Sunday, July 24, 2005

NY Times Editors Caught Red-Handed

The New York Times
July 24, 2005

Other Voices: On Editing, Explanations and Perceptions
In the final paragraph of "When an Explanation Doesn't Explain Enough" (July 17), you refer to "the mistaken perceptions of some readers." Were they really mistaken?

It seems to me that your explanation of this situation confirms the suspicion of "an unusual number of readers" that "a Times editor had tried to put words in the mouth of the reserve Army officer, Capt. Phillip Carter, without his consent."

After all, isn't that exactly what happened? Captain Carter had rejected an editor's suggestions that were included (albeit inadvertently) in the published version of his opinion article. To my eyes, these unauthorized insertions have an anti-Bush bias.

Although I'm no fan of President Bush, I do believe strongly that the strength of our democracy depends in part on a well-informed (broadly defined) citizenry. Necessarily, our citizenry depends on an effective - and ethical - Fourth Estate. In my view, The Times failed us in this case, and the line, "The Times regrets the error," is both trite and inadequate.

Seattle, July 17, 2005

I agree that the editors' note on the Op-Ed page falls far short of being a full explanation. A bigger problem, however, is the question of what should be considered standard give-and-take. The changes made by the editor did not "clarify and improve" - the standard set forth by David Shipley, the Op-Ed page editor. They completely changed the meaning as well as the focus of Capt. Phillip Carter's article.

Given the editorial positions of The Times, it is inevitable that readers will assume the worst: that the editor tried to put words in Captain Carter's mouth. What other possibility is there?

Explaining how it happened is helpful, but I believe readers are entitled to know more. Have the policies regarding "editing" Op-Ed articles been clarified? Has the particular editor been disciplined? If there are no consequences for such actions, what will deter them in the future?

New York, July 17, 2005

Despite your long and confusing explanation, it is clear that an Op-Ed editor's initial proposed insertion into Capt. Phillip Carter's article was made up out of whole cloth before later discussions with the writer. Even though the piece was to be revised based on editors' subsequent conversations with Captain Carter, the initial reaction by the editor who chose this language as the going-in position is indicative of both the inherent bias of this individual editor as well as (I fear) The Times's editorial staff.

The real error here isn't that the wrong piece was run. Rather, it is that the Times editorial board permits editors to think - however fleetingly - that they can change the text and tone of a citizen's opinion to fit their own preconceived political notions.

As a United States Marine reservist who recently served a combat tour in Iraq, I find this incident to be particularly objectionable. No self-serving explanation or apology stating that proper procedures were not followed can hide the apparent lack of candor demonstrated by the editor who initially proposed this language.

Pittsburgh, July 17, 2005

You write: "Captain Carter's message led The Times that same afternoon to propose the textual changes that alluded to the surprise of his call to active duty, the officer said. 'Within 10 minutes' after receiving the changes, he recalled, 'I said, "No way." Those were not words I would have said. It left the impression that I was conscripted.' His call-up was 'not a surprise,' he told me, because he had actually 'volunteered' for mobilization."

I cannot imagine how this turn of events could be interpreted by any reasonable person other than that the editor put his or her words into the mouth of the original author, words that the author immediately and completely disagreed with.

It is clear that those "suggested changes" had nothing to do with clarity and style, but everything to do with the editor's political agenda and bias. It is disappointing that you appear to see it differently.

Marlborough, Mass., July 17, 2005

You have proved beyond any doubt whatsoever that The Times's editorial process is in fact biased. If not, why would the editors even have proposed the textual changes that alluded to the surprise of Capt. Phillip Carter's call to active duty, when he clearly asserts that he was in "no way" surprised?

Is that how editors work - they "propose" the emotional response that the subject of the article ought to have experienced? What do you think the chances are that the editor would have proposed that Captain Carter was "gratified" or "thrilled" to have been recalled to active duty?

Burlington, Vt., July 17, 2005

You do not cite the real problem: the system that encouraged the mistake to happen.

If The Times was going to print the Op-Ed article, it should have done so when the original submission arrived or discarded it in its entirety. The attempt by the editor to help the writer by suggesting clarifications and adding updates and revisions was wrong. If the contributor was not a professional writer, so be it. Let him tell his story his way.

Op-Ed editors should not be tampering with the content of the originals other than correcting spelling or blatant grammatical errors. In the case you describe, there were just too many revisions and communications flying back and forth.

Woodcliff Lake, N.J., July 17, 2005


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