NY Times ombudsman now understands how language works

Last month I wrote a post titled: NYT ombudsman on O’Keefe: I honestly don’t understand how language works, in which I criticized Clark Hoyt, the New York Times’ ombudsman, for refusing to acknowledge that his paper had reported the ACORN/pimp sting story poorly.  Now I have that rarest of things to share — a happy update.  Simon Owens over at Bloggasm has been following the aftermath of the story, namely the pressure progressive bloggers have been putting on Hoyt to ask the Times to issue a correction for their misleading reporting.  The Times hasn’t issued a correction, but Hoyt has admitted his own error.  So, eh, win the battle, keep fighting the war, I guess?

It should also be said right up top here that my post had nothing to do with Hoyt’s change of heart — Brad Friedman of Bradblog and Media Matters lead the charge in question.  And neither one seem particularly thrilled with Hoyt’s acknowledgment that he was wrong, but we’ll get to that in a minute.   

Hoyt drew the progressive blogosphere’s ire after refusing to say that the Times’ reporting of James O’Keefe’s was misleading, which it clearly was, as he’s now admitting.  The controversy stems from this sentence from the Times’ coverage, which claimed O’Keefe:

made his biggest national splash last year when he dressed up as a pimp and trained his secret camera on counselors with the liberal community group Acorn. [emphasis added.]

The media coagulated around the narrative that O’Keefe was wearing his clown suit while he was tape-recording the ACORN workers, but later evidence proved that not to be the case.  When called on this error, Hoyt absurdly argued the “and” I have bolded above didn’t imply both of those actions happened at the same time.  He wrote:

“The story says O’Keefe dressed up as a pimp and trained his hidden camera on Acorn counselors. It does not say he did those two things at the same time.”

That, clearly, is nonsense, as I and many others pointed out. 

Now, he has this to say:

But I am satisfied that The Times was wrong on this point, and I have been wrong in defending the paper’s phrasing. Editors say they are considering a correction.

That is a good an important first step, but let’s not forget about all the soul searching that the Times and the Washington Post engaged in after their failures in the run-up to the Iraq war.  Both papers issued higher standards for granting anonymity, for example, which is good, though reporters for both of those papers routinely break those standards. 

Hoyt’s is to be commended on admitting his error, but, eh, it’s still hard to trust a damn thing I read in the Times. 

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One Response to NY Times ombudsman now understands how language works

  1. Zach Hensel says:

    Of course, his article mentions “extensive voter registration fraud” and links to a Times piece that is on an alleged ACORN crime that is neither extensive nor registration fraud. I suppose he’s probably not personally charged with adding links to his stories, though.

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