On Saturday, Arthur S. Brisbane, the New York Times' new Public Editor, filed his debut column. He takes his difficult post following the reign of the former Public Editor Clark Hoyt, the disastrous 'weasel' (cartoonist Tom Tomorrow's infamous depiction, not ours, though we have no quibble) whose contract ended last June.
In the first column of his new thankless role, Brisbane mentions among others, as part of his description of the Times' "substantial infrastructure for responding to public complaints," Senior Editor/Standards Greg Brock. Readers of The BRAD BLOG will remember Brock for helping to kick off what became a 70-some part series here on the "paper of record's" horrendously damaging and inaccurate coverage of Andrew Breitbart, James O'Keefe, and Hannah Giles' ACORN "Pimp" Hoax.
Brock, as some of you will recall, had responded to a reader's request for correction on a number of stories in which the Times had misreported that O'Keefe had dressed as, and represented himself as a "pimp" in the offices of ACORN, even though, as we reported repeatedly beginning early this year, he never had, as first based on the information in the independent report that had come out several months earlier from former Massachusetts Attorney General, Scott Harshbarger. Though the paper had reported on the "pimp" scam in a number of articles, they had never so much as even mentioned the Harshbarger report [PDF] which accurately stated that O'Keefe never dressed in the "outlandish" outfit the Times (and other media outlets) had reported him as wearing while interviewing ACORN workers.
Worse, the paper continued to misreport that point long after Harshbarger had disabused the world of that notion, by noting clearly that "at each and every" ACORN office visited by O'Keefe with his partner Hannah Giles (who was dressed as a "prostitute") he was "dressed like a college student - in slacks and a button down shirt" and even though ACORN had stated on the record, based on interviews with their employees who were there, that "O'Keefe was not wearting that absurd costume when he visited our offices."
The Times' inaccurate reporting directly preceded the passage of federal legislation which was passed overwhelmingly by the Democratic-majority Congress and signed by the President to defund the four-decade old, anti-poverty, pro-democracy community organization, even though it was all a hoax. O'Keefe had never dressed as a pimp --- or even represented himself as one --- but merely edited his videos to appear that way, as acknowledged in at least three subsequent official reports. Nonetheless, lazy coverage in the NYT had bought it all, and reported it all, hook, line, and unverified sinker...
To our amazement, rather than correcting the paper's coverage, Brock made excuses for it in a remarkable series of emails, most notably (and amazingly) citing O'Keefe's live appearance on Fox "News," dressed in the pimp costume he never wore in ACORN's offices, indicating that's how he dressed when secretly taping ACORN workers, as proof that the Times coverage was accurate.
"If there is a correction to be made, it seems it would start with Mr. O'Keefe himself. We believe him," Brock wrote in response. "Therefore there is nothing for us to correct."
Brock also made claims that O'Keefe was seen on camera in his highly and deceptively edited videos wearing the get-up in the actual offices of the community organization, and that ACORN workers had acknowledged to the paper's reporters that he had been dressed that way. None of it, however, was true. At all.
After we were drawn directly into the issue, and Brock refused to back up his unsupportable assertions, we took the issue to Hoyt, Brisbane's predecessor.
Hoyt's reaction was, perhaps, even more astonishing than Brock's --- particularly in light of our painstaking, point-by-point rebuttal to each and every one of his unsupportable excuses for the paper's lazy, sloppy, and damaging work.
It was one particularly gobsmacking excuse given by Hoyt, from our series of emails with him, which earned him that weasel depiction from the brilliant satirist Tom Tomorrow.
Eventually, after months of continuing evidence that we had been right all along, and both Hoyt and the paper had been wrong, Hoyt begrudgingly acknowledged, "The Times was wrong…and I have been wrong in defending the paper's phrasing."
And that is where things stand, with Hoyt failing even to note any of it in his own closing column.
So why do we re-open this old can of worms now? Because it's never been closed. The damage continues as the Times has never offered the retraction and apologies that it owes to ACORN (particularly since it has been all but destroyed in the fallout); major media outlets continue to misreport on the ACORN "Pimp" Hoax (no doubt, aided and comforted in part by historical coverage from the Times which still remains inaccurate on its website today); and the lawmakers who sealed ACORN's fate with the raising of a hand and the signing of federal legislation have never done right by undoing that injustice.
More to the point, however --- and aggravating as all hell, frankly --- is the quote that Brisbane offers in his debut column from the Times' Executive Editor Bill Keller: "I can't think of many other businesses that are as transparent and forthcoming about owning up to mistakes."
Really, Mr. Keller?
Well, we have no position on the transparency of other businesses, or their forthcoming-ness on owning up to mistakes, but when it comes to the "mistakes" the New York Times made on the ACORN story --- mistakes that ultimately adversely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income member families, among the neediest in our society --- the Times has never fully owned up to its mistakes. Not by a long shot. Without doing so, there is little chance that the paper won't make the very same mistakes again in the future.
We're certain the same could be said for much of the Times' other damagingly erroneous reporting, particularly over the last decade or so, but there is no doubt that the damage wrought by the series of misreports on ACORN continues to directly affect the present and future of this nation --- particularly as we barrel towards another election, where hundreds of thousands of legal voters will not be helped to legally register to participate in their own democracy.
We suspect an independent editor could (and arguably should) be assigned just to investigate and correct past mistakes from the Times as it continues to serve as the nation's "paper of record." And we also appreciate that Brisbane will have his hands full just dealing with mistakes yet to come. ("If The Times is going to publish more and faster, it will have to react faster to rectify more mistakes. The speed and volume of correction or response has to try to equal the speed and volume of error," Brisbane admirably notes.)
The role of the Public Editor is defined as the "designated representative of the readers of The New York Times." But there has been no Public Editor for the Public Editor. There was nobody to serve as the "designated representative of the readers of the Times' Public Editor." There were no checks or balances for horrible mistakes made by Hoyt --- and, in this case, they were egregious, and nobody, not even Brock, who remains as the paper's editor for corrections, has ever been held to account, despite all the damage that has been done, and despite his outrageous disingenuousness as revealed in our series of emails with him.
It would serve as an auspicious beginning for Brisbane to take care of the unfinished ACORN business left shamefully behind by his predecessor.
For our part, we're heading out this week for some much-needed R&R in the deep woods, so won't be back on the grid until after Labor Day to answer any of Brisbane's questions should he have any, presuming he takes any interest in correcting the still-uncorrected record. But we've offered plenty of links in this story alone for him to get to work while we're gone --- and a search of The BRAD BLOG for "New York Times ACORN" will yield plenty more --- so we'd hope he'd consider doing exactly that.