“Given the level of revision, transparency with the readers required that they be given some kind of heads-up, and even an explanation,” Sullivan wrote in her analysis.
At issue is this story from Monday, in which New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer wrote about Sanders’s record on Capitol Hill. At first, that record was summarized in a headline as follows: “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years via Legislative Side Doors.” A later version: “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.”
Other edits to the story echoed the spirit of the headline demotion for Sanders. Whereas the longtime legislator was once a legitimate legislative strategist, he became a practitioner of “small-ball” politics who would stand little chance of implementing his agenda at the national level. For a more detailed summary of the changes, check this out.
Hundreds of readers, noted Sullivan, expressed “disappointment or anger” over the changes, and they’re unlikely to change their view in light of the explanations that Sullivan pried from New York Times officials:
So, what happened here? Matt Purdy, a deputy executive editor, said that when senior editors read the piece after it was published online, they thought it needed more perspective about whether Mr. Sanders would be able to carry out his campaign agenda if he was elected president.“I thought it should say more about his realistic chances” of doing that, Mr. Purdy told me. As first published, he said, editors believed that the article “didn’t approach that question.”“There was a feeling that the story wasn’t written into this moment,” Mr. Purdy said. After the editing changes, he said, “it got to be a deeper story,” with greater context.
Purdy’s account is consistent with what Executive Editor Dean Baquet told this blog Tuesday night, which is that the piece “needed some context.” In response to inquiries from Sullivan, New York Times editors denied that they’d made the edits after complaints from the Clinton campaign. The Erik Wemple Blog believes these editors: Nothing stiffens the old editorial backbone quit like whining from a political campaign — and the New York Times is already on record as resisting pushback from this particular campaign.
David Carr, who served as the New York Times’s media columnist, once told me, “Erik, the brand promise of the New York Times is editing.” Consistent with that promise is the expectation that when a story gets published, it’s a finished product — not some jiggly work in progress that people can overhaul just because.