Sunday, April 25, 2004

Isvestia on the Hudson's Okrent gets all snarky 

One wonders how long the Times' experiment with having an ombudsman—I'm so sorry: "public editor"—can go on. The relentlessly self-satisfied and walking-though-gutshot editorial establishment at Times clearly feels that it needs an ombudsman like... like... well, like a stinking mackerel needs a Schwinn. Okrent seems to realize this, and is seeking a more suitable and long-term role as apologist and house flak. Really, what kind of "public editor" ends a column like this?

It's the shape of the aspiration and the extent that it's achieved for which The Times should be held responsible. Readers who expect more will deserve what they get. Ask for the paper of record, and you will end up holding a catalog, a soporific or an apologist. Probably all three, in fact.
(via The World's Greatest Newspaper (not!))

Snarky, Mr. Okrent, snarky! But seriously, what a great example of straw man argumentation. Here's how Okrent starts out:

My cellmate [We all feel for well-paid Daniel Okrent!] Arthur Bovino [He's real then, not a bot?], who has at his fingertips data that could make a statistician weep, calculates that in the five months since the office of the public editor opened for business, we've received 589 messages that contain the phrase "paper of record."

And Okrent, having pitched himself a high floater, hits it out of the park:

"Newspaper of record" did not originate with the editors. ... [T]he meticulous presentation of the acts of officialdom was long one of the ways The Times distinguished itself in an eight-newspaper town. "Long ago," according to Bill Borders, a senior editor who's been with the paper for 43 years, "The Times used to feel an obligation to print lots of things that we knew no one much would read - the new members of the Peruvian cabinet, for example - just to get them on the record. Fortunately those days are over."

So, readers who want think the Times is the newspaper of record want the Times to print the names of the Peruvian cabinet, as opposed, to say, covering the news. But today's Times doesn't do that, and we're all the better for it. So, readers (as Ann Landers would say) "kwitcher bellyachin'." The only catch? I'd bet that covering the news is exactly what those 589 readers wanted the Times to do, hoped the Times could do, dreamed that the Times could still do...

So, where to begin?

With Okrent assuming (again) that quoting one of his higher-ups somehow brings him credibility? Except as house fluffer? ("43 years" does say a lot, but what?)

With Okrent ignoring that "the meticulous presentation of acts of officialdom" is exactly what Judith "Kneepads" Miller thought her job was when "covering" the WMD story?

[MILLER] y job isn't to assess the government's information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal.

With the fact that the Times issues corrections whose length is inversely proportionate to the severity of the transgression? Blair: Reams of copy. Wen Ho Lee: A story. Goring Gore in 2000: Nothing. Whitewater: Nothing. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

With the clowning by Seelye and Wilgoren in election 2004, which is just as cheesy and script-driven as Goring Gore in 2000? (Howler, here)

Naah... Let's begin where Okrent begins: With the 589 letters from readers. Okrent gets 589 letters (individually written, not Astroturfed, not hateful) using the phrase "newspaper of record," and, boiling it down, what's his reaction?

The customers are wrong

And the Times wonders why its readership is stagnant... If the blogopshere works out a business model that supports reportage we will happily eviscerate the Times. (And what would it take? Funding for 100 reporters worldwide, say? Not much.) Good luck, Dan.

NOTE Mail sadly overworked but well-paid Daniel Okrent here: public@nytimes.com.

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