NYT ombud: Trust us, we’re unbiased

posted at 9:21 am on April 23, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

With a tough presidential election on the horizon, media outlets relish the demand that the battle will bring for news and feature coverage.  In order to get those readers, though, the media outlets have to be perceived as reliable and trustworthy.  That brings us to a rather humorous column from the New York Times’ public editor — their version of an ombudsman — Arthur Brisbane, in which he addresses the disparity in scrutiny of Mitt Romney over the sitting President in recent Gray Lady coverage.  Brisbane criticized his paper four weeks ago for an over-the-top slam of an investment by the blind trust set up for Ann Romney, and apparently that’s part of his argument that the Times will provide fair coverage of the upcoming general election — despite the suck-up coverage given Barack Obama in his first term.

No … really:

According to a study by the media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Times’s coverage of the president’s first year in office was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

Writing for the periodical Politics & Policy, the authors were so struck by the findings that they wondered, “Did The Times, perhaps in response to the aggressive efforts by Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to seize market share, decide to tilt more to the left than it had in the past?”

I strongly doubt that. Based on conversations with Times reporters and editors who cover the campaign and Washington, I think they see themselves as aggressive journalists who don’t play favorites. Still, a strong current of skepticism holds that the paper skews left. Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by collateral factors — for example, political views that creep into nonpolitical coverage.

To illustrate, Faye Farrington, a reader from Hollis, N.H., wrote me earlier this year in exasperation over a Sunday magazine article about “Downton Abbey,” the public television series, in which the writer slipped in a veiled complaint about Mitt Romney’s exploitation of the American tax code.

“The constant insertion of liberal politics into even the most politically irrelevant articles has already caused us to cancel our daily subscription,” Ms. Farrington wrote, “leaving only the Sunday delivery as I confess to an addiction to the Sunday crossword.”

The warm afterglow of Mr. Obama’s election, the collateral effects of liberal-minded feature writers — these can be overcome by hard-nosed, unbiased political reporting now.

Stop it — you’re killing me, Arthur!  Seriously, I can’t quite catch my breath from laughing out loud.  Brisbane gives us two of the most obvious cases of bias and says that this editorializing can be overcome by trusting the same people not to editorialize in news stories in the next six months.  One can imagine Lucy telling Charlie Brown much the same thing right before pulling the football away for the 50th year in a row.

The story on Ann Romney’s blind trust is one good data point that shows the problem doesn’t just lie with “liberal-minded feature writers.” By definition, a blind trust keeps the owner from making or even knowing of the financial decisions made by the trustees.  Ann Romney isn’t the candidate.  How, then, is this a news story in the presidential race?  Mitt Romney cut his ties to Bain in 1999, long before the company invested in the Chinese company in question.  Ann Romney’s blind trust has a “relatively small stake” in Bain Capital Asia fund in question, and she didn’t direct the purchase.  Furthermore, the trustees bought the stake before the fund invested in Uniview.  Does this tell us anything about Ann Romney, let alone Mitt Romney?  Of course not.  But the Times certainly didn’t mind tying both of them to Chinese surveillance.  Spooky!  Who gave that story the green light?  The editors, that’s who, not “liberal-minded feature writers.”

Here’s one data point omitted by Arthur Brisbane in his “trust us” missive: Vicki Iseman.  That was just one example of the NYT’s “hard-nosed, unbiased political reporting” in the 2008 election.  The Times endorsed John McCain in the Republican primary — much as they did today for Mitt Romney — and less than a fortnight later accused him of having had an affair with a lobbyist based on innuendo provided by a couple of disgruntled former low-level staffers.  The story was absurd, and the Times later tried to backpedal furiously from their insinuations by saying that the relationship was merely inappropriate and not necessarily sexual. The paper was roundly condemned for their yellow-journalism story, but I don’t see Brisbane discussing that in yesterday’s column.

The Times also went after McCain for his medical records in May, which he released as planned anyway.  What really went on in that incident?  The McCain campaign excluded them from a media pool during the release of the records, no doubt for payback on their Iseman smear.  The NYT then threatened to write negative editorials about his medical records if they were not added to the pool, which they did when the McCain campaign refused to knuckle under to their extortion threat.  The “hard-nosed, unbiased political reporting” that followed included two separate articles whining about their exclusion from the rather large pool at the McCain event.

So forgive us for laughing at you, Arthur.  You gave it the ol’ college try, but after watching the Times at work four years ago — and before and since then, too — we’re not about to trust the Gray Lady in 2012 to behave responsibly.

Update: Vinny Gambini said it best:

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Mr. Brisbane evidently does not realize his ‘Trust Us, we’re unbiased’ statement just screams the opposite. If you have to make this statement you have already lost.

TerryW on April 23, 2012 at 12:20 PM

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers. ~Thomas Jefferson

redridinghood on April 23, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Yeah, and…Obama ate a dog. #prayforbo

BocaJuniors on April 23, 2012 at 12:21 PM

Make it three:

“Hello, I’m from the IRS. I have a question for you.”

de rigueur on April 23, 2012 at 12:22 PM

The sun rose in the East, really.

