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Updates - 1 June 2004


1 June update: Well after a ridiculous long delay since the last update (due entirely to personal workload rather than lack of developments), it is *still* the case that the New York Times is being dragged over the coals. The Jayson Blair situation made it open season on the Old Gray Lady - and on US journalism in general - and the paper is desperately trying to regain its previous reputation.

It is a matter of debate whether the new Public Editor Daniel Okrent is helping or hindering that effort. He is certainly being thorough and independent as his column makes clear. But in running several lengthy and highly critical columns about The Times' reporting prior to the Iraq war, he is extending his remit somewhat. What next? Reviewing NYT coverage of all the great events of the past 100 years and passing his judgement on them?

It is quite clear that the Times ran with stupid biased stories regarding Iraq, many of them apparently with Chalabi as a main source, which had the effect of backing the push for war. But this was hardly a New York Times singular failure - the entire US media let itself down. Plus there were numerous contemporary reports (at least in Europe) that pointed out that many of the claims were coming from Iraqis in exile with alot to benefit from a war. Those same reports also pointed out that those same people were not exactly angels.

So with this old news, why did the Times decide to beat itself over the head yet again in public? Why didn't the Times' management set down the law to Okrent before he took the job - no retrospective reviews - you are public editor from this date forth and only regarding news from this date forth? Again, another case of reacting without thinking through the consequences properly - the New York Times really does have a culture that needs overhauling.

Anyway, this public self-criticism, followed up by the new editors flagellating themselves. In an editorial, it was the Blair over-reaction all over again. By "reviewing hundreds of articles written during the prelude to war and into the early stages of the occupation" - more reviewing - the Times "found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged - or failed to emerge."

Oh do please stop it! It's embarrassing to see a grand newspaper with its head bowed. Just get on with the job and stop this self-pity. If, for no other reason, to prevent such horrible mocking prose from self-publicists as James C. Moore appearing in the future.

But as for our Jayson - more bad news - his publisher's gone bankrupt. There have been many gleeful reports about how few copies the book has sold. It's been suggested by a few commentators that because Blair appeared on so many shows talking about the book that people didn't feel the need to buy it. You have to ponder how some people get such big jobs when that is the only explanation they can come up with. Since when did a massive publicity campaign talking about your product cause people to buy *less* of that product? Ridiculous. If that were true, the entire PR industry would collapse. And chatshows would cease to exist.

The more likely explanation - but one which many in the media cannot even conceive - is that the public is not actually that fascinated with the media and particularly with newspapers. They just don't care that much. Blair lied, he got found out, he was sacked - what else do people really want to know?

Anyway, New Millennium Entertainment - Jayson's publishers - were due to be liquidated at the end of last month. That won't come as a massive shock to anyone, especially if you review the interesting business approach of its owner Michael Viner. He actually applied for bankruptcy in September last year to get out of paying a $2.8 million fine for breaching a contract. Presumably if Blair's book had taken off, this fine would have been paid and the company back in business. Since it hasn't, it's on with the bankruptcy.

There has been a huge amount of news in the past few months which hasn't been covered here, but will be later. Even though by then any pretence at being newsworthy will be lost, it should still prove interesting for later reference.


1 Jun 2004: A belated update on the ongoing NYT woes
12 Mar 2004: A review of the New York Times' upcoming book review
5 Mar 2004:
Jayson Blair's official site goes live; media frenzy begins; book details start coming out
4 Mar 2004: The New York Times runs a spoiler story on Jayson's book
12 Feb 2004: Misinformation campaign begins; Gerald Boyd threatens to bore with new media column
7 Dec 2003: Book details, including controversial slavery cover, released; real slave poster draws comparison
12 Nov 2003: Jayson goes quiet but Boyd goes academic and Stephen Glass makes the most of it; the Times hires an Ombudsman
13 Sep 2003: Blair book details come out, ends up with black sheep Michael Viner and a suspicious high reported advance; film said to be in making
22 Aug 2003: Blair's first foray back into journalism is still-born; his childhood however is detailed in length; Boyd fails miserably to address race issue
12 Jun 2003: It dawns on The Times that it's tell-all approach may not have been the best approach after all
5 Jun 2003: Boyd goes, leaving a lot of questions unanswered
May 2003: The start of it all