Ethics Quote of the Month: Arthur Brisbane

“I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within. When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”

Arthur Brisbane, New York Times’ “public editor” (that is, ombudsman), in his final column in that role. Brisbane’s tenure has been characterized by his defensiveness over accusations that the Times radiated a political agenda, and the lack of a willingness to be critical of his employers that is the hallmark of an effective ombudsman.

“By George, you’re RIGHT! There IS a dinosaur here! How could I have missed it?”

Yes, Arthur, it’s called “pervasive liberal or left-wing bias,” and it is good of you to finally notice, and honest of you to say so, even though you can’t bring yourself to do so directly. But your insistence  that such bias could manifest itself in the coverage of issues that are central to the presidential campaign without affecting the Times’ coverage of the campaign itself is laughable, touching, idiotic or sad, depending on how charitable a reader is inclined to be to a supposed professional who waits until his last gasp in a job before acknowledging the reason he should have been doing that job differently, which is to say independently, objectively, and competently.

Better late than never.

I suppose.


Pointer: Volokh Conspiracy

Source: New York Times

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6 thoughts on “Ethics Quote of the Month: Arthur Brisbane

  1. It is undoubtedly not a coincidence this is in his last article. Once he finally began to realize the truth, he could no longer work there. The NYT can’t allow a dissident to work in that position. It would also be an unbearable job for him to try to point this fact out to the true believers who insist that there is no bias or insist that they must support the cause. The article was most likely as strongly worded as it was allowed to be. I am surprised they let him print that much.

  2. Actually, Michael, this wasn’t a parting shot. The NYTimes hires its public editors for a period of two years – not a day longer – and then switches them out. Brisbane’s term was up, and if you read him during his tenure you’d be hard pressed to conclude anything other than he shares the NYT’s groupthink liberal orientation. Imagine that… the NYT selects is ombudsman to reflect its values. Who’da thunk it?

    What’s interesting is that Brisbane is in many regards echoing the NYT’s first “Public Editor,” Daniel Okrent – who, in his last column, wrote “Is the Times a liberal newspaper? Of course it is.”

    Okrent was a bit more circumspect in his description than Brisbane, and subsequently said that the comment was taken out of context. To an extent, that’s a fair claim – but not overall. The Times IS a liberal newspaper, and the biggest problem with that is 1) much of the public still believes The Times delivers it straight, and even worse, 2) so does the Times staff.

  3. The NYT (or any other daily) is not a public utility. It is a private enterprise, and as such is allowed any bias it desires. Anyone dissatisfied is perfectly free to publish his/her own biases. Dang, don’t ya just hate that free enterprise system?

    • Beside the point, of course. The Times fancies itself the flagship of American journalism, and purports, as such, to epitomize journalistic ethics and reporting standards. It doesn’t. Bias is not ethical journalism; lack of fairness and objectivity is not ethical journalism. Saying you include “All the News that’s fit to print” when you ignore or downplay stories for reasons of ideology isn’t ethical journalism. You’ve been reading here a while—surely you haven’t missed the part about how having the right to do something, like claiming you’re a fair and unbiased new source while shilling for one side of the political spectrum, is not the same thing as saying that it is right to do it?

  4. They all have their prejudices — NYT, Washington Post, CNN, Fox, MSNBC — and they have that right. What they DON’T have the right to do is try and disguise those prejudices as actual fact. There is no one to believe anymore. One has to make one’s own decisions, and go from there. Not an easy task. But don’t excuse the “news” reporters…

    Years ago my high school sociology teacher told me to go into broadcasting or newspapers — “They’re the ones with the power; they decide what’s news and what isn’t, what slant they will take; what goes above the fold or below the fold. If you want to have influence, go there. It’ll kill you, but you might do some good while your’re there…”

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