Schadenfreude on April 23, 2012 at 12:25 PM

I read Brisbane’s oolumn (linked on Drudge) shortly before visiting HotAir and couldn’t resist sending this email to Brisbane. The quotation is Brisbane’s final paragraph.

“I applaud The Times’s stated commitment to doing these kinds of stories. Readers deserve to know: Who is the real Barack Obama? And The Times needs to show that it can address the question in a hard-nosed, unbiased way.”

Agree 100%, thank you. I look forward to the coverage.

Specifically, I look forward to coverage of Barack Obama similar to this excellent feature: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/us/politics/how-harvard-shaped-mitt-romney.html?pagewanted=all

Yeah, when pigs fly.

Owen Glendower on April 23, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Vinny Gambini…

if a blogger dedicated himself to making fun of the left solely by using snips from that movie (it’s in my top 5 all time), you would be out of business Ed.

teejk on April 23, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Red Cloud on April 23, 2012 at 12:00 PM

LOL! There just had to be a reason for the dumb article claiming objectivity.

Or maybe zer0 was threatening to put them on his enemies list.

Thank you, O Lord, for not making me a stupid Democrat.

MisterElephant on April 23, 2012 at 12:26 PM

How many times does a person or group have to not merely be wrong, and not merely lie, but willfully and pathologically lie -before you don’t trust ’em any more?

For me, it’s ususally once. Certainly a proven pathological liar couldn’t be taken seriously without reforming and establishing or re-establishing credibility -something not easy to do- before it could even be considered.

The NYTs LONG SINCE lost/forfeited any credibility. I don’t take anything they say seriously (even though a broken clock may be correct twice a day).

The NYTs is synonomous with “NO CREDIBILITY.” And anyone who takes them seriously or refers to anything they say as having merit (other than as an indicator of corruption and intellectual dishonesty) is revealing their own ignorance.

I loudly shout each and everytime I hear anyone mention the NYTs (and/or ABC,CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS) that they are a corrupt organization with no credibility.

(And this thread proves what I already know/knew -that I’m not alone. [Of course, it’s hard to miss the sun in the sky.])

GuitarMark on April 23, 2012 at 12:36 PM

Maybe a little O/T, but in an article linked by Ed above, the New York Times actually takes NBC to task for editing the George Zimmerman tape to make him sound racist, when he was actually responding to the police dispatcher’s prompting about Trayvon Martin’s race. The Times says that NBC’s error (and failure to correct it later) “inflamed” public opinion about the case, and they also criticized Al Sharpton for being both a “talk-show host” and “advocate”.

Now, as to whether the Times can correct its own slant on the news, that’s another question…

Steve Z on April 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM

No doubt the NYT leans left. Who cares? What good does it do you to only read stuff you already agree with?

Alpha_Male on April 23, 2012 at 12:50 PM

No doubt the NYT leans left. Who cares? What good does it do you to only read stuff you already agree with?

Alpha_Male on April 23, 2012 at 12:50 PM

No, it’s much more than that. It’s an active and coercive left wing propaganda machine that must be challenged and rebutted lest it completely corrupt the populace.

rplat on April 23, 2012 at 2:15 PM

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

EdmundBurke247 on April 23, 2012 at 4:17 PM

No doubt the NYT leans left. Who cares? What good does it do you to only read stuff you already agree with?

Alpha_Male on April 23, 2012 at 12:50 PM

Those of us who wish to see the truth, whether we agree or disagree, reported correctly and without bias care.

The Slimes has shown it cannot do this so why waste our time.

This particular plea probably has more to do with the fact their paid readership is dwindling and are trying to catch the ones who aren’t paying close attention to how much they’ve been lied to.

kim roy on April 23, 2012 at 5:21 PM

What an asz clown.

Jaibones on April 23, 2012 at 5:56 PM

Apologies! Here it is in context: http://nyti.ms/I4RE0H

NTropy on April 23, 2012 at 8:11 PM

But I think it’s undeniable that the Times is a liberal paper.
Daniel Okrent

NTropy on April 23, 2012 at 8:07 PM

Apologies! Here it is in context: http://nyti.ms/I4RE0H

NTropy on April 23, 2012 at 8:11 PM

Excellent article, thanks.
Looks like the Times hasn’t repented at all since it was written in 2004.

AesopFan on April 23, 2012 at 11:06 PM

Steve Z on April 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM

All ex post facto. That was simply being the “first” to report and criticize what everyone knew, after the damage was done. Even liberal media outlets compete and take shots against each other.

Then they huddle at the WH and slap each other on the back.

Odie1941 on April 23, 2012 at 11:26 PM

The best proof of their bias is that they keep Gail Collins on staff.

Gail couldn’t write a note excusing her child from gym class without mentioning Romney’s dog-on-the-roof incident. That isn’t bias; it’s a psychotic obsession.

Pythagoras on April 24, 2012 at 2:29 AM

They have got to be kidding!

hamman1956 on April 24, 2012 at 7:20 AM

NYT, all the news that fit for the outhouse…

insidiator on April 24, 2012 at 7:36 AM

OK NYT – Prove your point, we need an article demanding Obama’s college records. Crickets……..

Meanwhile, NYT now wants 20 years of Romney’s IRS tax returns.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

mark cantu on April 24, 2012 at 8:54 AM