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smoking gun!

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Apr 05, 2005

The invaluable Terry Mattingly at Get Religion has a great post concerning a revealing editing goof that was captured in an on-line New York Times story about the legacy of Pope John Paul II.

In the midst of the web version of Ian Fisher's April 2nd NYT article, hanging in the dead space between two paragraphs of stock liberal condescension (the latter including a critical quote from Hans Küng), was the journalist's note-to-self:

need some quote from supporter

The gaffe-draft was only up briefly, of course, then hastily taken down, corrected, and re-posted -- but not before some alert blogger spotted and got a screen shot of the original boner (eat your hearts out, redaction critics!). Like the guy who feeds the meat-grinder that compounds the sliders for White Castle, now we KNOW how New York Times articles are made!

Not that there was ever much doubt. One can usually tell when a reporter has truly been informed by his source and when, on the contrary, he has gone in search of a sock puppet to voice an opinion pre-assigned to the dramatis personae. The NYT's slip-of-the-mouse-button has simply provided visual proof of the anti-Catholic bias -- "prejudice" is exactly the right word here -- that fair-minded readers have long protested and that the editors have implausibly tried to deny. As Mattingly rightly points out, this captured screen-shot is more than just a great "gotcha!" story:

I especially like the slap of the word "some," as in "go to the closet and get me some old flannel shirt so I can change the oil in the car." It doesn't matter what quote from what pope lover. The story is written. The point of view is established. The desk just needs some quote from some reporter talking to some pope supporter to add some balance to the editorial viewpoint of the newsroom.

Well put. To change the metaphor, if all you need for "balance" is dead weight on one end of the scale beam, what matter if that weight is provided by an anvil, a sack of ready-mix, or a rusty engine block?

By contrast, we have the example of the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen. Though confessedly liberal in his own convictions, Allen makes commendable efforts to solicit opinions from all sides of a controversy, and obviously takes pains to listen carefully to his sources and to report accurately what they want to say. To his credit, he gives us more than the sensational lines or indiscretions that spill out in an interview, and the five or six conservatives I've spoken to who've been interviewed by Allen all admit to being impressed by the fact that they can recognize themselves in print. It's dismaying to read his own religious opinions (expressed in various public addresses), yet Allen is almost always able to separate his personal views from his reportage, and seems genuinely curious about what makes "the other guys" tick. Hard to imagine a perfunctory "need some quote from supporter" turning up in his notes.

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