NYT Public Editor Explains What’s Not Fit to Print

New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane (2/27/11) offers a justification that makes very little sense for his paper’s concealing the fact that an American arrested in Pakistan worked for the CIA. The Times, Brisbane wrote, could not “take the risk that reporting the CIA connection would, as warned, lead to Mr. Davis’s death.”

Davis was arrested for murder after allegedly shooting two people in Pakistan. Pakistan has the death penalty, so in theory he could be tried and executed if found guilty. Is that the risk that the New York Times is concerned about? If so, is that how the Times approaches all its crime reporting? This would lead to some interesting editorial conversations:

“We found out that the suspect took out a big insurance policy on his wife just before she disappeared, chief.”

“We can’t report that!! We’re journalists! Do you want to get someone killed??”

The closest Brisbane comes to explaining the Times‘ logic is this: “The American government hoped to avoid inflaming Pakistani opinion and to create ‘as constructive an atmosphere as possible’ while working to resolve the diplomatic crisis.” In other words, it will be easier for the U.S. to get Davis out of the country where he can’t face trial if key facts in the case are hushed up. If you think that’s a good reason for self-censoring your reporting, then you have no business calling yourself a journalist.

UPDATE: The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson (2/28/11) delves into Brisbane’s illogic in greater detail.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.