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A story is a story no matter what side you stand on

Thursday, June 5, 2014

People, when they are at work, tend to talk about work, sometimes even in complimentary terms. After all, talking about your job in disparaging terms could lead to an embarrassing situation: You, out of work. And in this day of people recording everything you say or taking pictures of you doing something you don’t want your boss to necessarily see, well, Jack, “out of work” could become a lifestyle.

In newspaper offices, too, we talk about work, and MOST CERTAINLY NOT in disparaging terms. Regarding the folks for whom we work, why, NEVER is heard a discouraging word, of that you can be sure.

Recently the thing most talked about, at least by me and my wife, was the firing of Jill Abramson by the New York Times and whether she was fired because of sexism or because she wasn’t doing the job, or a combination of both or for some arcane reason that will only become known when Gay Talese updates “The Kingdom and the Power,” his brilliant book about The Times.

What to me was most remarkable about Affair Abramson was the way The Times covered it: extensively. Here was an internal issue that the paper took on in the same manner as it would have done had the Wall Street Journal fired a female executive editor.

One could argue, of course, that The Times did so because management knew that the New York Post, the Daily News, the Journal and, most certainly, the New York Observer, would be all over it anyway, so why not get out in front of it?

And while that might be so, I firmly believe that The Times would have done it anyway. It’s The Times’ way – report the news even if the bad news is about you.

I hear, sometimes, people disparage The Times because of its liberal editorial policy and I find that not only specious, but self-indulgent, as in, “I don’t want to read any opinion but my own.” And these folks somehow, foolishly, believe that because the editorial page is liberal, the news pages are slanted. I don’t believe that for a second and here’s why:

Reporters, at least the good ones, care only about the story, not the politics behind it.

I’ll give you a Cabinet example, although I don’t recall all the specifics, but the general idea is accurate (and not liberally slanted):

Several years ago, when I was editor, the New Hampshire Democratic Party did something stupid and it involved some local Democrats. I forget what it was, but it was stupid. And it was stupid in a way that it made a good news story. So, we ran it as the lead story on Page 1 and, in the same issue, carried an editorial excoriating the Democrats.

Now as everyone who reads this paper knows, we have been, for a long time, a liberal newspaper. We support Democrats most often, we championed gay marriage (and came out against civil unions as a sham created to block gay men and women from their right to marry), we champion abortion rights (and hate the phrase “the right to choose,” which is BS; it’s the right to get an abortion and women should have that right), we have long favored an income tax instead of the odious property tax because the latter shafts people on fixed incomes, unless they just want to live in some shoddy apartment somewhere.

So, yeah, on the editorial page, we are flaming liberals.

So there we were with a Page 1 story making the Democrats look bad, or at least stupid, and beating them up editorially.

A few days after the paper came out, I ran into Peter Bragdon, who recently retired as our state senator, and he said that the Democratic stupidity had been well-known, and discussed, in local Republican circles and the betting was that The Cabinet wouldn’t touch the story. He said that he was impressed by the fact that we had, and had given it such prominent play.

I explained to him that when it comes to news stories, reporters don’t give a damn about anything else but the story. We want good stories and we don’t care who gets shafted as long as the story is balanced and accurate (by balanced, I don’t mean the Fox News falling-down-to-the-right balanced, which is more like a lurch, I mean getting both sides in.).

And that’s true to this day. I won’t, because I can’t, speak for every reporter but I will tell you that I still feel that way. You’re my best friend and you are somewhat prominent locally and you did something stupid? Ooooooh, Page 1, eh?

I can imagine the New York Times reporters and columnists assigned to the Jill Abramson story just licking their chops. Love ya, Jill, but this is a great story so, tough, eh?

And let us not forget that when The Times hired Mark Thompson, of the BBC, to be its chief executive in 2012, it was Jill Abramson who assigned several reporters to investigate his role in a BBC simis that was a bit embarrassing. Chief executive or not, who cares? Abramson saw a good story and jumped upon it and, more important, The Times did nothing to stop her.

So, yeah, I have nothing but respect for The Times and nothing but disparagement for those who refuse to read it because they don’t agree with its editorial policy.

I don’t agree with the editorial policies of the Wall Street Journal or the New Hampshire Union Leader, but I read the papers and, often, their editorials (although the Journal is often too business-oriented for me). You have to read the other guy’s point of view, or how can you possibly know that your own is correct? What if the other guy has a better idea?

Read the papers with which you disagree, not those that support your own ideas. What’s the point?

Jill Abramson will land on her feet. If nothing else, she can hit the lecture circuit for scads o’ bucks and good for her. We’ll probably never know what Times’ upper management was thinking when they whacked her, and I agree that calling her “pushy” is damn sexist. Heck, I’m waiting for the day when a man, arrested for something, is written about as “an attractive brunette in a tight-fitting Brooks Bros. suit.”

Oh, yeah, that day’ll come.

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