Byron York thumbed through his dead-tree copy of the New York Times today, and discovered something — or rather didn’t discover something. Their exposé of a redacted memo from DNI Dennis Blair has exploded on line, but the Times didn’t think it was worthy of any column space in the print edition:
Baker’s story attracted a lot of attention soon after the paper posted it on its Web site. In addition to a link on Drudge, it is, according to Memeorandum, the talk of PowerLine, JustOneMinute, The Daily Dish, The Plum Line, Hot Air, Commentary, RedState, Political Punch, AmSpecBlog, and lots of other places on the Web.
In fact, it appears there is just one place you won’t find Baker’s story: the print edition of the New York Times.
I read the story on the Web last night and, going through the actual newspaper this morning, noticed that it wasn’t there. Instead, there were a few graphs devoted to Baker’s material placed deep inside another story, “Obama Won’t Bar Inquiry, or Penalty, on Interrogations,” by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, on page A-15.
I asked Richard Stevenson, who is the Times’ deputy Washington bureau chief, what was going on. He told me Baker got the Blair information late in the day Tuesday, and there just wasn’t room for it in the paper. “We already had three stories on this subject,” Stevenson explained, “and it was late, there was no more space to do this separately…We just didn’t have the space to put it in the print newspaper.”
The other interrogation stories the Times published in the paper were, “In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use; Interrogations Based on Torture Methods Chinese Communists Used in ’50s” on the front page; “Report Gives New Detail on Interrogation Approval,” on A-14, and Stolberg’s, on A-15.
Stevenson argued that the exclusion from the print edition did not reflect any editorial bias. The article didn’t get filed until 8:30 pm, after the editors had already decided on the print edition. The Times did promote the piece on line, and its partners at MS-NBC and elsewhere gave it additional visibility. They certainly didn’t “bury” the story in the sense of keeping information from the public. Stevenson also says that they consider the on-line and print editions a seamless presentation of the Times.
However, placement matters, both in whether and where to place information. No one would argue that a story on page A-1 of a print edition gets more exposure than a story on D-30. Newspapers routinely emphasize the work that matters most to them by putting it in the best position for readers to find it. Given that the story points out some previously dishonest representation of Blair’s memo by the Obama administration, and that it argues that waterboarding protected American lives in a very real sense by preventing terrorist plots already in motion, that revelation should have been a “stop the presses” moment for any newspaper. At 8:30 pm, the Times could have made the decision to bounce the front-page story to A-14 or A-15 and move one of the others to the web-only edition.
Stevenson is being disingenuous. This was much more newsworthy in the acute sense than their front-page article on the history of the tactics, a subject that has been discussed for years and hardly qualifies as breaking news. If the Times wants its dead-tree drop to remain relevant, it had better start printing the news in it.