Roger L. Simon

Annals of the New York Times - at least this time it wasn't on the front page

No doubt most of you remember the Jayson Blair affair at the New York Times, when the paper jettisoned the reporter for publishing several plagiarized and, at least partially, fabricated stories on its front page.  The ensuing brouhaha caused an editorial shake-up at the onetime “newspaper of record.”

Well, what’s the old saying about the “second time as farce”? [I think it’s from Marx.-ed.  So it is.]  This time the paper has outdone itself by publishing a putative letter from the mayor of Paris, attacking the potential elevation of Caroline Kennedy to the US Senate:

To the Editor:

As mayor of Paris, I find Caroline Kennedy’s bid for the seat of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton both surprising and not very democratic, to say the least. What title has Ms. Kennedy to pretend to Hillary Clinton’s seat? We French can only see a dynastic move of the vanishing Kennedy clan in the very country of the Bill of Rights. It is both surprising and appalling.

With all the respect and admiration I have for Ms. Kennedy’s late father, I find her bid in very poor taste, and, after reading “Kennedy, Touring Upstate, Gets Less and Less Low-Key” (news article, Dec. 18), in my opinion she has no qualification whatsoever to bid for Senator Clinton’s seat…

It goes on a bit, but I hadn’t gotten this far when I already suspected the letter was a put-on – and I’m the gullible type who is the last to get the joke at parties. But I’m nothing compared to the naive editors at the Times. Evidently, they were all a flutter about getting a personal missive from the Mayor of Paree himself and published it straight away without so much as a fact-checking overseas phone call.  [Don’t they have Skype?-ed. Apparently not.]  Fortunately for the Times they caught this faster than the Blair Affair and published the following apologia:

Editors’ Note: December 22, 2008
Earlier this morning, we posted a letter that carried the name of Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, sharply criticizing Caroline Kennedy.

This letter was a fake. It should not have been published.

Doing so violated both our standards and our procedures in publishing signed letters from our readers.

We have already expressed our regrets to Mr. Delanoë’s office and we are now doing the same to you, our readers.

This letter, like most Letters to the Editor these days, arrived by email. It is Times procedure to verify the authenticity of every letter. In this case, our staff sent an edited version of the letter to the sender of the email and did not hear back. At that point, we should have contacted Mr. Delanoë’s office to verify that he had, in fact, written to us.

We did not do that. Without that verification, the letter should never have been printed.

We are reviewing our procedures for verifying letters to avoid such an incident in the future.

Yes, to be sure.

Hat-tip to reader Belladonna Rogers who passed this on; otherwise I might not have seen it. I haven’t been keeping up with the New York Times of late.  I let my subscription lapse (belt-tightening, you understand…wink).