Toilet Paper of Record

Skip to first unread message


Feb 23, 2001, 1:08:24 PM2/23/01

The New York Times lamely responds to criticism that it ignored inauguration
day protests, saying it had already covered election "irregularities." The
"paper of record" prefers to cover events that occur only in association
with people in power, not the American people themselves.
New York Times responds to inauguration criticism
A FAIR Action Update

February 22, 2001

In response to a letter-writing campaign initiated by FAIR, New York Times
senior news editor Bill Borders sent this letter (or a variation of it) to
several activists:

I have your correspondence about our coverage of the protest demonstrations
that coincided with the inauguration of President Bush on Jan. 20. I am
sorry we disappointed you. But it seems to me that your objection confuses
the fact of this, or any, protest demonstration with the events that the
demonstrators are protesting against.

The marchers in Washington and elsewhere on Jan. 20 were protesting the
irregularities of Bush's election, which we have covered extensively almost
every day since Nov. 7. All the Florida electoral peculiarities have been
front page news.

In general, we devote more space to events, developments and situations than
to demonstrations protesting (or supporting) the events, developments and
situations. One reason for this is that the demonstrations are staged
events, designed to be covered. So, as we did with this one, we cover them,
but modestly. I think our coverage of this demonstration, both on the front
page and with the full article inside, was appropriate to the event.

This modest coverage of the demonstration, a staged event, is wholly
separate from our coverage of the details of the election. That has been, of
course, considerably more substantial.

I assure you that our coverage the Bush presidency will continue to be as
vigorous and independent as you might expect. I appreciate your writing, and
holding us to a high standard.

FAIR replies:

The New York Times' argument that it did not need to give significant
coverage to the anti-inaugural demonstrations because it had already covered
the electoral dispute in Florida is akin to saying that it was not necessary
to give much coverage to sit-ins in the segregated South because the paper
had already covered the Jim Crow laws the sit-ins were protesting. Or
arguing that there was no reason to cover the anti-Vietnam War movement
because the war itself was being fully reported. Or refusing to cover the
civil disobedience arrests around the Diallo shooting because the shooting
itself had been in the news.

The fact is that rallies, marches and sit-ins *are* real events, not merely
peripheral phenomena that respond to events. Throughout history, they have
had a significant effect on the course of American politics, and they are
one of the most effective ways that ordinary people can have an impact on
the society that they live in.

As for the charge that they "are staged events, designed to be covered,"
that could be said of almost the entire inauguration process, as well as of
a large percentage of events that the New York Times reports on in
Washington. The difference is that demonstrations are staged by ordinary
citizens, whereas the inaugurations, official press conferences, etc., that
the New York Times prefers to cover are staged by people with access to

The Washington Post, often thought of as a paper comparable to the New York
Times, made a different decision about how to cover the inauguration. Its
lead story on January 21 included, in its fifth paragraph, the fact that
"thousands of sign-waving protesters, some chanting 'Hail to the Thief,'
roamed the streets, which were patrolled by about 7,000 officers from more
than a dozen law enforcement agencies." One of the front-page photos
depicted an injured demonstrator, and five others inside showed signs of
protest. One front-page story and three inside stories were wholly or
largely devoted to discussing the protests.

Decades from now, historians reviewing the Washington Post's coverage will
recognize that that paper covered the most remarkable features of the 2001
presidential inauguration. Those same historians will find that the New York
Times, as our action alert noted, attempted to ignore reality.

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages