Sneak attacks


“You’re not buying news when you buy The New York Times. You’re buying judgment.”
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger (1926-2012)
Publisher, The New York Times

On September 9, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan published this surprisingly frank assessment of her newspaper’s coverage of the Bernie Sanders campaign:

“For The Times, Bernie Sanders’s entry into the presidential race was almost a nonevent. Although many candidates’ declarations were treated on the front page with considerable fanfare, Mr. Sanders’s was tucked inside the paper on Page A21. … The Times has not ignored Mr. Sanders’s campaign by any means, but it also hasn’t always taken it very seriously. The tone of some stories does seem regrettably dismissive, even mocking at times. Some of it is focused on the candidate’s age, appearance and style rather than what he has to say.”

But in a separate post, Times editor for politics Carolyn Ryan defended the coverage, saying that she’s “puzzled by the tone complaints” lodged by readers about, for example, non-editorial references to Sanders as a “grumpy old socialist.”

Then this morning, the Times published an opinion piece by Charles M. Blow that begins like this: Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders spoke Saturday to a half empty gymnasium at Benedict College in South Carolina. The school is historically black, but the crowd appeared to be largely white.

This is the same turnout that The Washington Post described as “a racially mixed crowd of almost 1,000 people in the gymnasium of Benedict College, a historically black institution” and The State newspaper in Columbia described as “diverse and mostly enthusiastic, giving Sanders several standing ovations.”

Maybe the difference in perspectives is that the Post and State pieces were reported from Columbia, while the Times piece was based on a 30-minute telephone conversation placed from somewhere else. Or maybe the Times, despite Ms. Sullivan’s implicit urging, is still grinding an axe, and still “puzzled” that anyone should complain about it doing so. After all, as former Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger said, his newspaper doesn’t sell the news. It sells judgement.