NYT Public Editor responds to editorial softening claim

On 7 June 2013, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan responded to the claim made by some parties that the newspaper changed one of its editorials about the Obama Administration in order to “soften” it.

The original version of the editorial has a sentence that says, “The administration has now lost all credibility.”  In an updated version of the editorial, the sentence says, “The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue.”

Here is Ms. Sullivan’s opinion about the changing of that sentence:

There’s no question that the sentence, as edited, has a significantly different meaning. But I don’t believe that the editorial board’s original intention was to say that the administration no longer has any credibility on any issue. Nor do I believe that the board was frightened out of its convictions by reaction from the outside.

It was fine to clarify, but there is a legitimate concern about transparency. While a full editor’s note — a pretty big deal, almost a mea culpa, in the newspaper world — was unnecessary, the editorial should have carried a tag that said “Updated,” as many online articles do. And a single sentence appended after the ending should have described the nature of the update. It’s worth noting, though, that the editorial, as edited (or softened, or clarified, as you wish), is still a brutal takedown of the administration on this crucially important issue. Nothing changed about that.

Read Ms. Sullivan’s journal post to read the explanation for the sentence change given by NYT editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal.




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