The New York Times public editor chides his newspaper for its slow response to covering the ACORN video story:
But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from Acorn, The Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like The Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.
Some editors told me they were not immediately aware of the Acorn videos on Fox, YouTube and a new conservative Web site called BigGovernment.com. When the Senate voted to cut off all federal funds to Acorn, there was not a word in the newspaper or on its Web site. When the New York City Council froze all its funding for Acorn and the Brooklyn district attorney opened a criminal investigation, there was still nothing.
Readers noticed. James Jeff Crocket of New Britain, Conn., spoke for many when he said he was sure he knew why the paper was silent: “protecting the progressive movement.”
Finally, on Sept. 16, nearly a week after the first video was posted, The Times took note of the controversy, under the headline, “Conservatives Draw Blood From Acorn, Favored Foe.” The article said that conservatives hoped to weaken the Obama administration by attacking its allies and appointees they viewed as leftist. The conservatives thought they had a “winning formula,” the article said, mobilizing people “to dig up dirt,” then trumpeting it on talk radio and television.
By stressing the politics, the article irritated more readers. “A suspicious person might see an attempt to deflect criticism of Acorn by highlighting how those pesky conservatives are at it again,” said Albert Smith of Chatham, N.J.
I thought politics was emphasized too much, at the expense of questions about an organization whose employees in city after city participated in outlandish conversations about illegal and immoral activities.
So many stories start off in the blogosphere as vents from outraged partisans. Often times, those stories don’t get much traction. The trick is knowing which ones will evolve beyond partisan outrage into real-world policy changes. Lately the New York Times hasn’t found much success in figuring that out.