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Pierce writes: "The beancounter editors and sub-editors at many - if not most - major newspapers and broadcast outlets would sell their grandmothers to the Somali pirates for a bigger office and two steps further up the masthead, which will get them closer to where the parachutes are kept."

New York Times' Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, is being criticized for his discussion of truth in journalism. (photo: TopNews)
New York Times' Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane, is being criticized for his discussion of truth in journalism. (photo: TopNews)

The NY Times and the End of Truth

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Magazine

13 January 12


his attempt at public-editing from Arthur Brisbane at the Times is exactly why I usually tell people to take it a little easy on the grunt reporters who have to do the day-to-day work of covering campaigns. Covering a presidential campaign on a daily basis has become so impossible that daily political journalism is very close to becoming a detriment to self-government. The people doing it are working in a dynamic that makes thoughtful consideration of what is true and what is false almost impossible. Tim Crouse wrote about this phenomenon in his absolutely essential The Boys on the Bus almost 40 years ago, and every problem in campaign coverage limned so ably by Crouse in that book - the pull of pack-thinking, the endless and grinding deadlines, the whipsaw of bias claims, the surrender of politics to the syntax and rhetoric of marketing, chickenshit editors back home, etc. etc. - is worse today and not better. The pack is bigger and more unruly. Everybody's on deadline all the time. (Twitter! File for the blog! Generate Content Across Many Platforms!) There are more - and, occasionally, better - watchdogs, especially on the Intertoobz, but even a lot of that is now hyper-amplified heckling. The marketing people are better at their jobs than the journalism people are at theirs. But, among all the problems that have gotten worse and not better since Crouse wrote his book, it's is the latter consideration, the chickenshit bosses back home, that has done the real damage.

Newspapers today are run by terrified beancounters. The industry is dying. They know it. They are casting about for any strategy to delay the inevitable and, personally, they are casting about for any parachute they can find. The beancounters owe their primary allegiance to "the company," and not to the reporter in the field. The beancounter editors and sub-editors at many - if not most - major newspapers and broadcast outlets would sell their grandmothers to the Somali pirates for a bigger office and two steps further up the masthead, which will get them closer to where the parachutes are kept. Most newspapers - most especially, the New York Times - have forced upon their reporters what are called "ethics codes," but which, in reality, are speech codes written to prevent the beancounters and careerists from having to answer angry phone calls from wingnuts. I am not kidding - under some of these abominations, a reporter literally could be disciplined for spouting off about, say, Willard Romney in a bar, if someone heard the reporter, and called the beancounter to complain. The campaign buses are filled now with young reporters who know full well that, given sufficient pressure from either inside or outside "the company,"  their bosses do not have their backs.

This is from Crouse's book. It is a conversation between two reporters, Robert Semple of the Times and Peter Lisagor of the Chicago Daily News, about the conundrum of trying to cover a lying sack of shit like Richard Nixon within the constraints of "objective" journalism:

"...[Semple said]... I may just say that he [Nixon] came to California and played on very familiar themes in terms that seem to admit no debate, that show no consideration for the complexity of the issues.... Yeah, but then the desk will go like this." He made a ripping sound and tore up an imaginary piece of paper.

"Yeah, right," said Lisagor. "...A lot of politicians make simplistic charges. It becomes a problem for the press to put these charges into their proper perspective. But a lot of reporters feel that they've discharged their obligation if they just report what the man said."

Almost 40 years later, and we get the above question, posed by the Public Editor of the newspaper where Semple once covered campaigns. Should reporters in the field point out that Willard Romney is lying his ass off every time he says that the president has been "apologizing" for America? The answer is obvious. Of course, they should. The bigger question is to ask, when the Romney campaign calls some Sulzberger and bitches about "bias," what are the consequences for the reporter, and what will the Public Editor's reaction be? your social media marketing partner


