The other day James North and I did a post pointing out how the New York Times’ own commenters had torpedo’d a New York Times story that laid blame for the latest impasse in negotiations at the feet of a stiffnecked Mahmoud Abbas (sorry for that metaphor!).
Well Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has registered the same groundswell, in email’d complaints. And while quoting foreign editor Joseph Kahn at length with the usual evenhanded policy statement, Sullivan sides with the readers! Here’s an excerpt of her consideration; judgment is in the last paragraph:
David L. Mandel of Sacramento was one of many readers who wrote to object to an article in Wednesday’s Times on the breakdown in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Like many others, he found the headline misleading and the article itself lacking in context.
He wrote, in part:
‘As a veteran copy editor, I know that even the best headline writers sometimes miss the point of a story. But such sloppiness can’t be blamed for Tuesday’s report, “Abbas Takes Defiant Step, and Mideast Talks Falter.” Only four paragraphs down do we read that the Palestinian president’s step followed Israel’s reneging on an unambiguous promise to release a fourth batch of long-serving prisoners.’
Susan Webb of New Haven registered her similar reaction, writing: “The lead states that Palestinian leaders’ actions are ‘leaving the troubled Middle East talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry on the verge of breakdown.’ The clear implication is that the ‘verge of breakdown’ is caused by the Palestinians’ unilateral actions.” Later in the article, she notes, the Palestinian move is described as a reaction to Israel’s “failure to release a fourth batch of long-serving Palestinian prisoners by last Saturday and the time for additional diplomatic maneuvering had run out.”…
My take: The readers have a point. The combination of headline and initial paragraphs failed to appropriately convey the full scope of the situation. I agree with Mr. Kahn, however, that this does not reflect any larger effort by The Times to lay the impasse at the Palestinians’ feet.
Sullivan continues to impress with her tone, her detachment. (And yes Sullivan had Mandel for downfield blocking.) Now when is she going after a Times reporter’s shameful treatment of Jimmy Carter?