Gray Lady's Glass Chin

Categories: News

The New York Times isn't nearly as arrogant as it used to be. After Jayson Blair, Judith Miller, and the fact that two of its prized columnists (Thomas L. Friedman and Nicholas D. Kristof) got it totally wrong on the Iraq War, it really can't be. Too many people now know how wrong the Gray Lady -- whose habit of warding off criticism with a wave of an imperious hand is legendary -- can be.

But she's still thin-skinned and extremely reluctant to admit mistakes, sometimes to the point of censoring out worthy criticism. And we've got some evidence to help prove it.

Daily Business Review Law Editor Harris Meyer sent a letter to the editor to the Times last week about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's universal health care plan for California. The Times published it in Sunday's paper (you can see it here, fourth one down).

Here's the way the published letter begins: "One element is key in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan: all Californians would be required to obtain health coverage, either through their employer or on their own. That type of mandate is essential to make everything else work."

Fine and dandy. Meyer is a veteran health care reporter and the Times obviously realized his point has some merit. But the newspaper of record altered the man's missive. Here is the top of the actual letter sent to the Times:

"Your Jan. 8 article, "Schwarzenegger calls for care to be universal," failed to mention the key element of the California governor's plan -- all Californians would be required to obtain health coverage, either through their employer or on their own. That type of mandate is essential to make everything else work."

You see the very slight change here? Meyer called the Times to task for it's failure to mention that "key element." The Times chose not to share that with its readers, deciding instead to cut off the finger pointing at it.

It's a small thing, to be sure, but also very telling. After all, what are letters to the editor for if not to call fault on the newspaper? Why is the newspaper so touchy? Why would it edit out its readers' jabs? Afraid that it would generate more criticism?

Meyer simply says he was "amused" by it, but adds that now he understands why the newspaper didn't publish other letters of his that were much more critical. Me? I wonder how many thousands more letters to the New York Times have been killed or butchered for the same reason.

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