Unethical Quote Of The Week: New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. [UPDATED and CORRECTED]

“Our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.”

—-New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr, announcing that the Times was eliminating its “public editor” and its public editor position.

The decision was bad enough, the disingenuous excuse was almost worse. Yes, by all means, the Times doesn’t need an independent, internal expert on journalism ethics to blow the whistle when the Times ignores its duties of competence, independence and objectivity and breaches its own ethics code: the overwhelmingly left-wing readers the Times panders too daily will keep it on the straight and narrow! Besides. why does the Times need an ethics cop now? After all, the public’s trust in the news media, of which the Times is supposed to be the role model, has never been higher!

Well, no, actually, the public’s trust in journalism has never been lower, and the New York Time’s blatant bias during the 2016 campaign and in the wake of Donald Trump’s election is one of the main reasons. Tell me: if an organization finds its public trust diminishing drastically, which act shows a sincere interest in addressing that distrust and reversing it…

A. Hiring an independent journalism ombudsperson who investigates instances of dubious journalism ethics and reports to the public in the paper, no matter what the results, entering criticism and recommending changes as needed, or

B. Eliminating the above position entirely?

The New York Times chose B. What this indicates is that the Times doesn’t care about the public trust, just its readers’ trust. It knows most of its current readership wants an aggressive progressive advocacy rag, not bold, objective and independent journalism. When a new less-progressive-than-usual op ed writer dared to suggest that critics of climate change orthodoxy be listened to respectfully, Times readers tried to get him fired. Continue reading

Ethical Quote Of The Month: PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler


“One would have to lean way over backwards to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was simply shedding light on the administration’s view of portions of Netanyahu’s arguments. But to personalize it by saying, “Take that, Bibi” is, in my book, inexcusable for an experienced journalist who is the co-anchor of a nightly news program watched by millions of people over the course of any week.”

—PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler, giving no quarter and making no rationalizations to slam PBS news host Gwen Ifill for her” “Take that, Bibi” taunt via Twitter.


Note that he also is saying that Ifill’s defense is a lie. As indeed it was. Later, as you can read, he makes it clear that he believes that Ifill is too experienced to make the mistake she claims she made. She made a different mistake: letting her bias rule her judgment and professionalism.

What do you know, a real, honest ombudsman who doesn’t view his job as spinning for his bosses!

I wonder why the New York Times can’t find one.

The Washington Post Gives Up On Independent Ombudsmen: 1) Too Bad, Because It Needs One Desperately and 2) No Wonder, Since Its Last One Was A Bozo

Agreed: He's an improvement over the last ombudsman. But the Washington Post readers deserve better.

Agreed: He’s an improvement over the last ombudsman. But the Washington Post readers deserve better.

The Washington Post, which in 1970 became the first newspaper to employ a full-time “independent ombudsman” to explore reader complaints and exercise ethical oversight, has given up on the concept, pronouncing it a device “created decades ago for a different era.” You know–that era when people trusted the news media, and occasionally were given good cause to do so. Now the Post will rely on a “reader representative” named from the newspaper’s staff.

So much for “independence.”

Giving up on ombudsmen after having Patrick B. Pexton filling the role for the last two years is a little like giving up eating after Thanksgiving at my late Aunt Anna’s house. Her green, slimy, Wonder Bread turkey stuffing had to be tasted (but, oh God, never swallowed!) to be believed. Similarly, Pexton was an utter disgrace as an ombudsman, making excuses for unethical Post excursions into partisan hackery, and apparently completely unaware that his own biases mirrored those of his paper, which supposedly placed him in his job to offer perspective, not cover. And just as I seriously considered never again taking the risk of putting food in my mouth after that memorable holiday dinner in 1966, I can understand the Post thinking, as Pexton’s two year contract mercifully expired last week, thinking, “If we can’t do better than this clown, why have the position at all?” Continue reading

Picking Through The Wreckage of An Ethics Tesla Wreck

The wreck participants. Not pictured: the Tesla.

The wreck participants. Not pictured: the Tesla.

There was questionable ethical conduct galore in the recently-stilled ethics wreck sparked by a New York Times review of the new Tesla electric car, the Model S. Times reporter John Broder test drove the car from Washington, D.C., to Boston, using the  charging stations Tesla has opened along the way.  Broder’s Tesla ran out of juice, and the article concluded with a sad photo of the highly-anticipated Model S  on a tow truck. In short, it was not a positive review.

In response to the review, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk called it a “fake” on Twitter, then wrote a rebuttal using the data logs of the vehicle Broder tested. Broder wrote a rebuttal to the rebuttal, and eventually the Times “public editor” (others would call her its ombudsman), Margaret Sullivan, was drawn into the battle, performing an investigation and concluding that…

“…I am convinced that [Broder]  took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it. Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially. In particular, decisions he made at a crucial juncture – when he recharged the Model S in Norwich, Conn., a stop forced by the unexpected loss of charge overnight – were certainly instrumental in this saga’s high-drama ending. In addition, Mr. Broder left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey, unaware that his every move was being monitored. A little red notebook in the front seat is no match for digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has used, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation…People will go on contesting these points – and insisting that they know what they prove — and that’s understandable. In the matter of the Tesla Model S and its now infamous test drive, there is still plenty to argue about and few conclusions that are unassailable.”

