Does the NYT Publish “All the News That’s Fit to Print” Anymore?

NYT’s ombud, Margaret Sullivan, dedicated her column today to whether the NYT should have done a story on The Intercept’s drone package a few weeks back. She concludes that given the NYT’s extensive coverage of this issue, it’s reasonable they gave the story just a mention, though suggests maybe they should give it more than that going forward.

I’m particularly interested in this subject because it says so much that is troubling about how our government functions – and yes, kills — in secret and often without adequate oversight. I’ve written about aspects of it a number of times.

Times journalists have done plenty of worthy coverage of the drone program themselves, with one national security reporter, Scott Shane, writing a significant big-picture story last April, covering some of the same ground that the Intercept is exploring now. He and Jo Becker also wrote a stunning story in 2012 detailing the existence of the president’s “kill list.” Mr. Shane is the author of a well-regarded recent book on the subject, “Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone.”

Since The Times has done so much on this subject, it is understandable that only a brief mention of The Intercept’s scoop has been made so far. Still, given the revelations in the released documents — as well as the mere existence of a major intelligence leaker who is not Edward Snowden — Times journalists might have served readers well to do more on “The Drone Papers.”  They also could consider doing so in the future.

I suspect there are two other things going on. Shane seems to still be on book leave, and to cover the Intercept stuff — which in significant part confirms his earlier reporting, most importantly that the government treats males killed in drone attacks as military aged males appropriate for targeting — might be a bit awkward. I think some of the documents — such as the ones showing that JSOC’s targeting was bad because it relied on CIA’s SIGINT, might advance questions about why we decided to build a CIA drone base in Saudi Arabia in 2011. That might be appropriate follow-up reporting from other reporters like Mark Mazzetti (I have long suspected the Saudis were fiddling with the intelligence to force our hand on a drone base, since they had been trying for years to get drones from us), but that would take further time. So, too, would be a report on what these documents say about the CIA versus DOD debate on drones.

Still, underlying the whole question is whether the NYT publishes all the news that’s fit to print anymore.

There was a time when a NYT reader could expect, by reading the NYT, to know everything the elite of this country deemed worth knowing. It promised comprehensiveness, at least for those subjects that the NYT judged important, for better and worse.

Now, I think the NYT (which still plays that agenda setting function, and will still get fed stories to place items in the news agenda) often limits itself to items it can claim a scoop on (though far too often, it borrows these scoops from outlets obscure enough they’ll get away with it). As a result, when another outlet advances the news that’s fit to print in a publicly recognized scoop, or when news comes without an exclusivity agreement, the NYT may not always report it, until such time as it can own it in the future.

I think we’ll probably be better off when the NYT no longer serves as the agenda-setter for the country, in part because there are a lot of stories (like the Iraq War then, and now like anything pertaining to Israel or Ukraine) where other outlets are far more reliable, in part because the NYT’s official perspective is often so jingoistic as to disinform its readers (as with the report that Russia might cut cables into the Middle East, which includes no acknowledgment that this is a tactic we make ample use of). But we’re in a weird place now where the NYT doesn’t claim to be comprehensive, but readers still assume it is. Which means that until something shows up in the NYT it won’t be considered common knowledge, but the NYT will sometimes delay such reports until they can “own” it in some way. That, in turn, delays the time when something can be considered “official” and therefore worthy of debate.

I do expect the NYT to do more coverage on drones that reflects these documents, because both Shane and Mazzetti have already done so much.

But I’m at least as interested by this unacknowledged question about whether the NYT aspires to “print” all the news that’s fit to print anymore.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

7 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    [… [the nytimes] often limits itself to items it can claim a scoop on (though far too often, it borrows these scoops from outlets obscure enough they’ll get away with it). …]

    “claim a scoop on”. oh, you must mean items like its march fake-scoop about hillary clinton’s criminal misuse of classified documents. a scoop which the nytimes persisted in foisting on its readers until reprimanded by sullivan a second time:

    http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/27/a-clinton-story-fraught-with-inaccuracies-how-it-happened-and-what-next/

    keep an eye on nytimes washinton editor matt purdy. he is to clinton stories, and i do mean stories, as jill abrahmson was to iraq stories, and i do mesn stories, and judy miller’s claptrap.

    the nytimes has become a rotting place marker.

      • orionATL says:

        my opinion of maureen dowd violates even my own “encompassing” standards of what one should not say of a political journalist in print.

        dowd and the nytimes deserve full credit for the cheney-bush election of december, 2000.

        what puzzles, not to say annoys me, is i have some very bright younger and older female friends who think maureen dowd is funny and stylistic. i think maureen dowd is one of the political commentators who is the most, how shall i say it, a few bricks more than a load ?

  2. orionATL says:

    what the nytimes needs to do is recover (if it ever had it) the moral courage to do series on official misconduct similar to the guardian’s series on police executions of citizens and climate change.

    but that can’t happen until the nytimes quits being so taken with its self-styled position atop american journalism, so concerned with being acvused of taking sides, and so fearful of being caught out with respect to some bit of journalistic propriety.

    i read the guardian and al-jazeera always, the times only when i hear of a story. but i will say, positively (and this is positively the only positive thing you’ll hear from me about the times :) ), whenever i do go there, the nytimes always has several stories in any issue that i find interesting to read.

    the nytimes is then a very, very good read, but not the leader it fancies itself to be. if you are the media source politicians routinely go to to amplify their lies, can you honestly consider yourself other than a handmaiden to political gamesmanship.

  3. orionATL says:

    http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/publiceditor/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-cartoon-publication-debate/?referrer=

    courage?

    the ntytimes?

    don’t make me laugh.

    the ownership of the times checks carefully for the absence of gonads before appointing an executive editor.

    so?

    Q: wat is the difference between the nytimes and any murdoch newspaper?

    A: nothing, except the nytimes editors routinely cringe and check their “feel” for “upstairs” before deciding whether to can a story.

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