THE 'LOUD SILENCE'
January 4, 2006
Even the New York Times Public Editor, Byron Calame is finding it hard to defend the indefensible.
Notwithstanding the serial embarrassments, dysfunction, repeated ‘mea culpas’ and taint, the ‘Gray Lady’/ ‘Paper of Record’/ ‘All the News That's Fit to Print’ is stonewalling itself into another epic public relations (and credibility) disaster.
The latest in a growing line of flaps, kafuffles and boondoggles is linked with the belated epiphany regarding the National Security Agency eavesdropping domestically.
The substance of the story is overshadowed by the timing of the story to coincide/precede the release of a new James Risen book.
Despite the ‘wink-wink/nudge-nudge’ claims of serendipity and ‘coincidence’, even Calame begrudgingly acknowledges (albeit in politically correct double speak) the corporate sandbagging just doesn’t pass the smell test. “I have had unusual difficulty getting a better explanation for readers, despite the paper’s repeated pledges of greater transparency.” Calame writes.
Bad enough the ‘paper of record’, once upon a time the journalistic gold standard, has regressed into a creative writing workshop and validation for an army of Bernie Goldberg critics grousing about ‘liberal media bias’…now we find them flipping off their own ombudsman.
”For the first time since I became public editor, the executive editor and the publisher have declined to respond to my requests for information about news-related decision-making.” Calame notes.
Three days after the controversial article ran, Calame e-mailed Times Executive Editor Bill Keller a list of 28 questions. Subsequently she sent the same list to the dysfunctional and incompetent publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Despite a caveat stroke delivered to Keller and ‘Pinch’, Byron suggests Times management “miscalculated” by trying to dodge the bullet of a one-year delay ever so briefly.
It wasn’t a ‘miscalculation’. It was an epic, monumental, arrogant brain fart. Calame, to his credit says the delay “cried out for a fuller explanation.” Duh!?!
“The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. That point was hard to ignore when the explanation in the article referred rather vaguely to having ‘delayed publication for a year.’ To me,” the ombudsman writes, “this language means the article was fully confirmed and ready to publish a year ago - after perhaps weeks of reporting on the initial tip - and then was delayed.”
Cutting to the chase, Calame questions his boss’s silence “If no one at The Times was aware of the eavesdropping prior to the election”. Demonstrating his skill of 40 years and unbridled understatement, he says, “The paper's silence leaves me with uncomfortable doubts.” This guy is break dancing on a razor’s edge.
The imminent (accelerated) release of Risen’s book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration” is ‘the elephant in the living room’, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
Keller claims the controversial article was not linked to the Risen book. He said (referring to the article), “its origins and publication are completely independent of Jim’s book.” And he did it with a straight face….BULLFEATHERS!
Risen’s publisher told Calame on December 21st the Washington bureau chief had talked to here twice in the preceding 30 days about the book. Of course the paper knew all about the book and knew they were about to be “scooped by its own reporter’s book in about four weeks.”
The ‘Public Editor’ still has his litany of questions (which reportedly has grown in size from the original 28 questions to 35). Further attrition of the squandered reputation of the New York Times could at least be slowed if management would extricate their heads from rectal defilade and at least provide their readers the courtesy (and respect) of answering Calame’s questions sooner rather than later.
The sad reality is that despite the claims, assurances, and policy polka to mitigate past failures, the New York Times seems to remain very much the arrogant, myopic, anti-Bush, liberal sycophant it’s critics contend.
All of which begs the increasingly ubiquitous question of whether the loquacious, foot in mouth Jr. Sulzberger will be allowed to continue mucking up the heritage family jewel, or if the Board will eschew defending the indefensible and recognize that a significant portion of their stock price travails are a direct function of their embarrassing ‘Pinch’.
Although volumes have been written about Judith Miller’s abrasive diva personality and personification as the wicked witch of the east, she may once again be proven prophetic when she said, “Arthur was there for me…until he wasn’t….”
The board may soon find “young Arthur” to be erstwhile…and be there for him…until they aren’t.
© 2006 Geoff Metcalf - All Rights Reserved
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"Geoff Metcalf is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host for TALK AMERICA and a veteran media performer. He has had an eclectic professional background covering a wide spectrum of radio, television, magazine, and newspapers. A former Green Beret and retired Army officer he is in great demand as a speaker. Visit Geoff's
“The most obvious and troublesome omission in the explanation was the failure to address whether The Times knew about the eavesdropping operation before the Nov. 2, 2004, presidential election. ..."