Perhaps realizing that his vigorous defense of his car had triggered the Streisand Effect, Musk took to Twitter again, this time saying that the ombudsmadam’s article was “thoughtful” and that his faith in the Times was hereby restored. This put a nicely disingenuous spin on the whole episode.

Here is the final ethics tally: Continue reading

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

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at  jamproethics@verizon.net.

The Worst Ombudsman Ever Strikes Again!

"Wait! Wait! It wasn't that good a story! Why did you have to pay so much attention to it? Now Our friends are all mad and everything!"

Patrick B. Pexton, whom Ethics Alarms dubbed The Worst Ombudsman Ever last Fall, has cemented his title with yet another example of bias and incompetence. By rights, he should be in a spirited battle for WOE with New York Times “public editor” (a.k.a ombudsman ) Clark Hoyt, who, among other derelictions of duty, has refused to criticize Times columnist Charles M. Blow for blatant anti-Morman bigotry. At least Hoyt writes about journalistic ethics, which is his (and Pexton’s) job to do, though not always well. The ombudsman’s proper role in any organization is to serve the public interest by answering and resolving complaints against the organization, calling foul when the organization does wrong, and making standards clear when it does not. In a new organization, the ombudsman is the guardian of journalistic ethics, and all that implies, from fairness to objectivity to competence. Pexton seems to see his function as an advocate for the Post when it is under attack, and for the Obama Administration when the opportunity presents itself. That does not serve the public interest.

Thus it is that Pexton has written a bizarre and gratuitous  defense of a Post story that went viral on the internet, arguing that it wasn’t the Post’s fault that so many people paid attention to it, that the story was no big deal, really, and that “only our reactive, partisan, hyperventilating media culture” made it one. Isn’t that strange? A newspaper’s story gets quoted and circulated, and its ombudsman feels that he has to apologize for it? What was the matter with the story? Was it wrong? That would justify Pexton’s professional <Cough!> attentions. Well, no, it wasn’t wrong. Was it unfair? Er, not really, no. What then? Continue reading

The New York Times Asks: “Should We Be Truth Vigilantes?” Ethics Alarms Answers: “No, Because You Can’t Be Trusted.”

Should Times reporters be like Wonder Woman's lasso of truth?

In an appeal to New York Times readers that is at once alarming, naive, arrogant and ominous, Arthur Brisbane, the Times’ “public editor” (Translation: ombudsman) asks whether the paper’s reporters should be “truth vigilante(s)… should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

The answer is no, no, no, and for the obvious reasons. Times reporters are biased, and not inclined to challenge dubious statements they agree with or that come from political figures they like, and are inclined to find statements “non-factual” because of their own preferences and biases. Helpfully, the two examples cited by Brisbane are exactly the kinds of statements the Times, and most of the press, are completely incapable of handling fairly. Here’s the first: Continue reading

Patrick B. Pexton: Worst Ombudsman Ever

Interestingly, you can find Patrick B. Pexton's picture in the dictionary under both "bad ombudsman" and "bad hair."

Well, at least we know that the Washington Post’s new ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton (who apparently escaped from a Charles Dickens novel) is a dud. That’s one good thing that came out of his column about his employer’s unethical coverage of the “Niggerhead” rock, otherwise known as “Let’s smear that scary Republican, Rick Perry, so he’ll never come close to being President.” Other than that useful but unfortunate fact, however, Pexton’s piece represents the most incompetent and ethically clueless analysis by a media ombudsman that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of them.

Pexton, who is supposed to present an objective and critical response to ethical issues in Post reporting and editing, instead adopts the stance of its partisan defender. Wrong. That’s not his job. His job is to keep his paper honest and to reinforce stringent journalistic ethical standards. Continue reading

Obama’s “Enemies,” Pat Caddell, and the Cognitive Dissonance Misdirection

The Cognitive Dissonance Misdirection (CDM) is as old as politics. I’ve written about it here before, but finally have decided that it deserves a formal name–especially because it has been shamelessly employed by news media attempting to minimize, obscure or bury legitimate criticisms of Barack Obama and his Administration.

Cognitive dissonance is created when something an individual feels strongly about is associated in some way with something else. If the individual strongly likes, admires, or desires the first thing, cognitive dissonance will draw the second thing into his favor. If the individual intensely dislikes the first thing, he will begin to feel more negatively toward the second thing now linked to it. This why, for example, popular celebrities get product endorsement deals, and unpopular ones don’t. When Denzel Washington or George Clooney says he likes a car, people start liking the car too. If the same car were endorsed by, say, Lindsay Lohan or O.J. Simpson, a lot of people would assume it was a lemon…and they might not even realize why. Cognitive dissonance works its influence subliminally, and that’s why it is such an effective tool of persuasion…and bias.

The media’s version of this has been perfected over the last two years. When a legitimately troubling comment, action, incident or gaffe reflecting badly on the President, his Administration, or his staff occurs, the mainstream media has often not reported the issue straight, as in “This happened,” or “Obama said this,” but by immediately linking the story to the President’s presumably biased adversaries—Republicans, conservatives, and talk radio—and making the criticism the story, as in, “Republicans are attacking President Obama’s  communications director Anita Dunn’s comments that seemed to praise Mao Zedong.” The fact that a high-ranking White House figure praising the greatest mass murderer in history, even in jest, is news, and should be criticized by Left and Right, was muted by the reporting of it. Continue reading