August 19, 2005

SOMETIMES A TURTLE JUST GROWS TO ADULTHOOD ON A FENCE POST:

The Times Showed Up Late to Air America Story (Public Editor's Web Journal, 8/17/05, NY Times)

Readers of The Times were poorly served by the paper's slowness to cover official investigations into questionable financial transactions involving Air America, the liberal radio network. The Times's first article on the investigations finally appeared last Friday after weeks of articles by other newspapers in New York and elsewhere.

The Times's recent slowness stands in contrast to its flurry of articles about Air America in the spring of 2004, when the network was launched. "Liberal Voices (Some Sharp) Get New Home on Radio Dial," read the headline on The Times's article the morning of March 31 when the network went on the air. The article noted that the network had a staff headlined by comedian Al Franken and hopes of establishing a counterpoint to conservative radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh.

Two months later, The Times reported that the network had come close to running out of money in April but had received an infusion of an undisclosed amount of cash from sources that weren't identified. The article noted that Evan M. Cohen, a primary early backer and the chairman of the network, had resigned.

Yet The Times was silent as other publications reported that city and state investigators were looking into whether the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx had made improper loans of as much as $875,000 to Air America. Mr. Cohen, it turned out, had served simultaneously as a top executive at Air America and as the club's development director. And since the club operated largely with grants from government sources, any money passed to Air America may have come from the public till.

It has become clearer in the past week or so that Air America hasn't yet fully repaid the "loans" from the club, and its financial condition remains murky even in The Times's article Friday. So the future of the radio network seems to be a key question for The Times to answer.

"We were slow in the first place and need to do more," Rick Berke, an associate managing editor at The Times, told me Monday. While it's no excuse for such a belated response to the brewing scandal, it's true that pieces of the unfolding story fell in the domains of three different parts of the newsroom: the metropolitan desk, the business desk and the culture desk. There was, my inquiries suggest, a lack of coordination and awareness of what the paper's competitors across town were writing.

But it seems to me that this story is still unfolding, and The Times, for the sake of all its readers, needs to get to the bottom of any improper conduct and assess Air America's future.

There's another reason to get to the bottom of the scandal. It's the perception problem — a perception of liberal bias for which I haven't found any evidence after checking with editors at the paper.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 19, 2005 2:43 PM
Comments

"It's the perception problem — a perception of liberal bias for which I haven't found any evidence after checking with editors at the paper". I guess it's one thing to write this nonsense, but if he said this to anyone, could he say this with a straight face?

Posted by: AllenS at August 19, 2005 3:20 PM

The Public Editor talks to Rick Berke:

Byron: "Rick, the conservative bloggers accuse you of having a liberal bias. Is this true?"

Rick: "No."

Byron: "OK!"

Posted by: JonofAtlanta at August 19, 2005 3:46 PM

Didn't the NYT's original public editor state that "of course!" the paper had a liberal bias? That's perhaps one of the main reasons he's the former public editor...

Posted by: b at August 19, 2005 3:55 PM

Only people sympathetic to the cause of Air America still read the Times, so it matters little whether they cover the story or not.

Posted by: erp at August 19, 2005 4:15 PM

As I wrote here yesterday, the Times is undergoing one of its seemingly regular occurrences of schizophrenia:

Howell Raines, February 20, 2003:
"Our greatest accomplishment as a profession is the development since World War II of a news reporting craft that is truly non-partisan, and non-ideological, and that strives to be independent of undue commercial or governmental influence....But we don’t wear the political collar of our owners or the government or any political party. It is that legacy we must protect with our diligent stewardship. To do so means we must be aware of the energetic effort that is now underway to convince our readers that we are ideologues. It is an exercise of, in disinformation, of alarming proportions, this attempt to convince the audience of the world’s most ideology-free newspapers that they’re being subjected to agenda-driven news reflecting a liberal bias."
Followed a year later by then ombudsman Daniel Okrent:
Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? Of course it is.
And now back to Okrent's successor, Barney Calame:
There's another reason to get to the bottom of the [Air America] scandal. It's the perception problem — a perception of liberal bias for which I haven't found any evidence after checking with editors at the paper.
The whiplash can really give you a headache!

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at August 19, 2005 4:49 PM

Note that, at the NYT, the most important conversation from their own point of view is the one they have with themselves.

The rest of us are supposed to just swallow the resulting wisdom as if it were a communion wafer.

Posted by: ZF at August 19, 2005 6:01 PM

"We were slow in the first place and need to do more," Rick Berke.

A relative of Bill Berke(tte), perhaps? Were they speaking at the local Kinko's?

Posted by: obc at August 19, 2005 6:15 PM
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