Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Empty Suit Watch: Barney Gets Innovative!

The Empty Suit, New York Times spokesman (a/k/a/ "public editor") Barney Calame, is always coming up with new and creative ways of carrying out his mandate, which is to make believe that he is serving as an in-house journalistic watchdog. In the past, he has filled out his column with the journalistic equivalent of balsa wood -- reader letters and trivia -- while ignoring the many blatant examples of bias and inaccuracy.

Today, Calame rolled out a new one: take a controversial subject, in this case anonymous sources, and pick a few softball examples to make the point that everything is OK and gosh darn it, Times editors are on the job!

"Anonymity: Who Deserves It?" is the title of Barney's column today. "It seems like a good time to assess the state of confidential sourcing at the paper," says Barney. Really? So what's going on and have you got to say, Barney my man?

Well, it seems that there is not too much activity on that front. We don't have egregious examples of bias such as I pointed out yesterday. You don't have a Times film critic using a review to bash Israel. There's an entire website, Timeswatch, that does nothing but examine the very worst examples of Times bias. Any of the stuff on Timeswatch ever addressed by Barney here? Of course not. That's not his job. No, that would not fulfill Barney's mission: to serve as a parody of a public editor.

So today, Barney fills his column in mind-numbingly pedestrian fashion. He cites a couple of examples of anonymous sourcing that are mildly, and I do mean mildly off-base... and some ones that are not mildly off-base, and some that are OK.... and... and .... zzzzzzzzzz.

Bottom line: Everything is under control. "There's a daily conversation on sources," says a Washington editor.

Terrific! But how about a daily conversation on bias too? How about a systematic examination of your coverage of subjects, such as its coverage of Iraq and Washington politics and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, where the Times stacks the deck every day?

Sorry. I was engaged in a bit of fantasy there. For a moment I thought I was dealing with a real newspaper ombudsman, and not a parody of one.

Barney's conclusion: The "[two top editors'] commitment to top-level oversight, and to providing sufficient editing attention to ignite those 'daily conversations' about sources, has to be sustained long after the recent clamor over the paper's use of anonymous sourcing has faded away."

Yep, got to work hard to keep the Times's reputation shiny. Everything is ship shape, folks. All the bias you see in the Times every day? Ain't happening. Just your imagination. That's Barney's World.

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