Bill Keller of the NY Times Needs a Journalistic Reality Check

It’s hard to fathom why Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, would respond this way to their public editor about the paper’s failure to quickly follow-up on the Post’s investigation of the Walter Reed/veteran health care scandal: “Until we verify — or until the story begins to have consequences — it’s second-hand information,” he wrote in an email. There were other reasons Keller gave as well, including pulling off reporters working on some other enterprise story in order to play catch-up. Keller also said that “News organizations are habitually slow at responding to stories broken elsewhere… The easy explanation, and one that contains a good measure of truth, is pride…Reporters (and editors) don’t enjoy being beaten.”

But is Keller really saying that when a serious news organization or journalist from a competing outlet documents a story of critical importance, the reaction should be ignoring it (as the Times did for a number of days with the Post’s Walter Reed story)? Keller needs to re-examine how his paper responds to news reported elsewhere. The failure of the Times to adequately challenge the false Bush Administration assertions that led to this tragic war will always, sadly, be part of the paper’s journalistic legacy. Keller and executives at the Times need to acknowledge immediately other key stories from competing news organizations–and then advance the story even further. We need more vibrant journalistic analysis and reporting. Ignoring competing news stories is bad for the public interest and is a foolish journalistic practice.

Source: “Reporting the News Even When a Competitor Gets There First.” Byrone Calame. New York Times. March 11, 2007. Reg. may be required.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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