Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Public Apology to Byron Calame of the New York Times

Calame: Hard-Working

I would like to publicly apologize to Byron "Barney" Calame, Public Editor of the New York Times. In past items I have used terms like "getting off the divan" and intimated that he doesn't work very hard. Well, I was clearly wrong and would like to take this opportunity to apologize.

As his column today -- on the burning issue of advertising creeping into editorial copy -- makes abundantly clear, Barney is actually extremely hard-working. After all, it must have taken enormous effort, at a time when his newspaper's credibility is coming apart at the seams, for Barney to have found an issue more tangential, more trivial, more utterly off-topic.

And I said the job of being an Empty Suit and parody of a public editor was easy. And I intimated that being a craven toady and management shill -- piling on Judy Miller, for example, when the Times turned against her -- wasn't hard work. Boy was I dead wrong! Apologies! Apologies! Apologies!

The frightening thing about his column today is that I think that Barney might actually believe that his readers are troubled about the non-issue with which he wasted today's column.

Really. I mean, look at this: There are, he says, "pressures to let advertisers tie their pitches more closely to the credibility of the news columns." And that, he says, "can blur the distinction between advertising and articles -- risking erosion of the readers' right to assume that the news columns are pure journalism, both in print and online."

I think it is possible that the Suit actually believes that what endangers Times journalism is encroaching advertising and not shoddy reporting, bias and ideological rigidity.

To cite an obvious example, in recent items I've chronicled how the Times was blatantly wrong in some of its coverage of the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Just go back and read them -- item after item after item, some quoting a correspondence between the Times and a reader, who was fruitlessly trying to reason with Times editor Ethan Bronner and reporter Steve Erlanger. Bronner even admitted that the Times was wrong. There's also been great stuff in Timeswatch and IRIS.

In the face of this massive evidence of bias and error on this single issue there has been no correction. And, of course, not a word from the Suit, either in print or in his cobweb-covered "web journal."

Barney says today "I hold to the traditional view, that readers trust a paper more when there's a clear separation [between advertising and news]. Advertisers are attracted to readers who trust what's in the news columns."

It's easy to make fun of him for saying this in a column devoted to trivia. Don't. Think of the sheer chutzpah involved in devoting a column to something that nobody cares about, at a time when his paper's reputation is in tatters, and then writing with a straight face about "reader trust in the news columns."

Stand up tall, Byron Calame. You're a hard-working man, and I'm sorry that I ever said differently. The suit may be empty, but you should wear it with pride.

UPDATE: A reader points out that Calame is not alone in being fixated on trivia. It seems to be a disease sweeping media-watchers. Take, for example, Slate's Jack Shafer, who this week got upset because editorial writers sometimes use words like "should" or "must." As if that matters more than whether what they say is intelligent or infantile.

Keep it up, Jack, and the title of World's Worst Media Columnist, now held by Jon Friedman of Marketwatch, will soon be yours.

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