Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Empty Suit (a continuing series)

Shills For Management

Just about every day, people raise questions about bias, errors and general sleaziness at the New York Times. There is an excellent website, Timeswatch, that does nothing else. So the question arises, where is the New York Times's Public Editor, Barney Calame? Where does he stand on all the issues that keep coming up? On coverage of the Bush administration and Iraq? Bias in the Middle East? You know--the whole nine yards.

Well, we know that ripping off bloggers is OK with him. As David M observed, Calame's response on that issue "smacked of circling the wagons, to my mind not an appropriate role for the public editor." Even FishbowlNY came around to that point of view. Problem is, if the guy serves as an arm of the Times bureaucracy on something as basic as "Thou Shalt Not Steal," what good is he?

The answer is: A big, fat, nothing. Since his inaugural column on June 5, Calame has written a grand total of two columns, and both have been softball pieces.

In his first column, he responded to reader complaints about an article on covert air operations for transporting terrorists. In Air Force lingo, his column was what you call a "milk run." Some readers sent in emails beefing about the story. Calame responded that the CIA had a whole lot of time to reply, and everything was Okey-dokey. (Actually all was not so okey-dokey, according to a letter from an ex-CIA honcho that Calame put online, but not in the paper where a lot of people might actually read it.)

The next column was about a photo illustrating an article in the New York Times Magazine on interrogations. A photo? What about the article itself? It has come under attack from just about everybody who's read it, for Heaven's sake. One of the most troubling came from CAMERA, which noted that the piece relied on an Israeli Moonbat organization called B'Tselem for much of its info.

It's good that Calame slapped the Times on the wrist for the photo, which was staged, but he wimped out when it came to the story itself.

It is increasingly clear that Calame was hired to do precisely what he is doing, which is to not make waves. Look at his so-called "Web Journal," which is supposed to publish reader letters and such. It has a grand total of two items originating on his watch, including one from that CIA guy I mentioned earlier.

Don't kid yourself. Times management is delighted that Calame has hung out the "Gone Fishing" sign. He is a perfect Public Editor from the Times perspective -- an empty suit.

Hey, I'd love to be proven wrong about this. Come on, Barney! Prove me wrong. I dare you!

UPDATE: As a reader comment points out, not all newspaper ombudsmen are management shills and do-nothings like Calame, and not all media-ombudsman blogs are a joke. This one, noted by the reader, is a good example of what a public editor can do if he gets off his keister.