This past June, when the New York Times unceremoniously killed off its public editor position, publisher Arthur Sulzberger tried mightily to characterize the move as addition by subtraction. In a newsroom memo, he promised that a newly created “Reader Center” would make the paper’s reporting “more transparent” and its journalists “more responsive.” As FAIR (6/1/17) noted at the time, these excuses were disingenuous “rationalizations, not legitimate rationales,” and were more likely to make the paper less accountable and transparent in the long run. And this past weekend proved these fears were well-justified.
It started on Saturday, when the Times (11/25/17) ran a naive, normalizing profile of a Nazi sympathizer from the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio. Almost immediately, the paper (rightly) faced outraged comments online, as serious critiques of the piece’s flawed framing rolled in. As @magi_jay wrote in a detailed Twitter thread: “The Times failed in many respects, but, above all, they failed by enthusiastically allowing [Tony] Horvater to drive the narrative of his own white supremacy.”
Incredibly, even the writer of the profile, Richard Fausset, acknowledged in a companion piece (11/25/17) that his humanizing of a white supremacist was fundamentally flawed and failed to expose with necessary gravity his subject’s toxic racist and fascist beliefs. As the backlash boiled over, national editor Marc Lacey also wrote a response in the Times’ “Reader Center” (11/26/17) to further address the furor. To its credit, the paper appended both of these pieces to the top of the original story’s online version to give them more visibility.