NYT Editor Offers Tepid Excuses for Lack of Van Jones Coverage

September 9th, 2009 3:06 PM
NYT Managing Editor Jill AbramsonA top editor at the New York Times this week owned up to the paper’s lack of coverage of the controversy surrounding former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones. Rather than leaving it there, however, the editor noted the paper’s minimal online coverage, insisted that the Washington bureau was short-staffed, and suggested that Jones and his contentious positions really were not important enough to cover at length.
The Times did not print an article about Jones and his recently-discovered support of the ‘truther’ movement, which believes that the Bush Administration had foreknowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, until Monday, when it ran a story on the front page.

“The Times was, in fact, a beat behind on this story,” admitted Jill Abramson, managing editor of the paper, in answer to a number of readers’ questions during an online Q&A session Monday. She went on to offer three excuses for the newspaper’s virtual silence on the controversy.

Unaddressed by Abramson, however, was the Times’s stunning decision to cover the story only after Jones’s resignation. As Clay Waters noted at TimesWatch, this decision follows trends concerning the lack of coverage of the anti-Israel rants Chas Freeman, tapped by Obama for chair of the National Intelligence Council, and allegations that former presidential candidate John Edwards was having an affair.

“In both cases the Times came to the story only when it was over, after the candidate had either withdrawn from consideration (Freeman) or admitted wrongdoing (Edwards),” Waters notes. This history of selective coverage suggests that the Times chose not to cover the Van Jones story in an attempt to shield the administration from criticism.

But Abramson claimed Monday that the Times’s Washington Bureau was short-staffed over the weekend, though she said that this was “not an excuse.” A Nexis search, however, reveals that the Times published 15 stories with Washington in the dateline from Friday through Sunday.

These stories included “Young Adults Swelling Ranks of Uninsured,” “White House Opens Visitor Logs to Public,” and “SEC Report Details Lapses in Madoff Inquiries,” all of which appeared in the paper’s front section.

Interesting stories though they may have been, it is puzzling that the Times considered them ‘better’ news than that of the outing of a top-level White House advisor, with control over $80 billion in federal funds, as a member of a fringe conspiracy theory movement.

But apparently Abramson did not consider Van Jones to be a particularly important public figure. “Another [reason for the lack of coverage] is that despite being a so-called ‘czar,’ Mr. Jones was not a high-ranking official,” she claimed.

This hairsplitting dramatically downplays the power of White House czars. Did he have the power of a cabinet official? No. But, as mentioned above, Jones controlled the $80 billion allocated for the creation of ‘green-collar jobs,’ which Jones himself could not define.

The suggestion that Van Jones’s supposedly low-ranking position in the White House merited a lack of coverage implies that everything the Times did print over the weekend it felt was more important news than the Jones controversy.

Stories such as “A Fatal Mix: Texting Behind the Wheel,” “Planned End to Bus Service Would Cut Lifeline for Rural Canada,” and “Nevada: Simpson Denied Bail” were apparently considered bigger news than the radical connections of a major White House advisor.

In fairness, the Times did cover the story over the weekend, as Abramson noted, on its Caucus blog, as the second item, below six paragraphs of text and two embedded videos about labor issues. Hardly the coverage such breaking news merits.