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Posts Tagged ‘Dominique Strauss-Kahn’

Former Kansas City Star publisher and now New York Times public editor Art Brisbane took his paper to the woodshed Sunday in an Op-Ed piece about The Times’ increasing tendency to get caught up in (or pulled down into) entertainment and gossip-scene coverage.

As public editor, Brisbane is accountable essentially to no one at The Times: He is free to write as he sees fit about what he thinks the nation’s premier paper does well and what he sees as its shortcomings. He can only be fired for 1) not writing or 2) violating the paper’s code of ethics.

Surely, one of the last things that many reporters and editors at The Times want to see in their e-mail in-box is a memo from Brisbane asking them to explain why they wrote this story or that story or why they approached it the way they did.

Brisbane

On Sunday, Brisbane took on not just one or two stories but an increasing, overall tilt toward covering gossip-related material. Brisbane opened his story with this brilliant lead:

“The culture is headed for the curb, and The New York Times is on the story.”

He cited, among others, a recent article about the media coverage of the women in the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn cases and a story about “pay-to-play” tabloid journalism in the digital age.

Brisbane said in his piece that he can appreciate the newspaper’s attempt to walk a fine line between maintaining its “dignified brand” and covering events and culture “wherever they may lead.”

But he chided the paper for including “the seamy stuff” in the Schwarzenegger/Strauss-Kahn story.

The seamy stuff included repeating an assertion made by the gossip website TMZ that the household staff member whom Schwarzenegger impregnated “decked herself out as a sexy swashbuckler for Halloween” a year before she gave birth to the boy.

The story also quoted a blogger on Forbes.com as having said that the housekeeper, Mildred Patricia Baena, “would never appear on the cover of Maxim magazine.”

By regurgitating lurid and derogatory statements, Brisbane said, “the story took a kind of anthropological approach, donning  latex gloves to report on how others were reporting the story — chronicling, as it were, others’ low standards.”

In other words, Brisbane implied,The Times wanted to appear to be including the juicy stuff, not for its prurient value, but to seemingly acquit itself of its duty to publish “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

Brisbane cited several other stories, which, he concluded, constituted “loitering at the edge of propriety.”

At the root of the increasing tendency of The Times to venture into the previously off-limits garden of gossip, he said, was “the strong tug on The Times and other mainstream news media to follow society, sometimes eagerly, to its fringes.”

And then, in his very measured and tasteful way, Brisbane delivered the hammer:

“My preference would be to see more restraint. True, other media are indulging in questionable journalism, and it is difficult to resist the downward revision of standards. But The Times could just as easily pull back, recognizing that its readers don’t need and aren’t relying on it to chronicle these badlands. Other news outlets are more than willing to go there.”

In other words, Brisbane is urging the Grey Lady to stay true to its colors and not turn blue or purple.

I’m in full agreement. As a subscriber, I want my New York Times to be high road, not low brow.

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