Sunday, Times public editor Byron Calame published his review of the Times coverage of the lacrosse case. It avoided any comprehensive analysis of the coverage, faulted Duff Wilson’s August 25 story but offered no convincing explanation of why the story was so flawed, and provided a basic message of “no harm, no foul” in the Times’ mishandling of the case.
The article that a good public editor might have written appeared in today’s Chronicle, penned by Iza Wojciechowska. “In the year since the story first broke,” wrote Wojciechowska, “The Times has been criticized for printing news with a slant favoring Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong and for drawing out the amalgam of sex, race and class issues that contributed to the case’s prominent position in the national spotlight.”
Wojciechowska obtained damning analysis from three prominent media critics.
- Daniel Okrent, the first Times public editor: “I think The Times’ coverage was heartbreaking. I understand why they jumped on the story when they did, but it showed everything that’s wrong with American journalism.”
- Jack Shafer, Slate editor at large and author of the Slate press box column: “Here was a story that fit a template that they recognized and thought was a productive one... a story about privilege, a story about town and gown, a story about how race is handled in
.” Now that their original analysis had proved wrong, “How do you elegantly say, ‘Whoops, we erred here?’ I still think The Times has not acknowledged the role it played in sensationalizing its story.... You don’t need to put on the hairshirt and run around and get everyone to accept an apology—I’m talking about correcting the record and getting the story better, righter, straighter.” America
Stuart Taylor, senior writer at National Journal: The August 25 Times article “was the worst single piece of journalism I’ve ever seen in long form in a newspaper.” Yet its impact was substantial: “A lot of people think The New York Times is a bible of what really happened. I think an awful lot of people have been misled by The New York Times coverage and either didn’t pay attention to what critics were saying or shrugged it off—’Who am I going to believe, The New York Times or some no-name critic in the blogosphere?’”