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+18 # Mickeyfilm 2012-01-13 23:12
Beancounters have destroyed network TV, newpapers, and even decent health care which affects everyone. Go to any hospital or ER and ask what the beancounters have done. Since I was a kid and started meeting Beancounters I thought they were major MF'ers and chickenshit as well. I've dealt with CPA's who have screwed me all my life. Is it simply that they are another specie of the human race that departed from the good of humanity? Ask any former cameraman or journalist at places such as CBS how they destroyed the network news operations. Back in the 80's all you had to do was go to one of the bars next to the CBS hqts. on any Friday and you could witness the action of the "beancounters". In my opinion, most of these so called intelligent accountants, have no idea why the companies they represent actually exist. Sorry, I can go on and on.
+26 # DaveM 2012-01-13 23:28
"There are things that are true, things that are not true, and things that are printed in newspapers" --Mark Twain.
+12 # jwb110 2012-01-14 00:44
IF the stupidity pumped out by candidates and officer holders was simply reported as news a lot of the problem would be solved. A knee jerk statement would fill a column of print and would look like exactly what it was. It is the "reporter" having FILL the column with what isn't there that is the cause of the confusion. If a candidate says some thing that is stupid. Print the stupidity and move on to news that is news. The public can tell the difference when the truth is presented to them. More words in an article do not make for more clarity and certainly make more news. Why do in depth reporting where there is no depth?
+11 # BobbyLip 2012-01-14 00:53
I am glad that my circumstances are so straitened nowadays that I can no longer afford to buy the Times every day as I did for many years. "All the news that's fit to print"? If you wrapped fish in it, it would be tainted. I mourn the coming demise of daily print journalism, but as far as the Times is concerned, I say "Bring back the Herald-Tribune! "
+11 # Cambridgemac 2012-01-14 08:36
The NYT: "The typhoid Mary of American journalism."
- Gore Vidal
'Twas ever thus.
- Mr. Natural
+23 # dloehr 2012-01-14 01:16
We can't handle the truth or its implications. 1600 architects and engineers are on record saying the Twin Towers and Building 7 were all examples of controlled demolition. Larry Silverstein (owner) is on camera saying that "they" decided to "pull" building 7 -- "pull" is a term used for controlled demolition of buildings -- then they "pulled" it, and it came down. Or the fact that GW Bush stole both elections, through the Supreme Court calling off vote counting, and later sabotage of the electronic voting machines in Ohio and probably other states. Or Fox News reporting on 26 December 2001 that Osama bin Laden had died peacefully of complications from his kidney disease on 13 December. Osama himself was on record at least twice, saying he had nothing to do with 9-11, saying "the Jews" did it. Or the story of the 5 "Dancing Israelis," arrested on 9-11 for filming, high-fiving and flicking their BICs as the towers collapsed, later saying they were sent "to document the event." At least 2 were Mossad agents. Or Dr. Alan Sabrosky, former head of military history at the Army War College, on record saying it is 100% certain 9-11 was a Mossad operation. We have been living within the Big Lie of 9-11, which spawned the other big lies: the absurd TSA gropings, the fiction of "terrorism" -- in 2008, only 8 Americans were killed by terrorist actions abroad. We have made an alternate reality, are now trapped within it, and it's killing us. Who could dare present and pursue this?
+11 # Ralph Averill 2012-01-14 04:20
What if there were NO reporters on the campaign bus? According to Mr. Pierce, there really isn't any point. The local press can cover campaign speeches wherever they are, and national media can vet the bs and report on who is really supporting the candidate.
Just a thought.
+17 # RMDC 2012-01-14 09:06
I don't really buy the beancounter argument for the decline of newspapers. Newspapers are actually more profitable than most corporations. The problem is that they have all gone public and are owned by infinitely greedy private equity firms and no amount of profit is every enough for these guys. So newspapers are being "milked" by their stockholders.

The very worst case of this is Sam Zell the owner of the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and a bunch of other papers. He's milked them down to about nothing. They really don't do much reporting at all anymore and they are shrinking. Soon they will just close up.

Corporate ownership has also taken control of the newsrooms, in spite of denials. Reporters who do not toe the company line are just fired. There are plenty of them writing on the net now -- we all read Robert Scheer who used to be with the LA Times until Zell fired him.

Journalism has lost its mission in the US. It has been taken over by public relations and advertising. In print journalism, the news is called "the news hole" -- the blank space on a page left over from the advertisements where news will be inserted. The adverts come first. CEOs are just not interested in news. It costs money to generate and it often undermines their mission as money makers. It is not the beancounters; it is the CEOs and stockholders that have destroyed American journalism.,
+6 # massager2002 2012-01-14 09:22
Thank you dloehr for speaking the truth that won't be spoken about on network TV or in print media!
+4 # soularddave 2012-01-14 10:01
Imbedded reporters become a megaphone for whoever they're with, be it a general, a candidate, or an elected official. Each of these reporters needs to have his quotes fact-checked and rewritten before submitting the report. However, there's no time because of competition and deadlines, so errors and lies are a "woven in" part of the "story". Are they semi-fiction, or semi-non-fictio n?
+4 # tomo 2012-01-14 17:44
The idea of "balance" is not a good idea. Note, for instance, how it works in the climate-change debate. Two thousand climatologists say global climate is changing and that gasses emitted by human industry are a significant factor in the change; one well-paid PR person for the oil industry says this is not the case. A show like "The News/Hour with Jim Lehrer" will put both a representative of the scientific community and the well-paid PR man on their show and give them equal time. This gives the viewer the impression it's a close debate. More generally, the print media seem to operate on the notion all opinions are created equal. Presenting them as such does not result in a "balanced presentation of the news," but in a hopeless muddle. This is the reason why no one under forty reads the printed media anymore nor watches "The News/Hour with Jim Lehrer."
+1 # waltcombs 2012-01-17 10:43
As a former feature writer and editor for Tribune Media Services - before the Zell era - I can attest to the fact that the suits/beancount ers are the ones who killed newspapers, thinking that the Internet offered them additional ad revenue, not realizing that if technology allows people to get info for free, why buy it, and that adverstisers are not going to be willing to pay as much for smaller Internet ads, no matter how many eyeballs see them. (And most eyeballs don't see them, but click through them instead.) Shortsightednes s killed newspaers and the media. And who copuld be more shortsighted than someone whose intellectual training focuses on the short term, and whose instincts are as solipsistic as corporate managers-in-tra ining?

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