Joe Scarborough, the name partner in MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” embarrassed himself yesterday as he accused the New York Times of vetting bias. The allegation was a fact-free affair, as Scarborough criticized the paper for its story on Mitt Romney’s NIMBY crisis in La Jolla, Calif., a piece that portrayed the Romneys as very wealthy.
Scarborough’s gripe wasn’t with that story per se — just with the alleged absence of comparable reporting in the 2004 presidential campaign on ultra-rich John Kerry. Unluckily for Scarborough, the New York Times archives reveal just such parallel accountability reporting vis-a-vis Kerry, a Sunday A1 piece just weeks before Kerry faced incumbent George W. Bush.
In a display of nifty backpedaling, Scarborough later explained to Politico that the paper’s actual record matters only to a certain degree:
They may have a database showing how many articles they did on each candidate. I have to talk extemporaneously for three hours a day. But the general impressions of people like myself and [MSNBC contributor] Mark Halperin, that does count in the perspective that active news consumers have.
What’s the guy saying here? Is it that the New York Times needs to manage the ”general impressions” that its coverage radiates?
Well, the New York Times has a lot of things to worry about. It’s got to get its facts straight. It’s got to do up-to-the-minute political coverage as well as the investigative pieces for which it’s famous. It has to sink untold millions into covering never-ending presidential campaigns. It’s got to deploy editors and flacks to respond to ill-conceived media criticism. And it’s absolutely got to publish “Dating Profiles of High-Tech, High-Worth Bachelors.”
Given that workload, the New York Times is excused from having to curate or obsess over its “general impressions.” That’s on the readers, like Scarborough, Halperin et al. They’re responsible for scanning the paper and drawing conclusions from its coverage. They’re responsible for impressions both specific and general. They’re also responsible for making sure that if they go on air and allege journalistic malpractice, that they do so on the basis of something more solid than “general impressions.”
The New York Times shall not launch a General Impressions Bureau.