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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Saturday, December 07, 2002



Who's The Man?

The NY Times throws a few more logs on the fire with their latest attempt to explain the "spiked columns" story.

Howell Raines, executive editor of The New York Times, said yesterday that revised versions of two sports columns rejected by editors two weeks ago would be published tomorrow.

He added that the editors' original objections were based not on the opinions stated in the columns but on separate concerns: one column, by Dave Anderson, about the Augusta National Golf Club's refusal to admit women, gave the appearance of unnecessary intramural squabbling with the newspaper's editorial board; the second, by Harvey Araton, which also dealt with the Augusta issue, presented problems of structure and tone.

"We have invited Harvey and Dave to resubmit the columns," Mr. Raines said. "In the conversations, they have been reassured that the subject matter and opinion content was not an issue." He added, "And they'll come in, and we'll publish them."


OK, so with the Anderson piece, the opinion was not a problem, and disagreeing with the editorial board was not a problem. Apparently, however, the problem lay in calling attention to the disagreement with the editorial board. Got it? It's OK to disagree with folks, just don't say who it is you disagree with. A simple re-formulation such as "Some have called for Tiger to boycott" would have saved the day and spared us this embarrassment.

This is more clearly explained here:

The Anderson column made only a passing reference to a Nov. 18 Times editorial that suggested that Mr. Woods could boycott the tournament. Mr. Anderson said that although the editorial was an impetus for his column, there were also others, like debates on talk radio.

Mr. Raines said in another interview, a day earlier, that the reference to the editorial could have been easily removed. "That is what we should have done," he said, adding, "I have absolutely no problems with the opinion that Dave expressed."


So, in our best passive voice, is it fair to wonder if mistakes were made??

Referring to the news media criticism of his handling of the columns, Mr. Raines said: "Some of the commentary said, `It's wrong to censor opinions of columnists.' I agree with that. That's not what happened here."

Asked if he had made a mistake in handling the columns, Mr. Raines responded with a discussion of the normal editing process for all columnists in the news sections of the paper — as distinct from the Op-Ed Page columnists. While news section columnists, like Mr. Anderson, are subject to editing, he said, "There is not now, nor will there ever be, any attempt to curb the opinions of our writers" or to "get them to agree with the editorial page or any other section of the paper where an opinion is expressed." That, he said, "is simply not in our thinking, tradition, practices."


I understand. Moving on, what started the uproar?

The widespread attention to the rejection of the two columns was based in part on their connection to the Augusta discrimination debate. The Times's aggressive news coverage of the dispute has led some critics, like Jack Shafer of the online magazine Slate, to suggest that the newspaper had paid disproportionate attention to the issue.

Jack the Ripper.

UPDATE: The Times prints the Anderson and Araton columns. Uhh, I thought I was kidding about the passive voice in the Anderson re-write, but here we are:

"But as the controversy churns, some voices have suggested that Woods, the three-time Masters champion, could stay home during next April's tournament."

OK, just don't identify the voices. At this point, the Tiger's out of the bag anyway.

And here is a great letter to the editor:

To the Sports Editor:

Thomas H. Wyman, who recently resigned from the Augusta National Golf Club over its refusal to allow female members, has provided a pusillanimous rendition in the knee-jerk school of performing arts. Wyman was a 25-year member of the club. Didn't he ever notice that there were no female members? I suppose his eyesight improved dramatically when it became a cause célèbre. His is no profile in courage.


Oh, well said!


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