Writing for the NY Times, Ben Smith (formerly of Buzzfeed) has a piece out today headlined “The Times Took 19 Days to Report an Accusation Against Biden. Here’s Why.” The piece is an interview with executive editor Dean Baquet in which he attempts to answer that question. I’ll be honest, I was expecting the worst from this. It’s the NY Times explaining itself to the NY Times. Maybe some readers will find Baquet’s explanations convincing but to me it sounds like he’s doing his best to skirt the issue of political bias and doing a really bad job.
So why did the Times sit on this when the allegation was made? The way Baquet explains that decision is revealing. First, he says he wanted the Times to be able to “help people figure out what to make of it.” What does that mean exactly? As he explains in subsequent answers, it means he wasn’t sure the Times would publish anything at all and making that decision would depend on whether reporters found Reade credible:
You have people on Twitter asking, “Where’s The New York Times?” and a narrative developing that The Times’s decision not to cover it represents a political stance. And you and your team are silent through that. You don’t think to say, “Hey, we’re working on it”?
So this is a tricky question. You wish you could say to the world, “Hey, we’re working on this.” But you don’t actually know what you’re going to end up writing. Let’s say for some reason we found out something that made us not want to write a story. Then what do we say to readers? “We looked at this hard and we found a reason. We found out something that made us not want to write. But we’re not going to tell you about it.” So it felt to me like that wasn’t quite the right alternative either…
Does the ultimate decision to publish mean that there’s at least some credibility to her allegation?
It means that there is enough about her case and her allegation to present to readers for them to make their own judgment.