New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane asked this morning “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”
Reaction to the post came fast. I asked Brisbane if he was surprised by what people were tweeting. His response:
I have to say I did not expect that so many people would interpret me to have asked only: should The Times print the truth and fact-check? Of course, The Times should print the truth, when it can be found, and
What I was trying to ask was whether reporters should always rebut dubious facts in the body of the stories they are writing. I was hoping for diverse and even nuanced responses to what I think is a difficult question. To illustrate the difficulty, the first example I cited involved whether Clarence Thomas “misunderstood” the financial disclosure form when he failed to include his wife’s income. No doubt, many people doubt that he “misunderstood” but to rebut this as false would be difficult indeed, requiring knowledge of Mr. Thomas’s thinking. I was also hoping to stimulate a discussion about the difficulty of selecting which “facts” to rebut, facts being troublesome things that seem to shift depending on the beholder’s perspective. Many readers, in my view, would be skeptical whether The Times would always take a fair-minded approach to rebutting
the right “facts.”
I often get very well-reasoned complaints and questions from readers, but in this case a lot of people responded to a question I was not asking.