Thursday, April 26, 2012

Will the Whistle-Blower Whistle?

WORLD Magazine
By Marvin Olasky

(WNS)--The New York Times has a “public editor,” Arthur S. Brisbane, with the task of listening to readers’ concerns and bringing them to the attention of editors and reporters when he thinks those concerns are warranted. Brisbane is the great grandson of utopian socialist Albert Brisbane and the grandson of Arthur Brisbane (1864-1936), a Hearst editor described by biographer W.A. Swanberg (Citizen Hearst, 1961) as “a one-time socialist who had drifted pleasantly into the profit system.”

Brisbane noted in his Apr. 22 column, “Many critics view The Times as constitutionally unable to address the [2012] election in an unbiased fashion.” He reported the results of a study conducted by media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter that showed that Times coverage of President Obama’s first year in office “was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan.”

Brisbane quoted the authors’ question: “Did The Times, perhaps in response to the aggressive efforts by [Rupert] Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to seize market share, decide to tilt more to the left than it had in the past?” His response: “I strongly doubt that. Based on conversations with Times reporters and editors who cover the campaign and Washington, I think they see themselves as aggressive journalists who don’t play favorites.”

Good thing Brisbane cleared that up. But he did quote other criticism of his newspaper, and suggested that Times reporters should now “shift to a campaign coverage paradigm that compares promises with execution, sheds light on campaign operations, and assesses the president’s promises for a second term.” The value in Brisbane’s article is that he quotes a promise from Times political editor Richard Stevenson to target the Obama campaign’s use of his powers of incumbency, along with Obama’s “political style, character, and learning curve.”

I’ll believe that when I see it. Brisbane ends his column by writing, “I applaud The Times’ stated commitment to doing these kinds of stories. Readers deserve to know: Who is the real Barack Obama? And The Times needs to show that it can address the question in a hard-nosed, unbiased way.”

If The Times does not—when The Times does not, judging from its recent decades—will Brisbane blow the whistle?

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of WORLD News Group, which includes WORLD Magazine.

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