The Guardian recently published a stunning story, via Edward Snowden, of overly close intelligence sharing between America and Israel.
The New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan reveals a shocking lack of news judgement by the paper and a sense that unless big stories are found and broken by them, well, don’t bother looking to them to cover it:
Many Times readers have been writing to me for several days about a story The Guardian broke last week, describing how the United States routinely… shares with Israel intelligence information… that the National Security Agency gathers on American citizens.
The story was published five days ago, and by late last week I was already hearing from dozens of readers. One of them was Phyllida Paterson, of Silver Spring, Md., who wrote:
“48 hours and there is still nothing in The Times about how the N.S.A. shares U.S. citizens’ raw communications data with Israel. This explosive story ought to be front-page news. Word is spreading and The Times is losing credibility by the hour. Friends of mine who never before believed that newspapers suppressed news are shocked by the evidence before them. Do you really want to push more readers into the arms of The Guardian?”
After a weekend in which no mention was made in The Times of the article, I asked the managing editor, Dean Baquet, about it… on Monday… morning.
He told me that The Times had chosen not to follow the story because its level of significance did not demand it.
“I didn’t think it was a significant or surprising story,” he said. “I think the more energy we put into chasing the small ones, the less time we have to break our own. Not to mention cover the turmoil in Syria.”
So, I asked him, by e-mail, was this essentially a question of reporting resources? After all, The Times could have published an article written by a wire service, like Reuters or The Associated Press.
“I’d say resources and news judgment,” he responded.
In a world with many news outlets, he said: “We can spend all our time matching stories, and not actually covering the news. This one was modest and didn’t feel worth taking someone off greater enterprise.”
The Times has been working on “enterprise” – that is, journalism that it produces itself, usually through investigative digging or other deep reporting – with The Guardian and ProPublica based on leaked information from the N.S.A. Many of the articles in recent months have been broken by The Guardian and The Washington Post, after the former N.S.A. contractor Edward J. Snowden’s leaking of the information.
The Times published the first of the articles in that collaboration this month, and there is more to come.I’ve written about this… several times,… most recently saying… that it was good to see The Times getting more fully involved in developing these extraordinary revelations and resisting government requests to withhold the story.
I disagree, however, with Mr. Baquet’s conclusion on this one. I find it to be a significant development and something that Times readers should not have to chase around the Web to find out about. They should be able to read it in The Times.