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Ed Driscoll

The Gray Lady Sure Knows Her Way Around an Airbrush

June 6th, 2011 - 12:07 pm

At crosstown rival the New York Post, Kyle Smith has some fun with the New York Times’ making incoming editor Jill Abramson’s quote that “In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion. If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth” disappear — though not before it appeared in dozens (hundreds?) of Websites and blog posts, including ours. Because, as Kyle writes:

This is the kind of juicy remark journalists live for, especially when trying to spice up a press release. Religions operate on faith, don’t they? Faith means accepting things that may not be explained. Religion doesn’t need to prove anything. It’s pretty much the opposite of journalism.

All of this is much tastier fodder than one expects in a writeup of a corporate memo.

These remarks later disappeared from the story. Times writer Jeremy Peters wrote Nordlinger that “nothing was scrubbed” and that he had simply removed Abramson’s (colorful) comments from the press release and replaced them with the (bland) ones she made at the press conference. “I rewrote the story,” he said, “swapping out nearly all of [Abramson's and other editors'] old quotes for fresh quotes that came from their speeches.”

Maybe. Maybe Peters is merely a bad writer who didn’t realize he had zingier quotes the first time around and that their being written rather than spoken didn’t change that. Some might find it hard to credit his claim that, in 1,000 words, he was pressed for space.

Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in 2003 that to revoke the Duranty Pulitzer might “evoke the Stalinist practice to airbrush purged figures out of official records and histories.”

The Times left a suspicion that it doesn’t mind airbrushing records, at least when it comes to matters trivial — so how about cleaning up the far more important Duranty affair by demanding the Pulitzer folks rescind the honor they bestowed on his reprehensible reporting?

The Washington Post recently noted that the “National Archives hires first ‘Wikipedian.’” Given how fluid the truth can be at that Website, In a sense, perhaps the New York Times has as well, though it’s certainly not “unexpectedly.”

Related: “All the News That’s Fit to Scrub,” James Taranto noted on Friday, adding, “‘Absolute truth’? At the New York Times, it’s more like Minitrue.”

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