Why the New York Times blacked out the Biden terrorist comments story
posted at 1:14 pm on August 4, 2011 by Karl
The WaPo’s Eric Wemple, addressing the Politico story that Vice-President Joe Biden siad Tea Party Republicans had “acted like terrorists” in the debt ceiling negotiations, noticed it was downplayed by some big media players:
The combo of anonymous sourcing behind the Politico story plus a quasi-denial on part of the vice president appears to have steered other prominent media outlets away from the mention of “terrorists.” A Nexis search of the New York Times turns up no mention of the incident in its news pages. The Washington Post’s news operation largely stayed away, though its opinion side gave it much rotation. MSNBC doesn’t appear to have given it prominence, either.
Why? Dick Stevenson, an editor at the New York Times, writes:
Obviously we were aware of the reports that Biden had likened the Republicans to terrorists. But we had no first-hand (or even second-hand) confirmation, and the vice president’s office was disputing that he had said any such thing. We debated whether we needed at least to take account of the controversy, but decided against doing so since we could not establish that Biden had said what was being attributed to him. Maybe there is more to this than we know. But on the face of it, it is a classic example of how what were once pretty clear-cut decisions based on well-established standards are now complicated by the reality that stories increasingly get injected into the public dialogue quickly and often with minimal journalistic vetting — leaving news organizations at risk of being perceived as deliberately ignoring them if they make a judgment against publishing. (Emphases added.)
The New York Times has standards, you know.
The NYT would never, for example, run a story about rumors that then-Senatorial candidate Mark Kirk (R-IL) was gay, simply to take the opportunity to bash the intolerance of a fringe rival to Kirk and mock the admittedly decrepit state of the Illinois GOP (while spreading the rumor still further). A lede like this:
The Republican primary for President Obama’s old United States Senate seat is so consumed by closets, it should be sponsored by Bed Bath & Beyond.
Is Representative Mark Steven Kirk, a Republican respectfully feared by the White House, gay? Amid the recession, the health care debate and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this question is the 800-pound pink elephant in the G.O.P. room…
…would be completely beneath the lofty standards of the Grey Lady. The NYT would not stoop to recirculating rumors linking Senator John Kerry to a much younger woman, or the departure of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, simply to chuckle over Matt Drudge’s circulation of them. After all, that would be so cheap, so unprofessional.
Conversely, the NYT would never print a rumor, not even one reported by Reuters, thatt Hillary Rodham Clinton was in talks to become president of the World Bank. You know why they wouldn’t report it? Because HRC and her aides had “knocked it down.” To then run with such a rumor for paragraph after sycophantic paragraph about how well-suited she would be for the job would be… unseemly. The NYT would never stoop to running that type of unconfirmed, indeed denied, rumor, let alone with a headline stating it sounded plausible.
Remember, this is the New York Times, an elite institution that would never print an unconfirmed claim by a politician, even one favored by the paper, made to the Politico:
[Rep.] Weiner always knew that his sharp tongue, combined with his frequent use of Twitter, had a potential risk. But over the weekend, Twitter trouble found Mr. Weiner in an unexpected way.
A sexually suggestive photograph of a man from the waist down, in nothing but underwear, was sent from Mr. Weiner’s Twitter-related photo-sharing account to a woman in Seattle. Mr. Weiner dismissed the picture, saying his account had been hacked and writing on Saturday in a Twitter message (of course): “Tivo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next?” He told Politico, “The wiener gags never get old, I guess,” and his office issued a statement on Sunday saying, “Anthony’s accounts were obviously hacked.”
Unritically relaying an unconfirmed claim that a pol was the victim of hacking — a federal crime — would run the risk that the stenographer would look foolish, perhaps even partisan, when the story turns out to be a lie told to cover up an embarrassing scandal. Fortunately, The New York Times knows this and has well-established standards that prevent them from risking their shining reputation for fairness and objectivity.
Otherwise, people might think that the well-established standard of The New York Times is that it will not publish unconfirmed stories that undermine the paper’s political narrative, while rumors that support that narrative are fair game.