A Query for the NY Times
Fitting Coverage or News That Fits?
It was almost a “Dewey Defeats Truman” moment that recalled the headline in the early edition of the Chicago Tribune on election night in 1948. Oops.
I’m thinking of the recent New York Times coverage over several months that pretty much had Mayor Michael Bloomberg re-elected even before the New York City voting booths had opened.
Well, it turned out that Hiz Honor got a very big surprise, despite his wealth and incumbent status, winning a third term (even though he had to overturn a term-limit ban to run) by just a whisker.
Which prompted me to send along an e-mail query to the Times public editor (the official responder to critics of the Times), asking why the paper has missed any signs that despite Bloomberg’s purported invincibility he came very close to being defeated.
“Having followed the New York City mayoral election from a distance by reading the Times coverage, I gained the strong impression that Mayor Bloomberg’s vast resources, personal popularity and admirable management skills combined with William Thompson’s unfocused, disorganized and woefully under-financed campaign doomed the challenger.
“ So why was I surprised when Bloomberg only squeaked by such a marginal opponent? Was it because the Times news editors and reporting staff did not do their jobs, but bought into the conventional wisdom about the mayor’s alleged virtues, and failed to go beyond the financial mismatch story or the personality differences of the candidates.
“With hundreds of city reporters available, it might have made editorial sense to send some of them to boroughs and neighborhoods outside Manhattan to find out what prospective voters really thought about the mayor, his broken term-limit promise and his wanton spending of limitless personal wealth to win the election.
“Most telling is that the Times newsroom apparently was even more surprised by the outcome on election night than those of us who were relying on its coverage to keep us informed. How come?”
In his Nov 15 published response. Public editor Clark Hoyt devoted an entire column to the subject, which enabled Times editors and reporters in convoluted ways to defend their coverage. He also emphasized that on the morning after the election “the paper published a revealing insiders’ account of his (Bloomberg’s) campaign that told a more complicated story.”
Yet, when all was said and written, I was not persuaded the paper did its best work, which day after day after day is consistently just short of excellent, covering this particular story. The Times just flat out blew it.