May
14
2014

Will NYT's New Editor Stand Up for Investigative Journalism?

Jill Abramson (Wikimedia)

Jill Abramson

The New York Times (5/14/14) announced that Jill Abramson, who has the top editorial job there of executive editor, is being replaced by current managing editor Dean Baquet. The Times' news account of the change said that publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "declined to directly address the question he said was 'on all of your minds'–the reason for the sudden switch," but cited an unspecified "issue with management in the newsroom."

The New Yorker's Ken Auletta (5/14/14) reported that Abramson was perceived by Times management as "pushy"–in part because she inquired into why she was paid less than her predecessor, Bill Keller. She also sparred with Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson over "native advertising"–the practice of allowing sponsors to disguise their ads as news content (FAIR Blog, 11/22/13)–and the growing influence of the business side of the paper over editorial. Auletta also mentions that Abramson was perceived as a supporter of investigative reporting–"at a time when Bloomberg News pulled the plug on an investigation of corruption and the princelings in China, Abramson pushed the Times to do more, even after her reporters came under pressure in China"–though he doesn't cite this as a reason that she was fired.

The influential political gossip website Politico (4/23/14) had a piece last month that alleged newsroom unhappiness over Abramson, but it was remarkably short on substance; Abramson was said to be "condescending" and to have a voice like a "nasal car honk," whereas "Dean makes people feel good."

Dean Baquet (photo: New York Times)

Dean Baquet (photo: New York Times)

Whether Baquet will be good for investigative reporting at the Times remains to be seen. When he served as editor of the L.A. Times, he was responsible for killing a piece that would have exposed government monitoring of US Internet traffic via "secret NSA rooms" at AT&T switching centers, a story disclosed by whistleblower Mark Klein. ABC News' Brian Ross (3/6/07) later wrote:

Klein says he decided to take his documents to the Los Angeles Times, to blow the whistle on what he calls "an illegal and Orwellian project." But after working for two months with L.A. Times reporter Joe Menn, Klein says he was told the story had been killed at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden.

The Los Angeles Times' decision was made by the paper's editor at the time, Dean Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times. Baquet confirmed to ABCNews.com he talked with Negroponte and Hayden but says "government pressure played no role in my decision not to run the story."

Baquet says he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided "we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on" based on Klein's highly technical documents. The reporter, Menn, declined to comment, but Baquet says he knows "Joe disagreed and was very disappointed." Klein says he then took his AT&T documents to the New York Times, which published its exclusive account last April.

Later, working at the New York Times, Baquet justified an "informal arrangement among several news organizations" to comply with a government request to withhold from readers the fact that a US drone base was located in Saudi Arabia: "The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset," Baquet told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan (FAIR Blog, 2/6/13). "We have to balance that concern with reporting the news."

As FAIR's Peter Hart noted at the time: "The Times believes that it should refrain from reporting news that people in Saudi Arabia might object to–especially if it wound up complicating our government's plans to launch military attacks from their country."

See also:

  • "NYT's Pentagon Propaganda" (FAIR Action Alert, 5/27/09)
  • "The NYT Thinks You're an Idiot" (FAIR Blog, 8/23/13

 

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.