Friday, July 8, 2011

Will NYT Reexamine Gas Articles?

One of my favorite columns in the Sunday New York Times is that of the Public Editor.  He serves as the paper's ombudsman and in that role casts a critical eye on the work of the Times.  After the paper's series "Drilling Down" a couple of weeks ago that was harshly critical of the natural gas industry, the Times has been taking its share of abuse.  Now there is an interesting letter making the rounds from watchdog group the National Legal and Policy Center asking the Public Editor to examine the series for author Ian Urbina's use of deceptive journalistic techniques.

While I'm sure it's not the first time this right-leaning organization has been critical of the Times, I hope the Public Editor takes this request seriously.  The letter points out a number of inappropriately used journalistic techniques that intentionally mislead the reader.  The heavy dependence on shale critic Arthur Berman as both a cited source and anonymous source is deceptive.  The credentials of the Dallas Federal Reserve advisory committee member were greatly exaggerated (as were her possible motives) and many of the "insiders" anonymously criticizing shale are not directly involved with shale gas.

While the Times is a bastion of journalistic integrity, it is not beyond reproach (see: Jayson Blair and Judith Miller).  But with the prominence of the Public Editor's work, the paper clearly is serious about self-examination, which is more than I can say about most institutions (and individuals).

But even if the Times offers a full retraction of the story, the damage has been done.  By placing the story above the fold on the front page of its marquis Sunday publication, it was read by millions across the country, thus influencing their opinions.  Unfortunately, a critical retraction on page seven of the Sunday Review would be too little, too late.

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