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Oct 12

Written by: Diana West
Friday, October 12, 2012 2:48 AM 

The NYT's Dean Baquet, Jill Abramson and Bill Keller: Newshounds all.

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The explanations offered by NYT exec editor Jill Abramson and managing editor Dean Baquet for why the newspaper isn't covering House hearings on Benghazi-gate goes beyond parody, science fiction and satire. Of course, it could have been written by the Obama campaign.

NYT "Reader's Representative" Margaret Sullivan reports:

I talked with Jill Abramson, the executive editor, about the decision, which she said she may have set in motion while running the morning news meeting on Wednesday.

“I said that I wanted us to weigh the news value against the reality that Congressional hearings are not all about fact-finding,” she said. In other words, they are often deeply politicized.

She described The Times’s Libya coverage in recent weeks as “excellent and very muscular,” and she said that for her and the managing editor Dean Baquet, “it’s been one of the absolute key stories – getting to the bottom of what happened and why.”

She suggested that she puts more emphasis on The Times’s original reporting. “We have done a lot on the security issues in Libya and will continue, with our own reporters, to pursue this,” she said.

Mr. Baquet, who ran the afternoon news meeting at which the decision was made, said the reasoning was simple enough: “I didn’t think there was anything significantly new in it,” he said.

Like Ms. Abramson, he was wary of the political nature of the hearing, noting that “It’s three weeks before the election and it’s a politicized thing, but if they had made significant news, we would have put it on the front.”

And, he added, “There were six better stories.”

But many readers wrote to me Thursday morning in dismay. They were disturbed not only by the lack of Page 1 coverage, but also by what they see as not enough attention paid to Libya and the events surrounding the fatal attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi.

This e-mail, from Brendan DuBois of Exeter, N.H., was typical:

After a day of Congressional testimony where two public officials outlined the numerous times that their request for extra security for our diplomatic offices in Libya were ignored, time and time again, no doubt contributing to the slaughter of four Americans on 9/11/12, and when it was clear that the days of stories coming from the White House that the attack began after a nonexistent spontaneous demonstration outside of the U.S. Consulate …

The lead story in today’s paper is about Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong!

The Libya story isn’t even on Page 1. It’s on Page 3.

What does this say about The Times’s news judgment?

Another reader, Sharon Hastings of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote as follows (her e-mail is abridged here):

I am writing to say how shocked I am at The NYT’s coverage of the Benghazi events and, more so, the coverage of the hearings. This is a major scandal and The Times has more often than not buried the story. The hearings, which made major revelations, are presented as simply partisan wrangling. The major elements on the story this morning are not brought up until the end of the story.

This is deeply shameful, and it reinforces the widely held perception of The Times as deeply partisan — especially before the election. Does The Times truly believe — can it possibly believe — that it is neutral in its news coverage? Either The Times is deeply deluded or extremely cynical in its claims in this regard. Sadly I suspect cynicism.

Sullivan herself adds:

I believe that the Libya hearing story belonged on The Times’s front page. It had significant news value, regardless of the political maneuvering that is inevitable with less than four weeks to go until the election. And more broadly, there is a great deal of substance on this subject that warrants further scrutiny.

I can’t think of many journalistic subjects that are more important right now, or more deserving of aggressive reporting.

The paper of record? Broken record.

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