Why Did The New York Times Ignore The Biden 'Terrorist' Story?

August 4th, 2011 8:49 PM

The New York Times ignored the Politico story reporting that several sources had heard Vice President Joe Biden called the Tea Party backed lawmakers "terrorists." When the Vice President's office was contacted about the story they at first declined to comment. Then they put out at statement saying that the vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse. Which is not the same as denying he said it. Then, they finally came out and flatly denied it. 

Dick Stevenson, an editor at the New York Times wrote this about why they didn't publish the story:

"Obviously we were aware of the reports that Biden had likened the Republicans to terrorists. But we had no first hand (or even second hand) confirmation, and the vice president's office was disputing that he had said such a thing. We debated whether we needed at least to take account of the controversy, but decided against doing so since we could not establish that Biden had said what was being attributed to him. Maybe there is more to this than we know. But on the face of it, it is a classic example of how what were once pretty clear cut decisions based on well established standards are now complicated by the reality that stories increasingly get injected into the public dialogue quickly and often with minimal journalistic vetting--leaving news organizations at risk of being perceived as deliberately ignoring them if they make a judgment against publishing."  

Let me just go out on a limb here and assume that the New York Times did nothing to contact the sources in the Politico story. Might that have helped? I have this feeling, and it's just a feeling really, that if this had been V.P. Dick Cheney, they might have at least picked up the phone. What do you think?

As Newsbusters reported Tuesday, CBS and ABC ignored the story as well. That big sigh of relief you just heard was from the Vice President's office.

Erik Wemple at The Washington Post reports today that Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei says, “We feel very confident the story was accurate. The Vice President’s office never sought a correction, a clarification or a retraction, so I feel confident they feel the story was accurate, too.” 

It does seem strange that the Vice President's office never sought a retraction. It's almost as if they just wanted this story to die down. I suppose it's a mystery we can never unravel. It's not like the New York Times, CBS or ABC have investigative reporters after all.