Oct
05
2001

New York Times Responds to FAIR, Calls Criticism a Distortion

FAIR's October 2 Action Alert, "Can the New York Times Count-- Or Quote-- Peace Activists?," got an immediate response from New York Times senior news editor Bill Borders.

Borders wrote a number of responses to FAIR activists, including several claiming that "as it often does, FAIR has, I think, distorted our position here." What follows below is one such response, along with FAIR's reply.

--From Bill Borders--

The crowd estimate of a "few hundred" appeared only in the first edition of last Sunday's paper. When the reporter wrote it, it was accurate. Later, the crowd grew, and the article was updated in all the other editions of the Sunday paper to "thousands." In retrospect, it would have been wiser not to put the smaller estimate into the early edition, but the reporter did not know that the crowd would grow so much.

FAIR is aware of these facts, but chose to withhold them from the "action alert" it sent you. I don't know why they did this; you might want to ask them.

Thanks for writing, and for holding us to a high standard.

Best, Bill Borders, The New York Times.

--FAIR's reply--

Dear Bill Borders:

Thank you for replying so quickly to our readers who inquired about the Times' coverage of peace activists.

Contrary to an assertion you made in some of your responses, FAIR did not knowingly withhold information from its readers. Making such an accusation without evidence is unprofessional.

In several responses, you wrote that "as it often does, FAIR has, I think, distorted our position here." We wrote our alert based on the third edition of the paper (labeled "Late Edition"), as well as the online edition, which as of this morning had not been changed to reflect the "growth" of the crowd. So our point was correct, as you acknowledge; I do not think that amounts to a distortion of your position.

If the Times does understand that its reporting was in error, it seems the most responsible thing to do would be to issue a correction that would be available to all of your readers. It is unlikely that very many people buy the final edition of the Times to fact-check what they have already read that morning.

I hope the Times will consider issuing a correction in this Sunday's edition.

Peter Hart, FAIR

It's also worth noting that Borders does not address FAIR's larger point about the Times' under-coverage and mischaracterization of peace protests (notably in the headline "Protesters in Washington Urge Peace with Terrorists"). The October 5 edition of the Times does, however, include a profile of peace activists that avoids many of the errors and distortions that so far have characterized some of the paper's previous coverage.

Read FAIR's original alert: Can the New York Times Count—Or Quote—Peace Activists?