthwhile" Healy article "should have gone in the trash can"
Research ››› ››› MARCIA KUNTZ
In a column seemingly defending The New York Times' publication of reporter Patrick Healy's article purporting to dissect the Clintons' marriage, public editor Byron Calame concluded: "Over all, I found the article a worthwhile piece of journalism that deserved to be published in The Times." But Calame's column included several qualifiers that, coupled with an acknowledgement by Healy that undermined a central premise of the article, seem to significantly weaken Calame's apparent defense
In a June 4 column seemingly defending The New York Times' publication of reporter Patrick Healy's 2,000-word article purporting to dissect the Clintons' marriage, public editor Byron Calame concluded: "Over all, I found the article a worthwhile piece of journalism that deserved to be published in The Times." But Calame's column included several qualifiers that, coupled with an acknowledgement by Healy that undermined a central premise of the article, seem to significantly weaken Calame's apparent defense. While praising the "careful" and "cautious" work of top editors at the Times, Calame nonetheless said that part of the Healy article "should have gone in the trash can."
Calame's concluding paragraph in the section on the Healy article is particularly telling:
The Times's decision to publish the article, which clearly looked beyond the Senate campaign, seems to signal that the paper has launched its coverage of Ms. Clinton's expected presidential bid. As that effort unfolds, the paper will have an obligation to continue to assess the Clintons' unique relationship with even more attention to political relevance and understatement than it demonstrated in last month's article.
In other words: "Good work. Don't do it again."
Calame cited three flaws in Healy's article:
- The article's placement above the fold on Page One.
- The inclusion of the "trash can" paragraph, in which Healy reported on the concerns of "several prominent Democrats" over what Calame called a "year-old tabloid photograph" of Bill Clinton leaving a restaurant with about a dozen people, including Canadian politician Belinda Stronach.
- A "too feisty" paragraph on Bill Clinton's social life, in which Healy wrote:
Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife. Nights out find him zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle, or hitting parties and fund-raisers in Manhattan.
But in an article resting on the premise, as Healy put it, that "since leaving the White House, Bill and Hillary Clinton have built largely separate lives," these flaws would appear to significantly detract from the "worthwhile[ness]" of the Times' endeavor. Add to that Healy's acknowledgment that the amount of time the Clintons spend together is apparently no different from that of other couples in which one spouse is a member of Congress, and Calame's seeming defense seems particularly thin. Indeed, one of the facts Calame singled out as particularly interesting and worthy of reporting -- "one that suggested they [the Clintons] are finding ways to make it work in both political and personal terms," hardly the thrust of Healy's article -- was that the couple spent 70 percent of their weekends together over the past 17 months. In appraising an article about the "largely separate lives" that the Clintons have purportedly built, it is noteworthy that Calame -- without irony -- singles out a fact in the article that demonstrates the opposite.
In the article, Healy himself appeared to justify its newsworthiness by citing concern among "many prominent Democrats" over how the Clintons' marriage would affect Sen. Clinton's possible presidential aspirations. But, as Media Matters for America has previously written:
Healy offered no specific reasons for this purported interest among "prominent Democrats" aside from the amount of time the Clintons spent apart, a mention of a decade-old affair, and a reference to year-old "concern" over a "tabloid photograph showing Mr. Clinton leaving B.L.T. Steak in Midtown Manhattan late one night after dining with a group that included Belinda Stronach, a Canadian politician." Healy continued: "The two were among roughly a dozen people at a dinner, but it still was enough to fuel coverage in the gossip pages."
So, Calame thinks the story did not belong on the front page above the fold. He criticized the inclusion of the reference to the "tabloid photograph." And he cited as particularly worthy of mention a statistic detailing the number of weekends that the Clintons have spent together, which Calame called "surprising," apparently because the number was larger than he expected. So what does Calame think still justifies an article whose purpose was to explore the basis for the purported interest among "many prominent Democrats" in the state of the Clintons' marriage?