The PJ Tatler

Waking Up to Reality: the New York Times Public Editor Comes Around on Ferguson

Alas, at the Times, even the public editor — the reader’s representative whose job is to keep the Newspaper of Record of the Upper West Side honest — is a partisan hack. As even she had to admit today:

In the heat of a very hot news moment last summer, I criticized a Times story about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I want to acknowledge that I misjudged an important element of that story.

In my post, I found fault with what I saw as “dubious equivalency” and the vaguely described anonymous sourcing in an article that led the paper on Aug. 20. Giving implicit credence to the named sources who described Michael Brown as having his hands up as he was fired on by Officer Darren Wilson, I criticized the use of unnamed sources who offered opposing information: They said that the officer had reason to fear Mr. Brown. I even went so far as to call those unnamed sources “ghosts” because readers had so little ability to evaluate their identity and credibility.

Now that the Justice Department has cleared Mr. Wilson in an 86-page report that included the testimony of more than 40 witnesses, it’s obvious to me that it was important to get that side of the story into the paper.

No kidding! Alas, the Times and other liberal news outlets all too often let the Narrative cloud their news judgment, as they did in the Duke “rape” case (which was nothing of the sort) in Ferguson and just about any other event in which whites and blacks are on opposite sides. In the case of Ferguson, there could be no doubt, after the publication of the autopsy sketches and examination of the bullet wounds, that Michael Brown was rushing toward the police officer, and did not have his hands up. It was an obvious lie from the beginning, told by one who had a vested interest in blaming the police. And the media instantly fell for it.

Margaret Sullivan’s mea culpa (unlike Jonathan Capehart’s) is limited to her criticism of the police sourcing of the story, but that doesn’t clear her from her innate prejudice against the cops.

I still believe, as I did then, that the description of the sourcing was confusing. But that’s a relatively minor issue, and understandable in the rush of breaking news. The main thing is that The Times did its job in describing what were indeed “conflicting reports,” and getting them on the record in whatever way was possible at the time. That served readers well.

I noted once before, in a very low-key way, that my criticism of this story was too harsh. But I want to go further now and say that what I wrote was substantially flawed.

As I’ve mentioned before, in the completely unlikely event that was ever again approached to run a major school of journalism, I would make mandatory courses in firearms and forensics.