by Dan Gibson
If your "public editor" is positing this idea and asking for input from a comment section on the internet (nothing personal, commenters), that's a good sign you need to hire a new "public editor":
I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.
One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas “misunderstood,” and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.
Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.
As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?
In the sense that the basic premise of what news reporters do for a living is presenting factual information to their audience, then yes, new reporters should probably call someone out when they lie. The Thomas situation is probably not something that can be contested, due to the fact that it's impossible to actually say whether Justice Thomas is able to actually understand the basic ethical standards of his position, but it would be relatively easy to ask Mitt Romney (or one of his legion of press representatives) for examples of speeches in which Obama has apologized for America. That's sort of a basic obligation of journalism. A newsmaker says something, and then journalists do the legwork to fill out the story, possibly challenging the assertion. Otherwise, why not just reprint press releases and speeches in their entirety?
Maybe this is just an attempt by the Times to start a conversation about what journalism means in the 21st century, but as one of the standard-bearers in the news field, you'd hope the New York Times would be driving the conversation, not conducting a poll to see what their readers want. As someone who reads most of the New York Times everyday, I'd like them to just do their job.