NYT Answers Questions Concerning Placing JFK Terror Plot Story Off Front Page

As NewsBusters reported Monday, although a terrorist plot to destroy the leading airport in the region was thwarted, the leading newspaper in the area, the New York Times, chose to place the article about the incident off of the paper’s front page Sunday.

This has created a bit of a backlash around the nation, and from readers who sent questions to the Times’ national editor Suzanne Daley about this decision (h/t Charles at LGF).

First, the questions (emphasis added throughout):

Q. I live in California and was astounded yesterday to look at my print edition of The Times for the article on the J.F.K. bomb plot and to find it back on page A30!

What has happened with the news judgment of your colleagues? A terrorist plot that could have badly damaged the entire economy of the nation, including those of us who live in the Bay Area, and it's relegated to the level of bridge club reports. You might wish to suggest to your editors that your readers do not live in a vacuum, that we do have alternative sources for news and they only make The Times look foolish with such ineptitude. No wonder your circulation and advertising are falling; your editors are turning a once-honored newspaper into a dinosaur in the electronic age.

-- Richard Godfrey, San Francisco

Q. Could you offer some insights on how The Times decided to play the story about the alleged J.F.K. terror plot? It was noticeably different than the way the other leading national papers played it; your placement (Metro) and coverage have been more skeptical. I'm particularly curious about why it was not considered a national story, but rather, a local one. Thanks.

-- Barbara, Manhattan

Great questions, right? Well, here was the lame answer:

Here's the basic thinking on the J.F.K. story: In the years since 9/11, there have been quite a few interrupted terrorist plots. It now seems possible to exercise some judgment about their gravity. Not all plots are the same. In this case, law enforcement officials said that J.F.K. was never in immediate danger. The plotters had yet to lay out plans. They had no financing. Nor did they have any explosives. It is with all that in mind, that the editors in charge this weekend did not put this story on the front page.

In truth, the decision was widely debated even within this newsroom. At the front page meeting this morning, we took an informal poll and a few editors thought the story should have been more prominently played. Some argued it should have been fronted, regardless of the lameness of the plot, simply because it was what everyone was talking about.

And Mr. Godfrey, as to dinosaur-ism: we had the story up on nytimes.com before 1 p.m. on Saturday. The official press conference on the subject had not even started.

Amazing arrogance, wouldn’t you agree? After all, didn’t they think New Yorkers – which, of course, is their primary market – would be interested in knowing about any possible attack on them regardless of how close it was to coming to fruition?

Furthermore, this comment about the number of such foiled plots is a common liberal meme that needs to be debunked: events don’t lose their newsworthiness due to repetition or precedent, especially ones involving possible loss of life. Or, should the press stop reporting on the lives lost in Iraq, as clearly this is repetitious?

And maybe the next time Tiger Woods wins a golf tournament, or the Yankees win a World Series, nobody should bother reporting it due to the frequency of such occurrences.

Of course, if we take this to a more personal level, would the editors want police in their hometowns to decide what threats on their families were grave enough to share with them, or would they like to be apprised of all such uncovered plots against them regardless of the “gravity?”

As for having this story at nytimes.com before 1 PM Saturday, I wouldn’t be too proud of that achievement, Suzanne. After all, a blog named Neocon Express reported this at 9:51 AM Saturday, or more than three hours before you.

And, CNN reported this during the 11 AM installment of “CNN Newsroom.”

What was that about your dinosaur status?

Finally, I’d be interested to know if left-wing websites like Think Progress are going to apologize to people like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly for stating that he and others were wrong about this story not being on the Times’ front page. After all, if the Times is now admitting it, shouldn’t you?

Of course, I won’t hold my breath waiting for such a retraction or amendment, and neither should you.

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Noel Sheppard's picture