Monday, September 26, 2005

NYT Public Editor Agrees Alessandra Stanley Should Apologize

When L.A. Times media columnist Tim Rutten insisted Alessandra Stanley, the New York Times' lead TV critic, should apologize for suggesting Fox News' Geraldo Rivera had "nudged" an Air Force rescue worker out of the way while covering the hurricane disaster in New Orleans, I was inclined to be skeptical. I called Stanley a "wonderful" TV critic and was content to leave it at that.

But, apparently, I was wrong.

On Sunday, the New York Times' public editor, Byron Calame, writing a column on the matter, determines that Stanley and New York Times executive editor Bill Keller have been highhanded in their dealings with Rivera and that Stanley should apologize for saying falsely that he had nudged the relief worker.

This is a tough-minded column and builds respect for Calame. It turns out he is up to his job, willing to take on even the executive editor when it is called for.

Both Rutten and Calame studied carefully the video that showed whether there was a nudge by Rivera, and both decided there wasn't. So both concluded that this was not simply a matter of the TV critic having the right to make up her own mind. The facts are the facts, Rutten and Calame write, and even normally an obnoxous character as Rivera is entitled to an apology, even if he does work for the (biased) Fox network.

Being nice to Fox can be annoying, because Fox isn't nice to anyone. But fair's fair.

Rutten went a little further on Stanley than Calame, citing an error rate of 11% in her critiques.

But Calame took on Keller as well, quoting the executive editor on why there was no apology, but then taking sharp exception.

Keller suggests in a message to Calame that "frankly," in light of Rivera's vitriolic reaction to the review, Stanley "would have been justified in assuming" that Rivera used "brute force" and not just a "nudge in the incident, or, as it turns out, non-incident.

Calame answers, "I find it disturbing that any Times editor would come so close to implying -- almost in a tit=for-tat sense -- that Mr. Rivera's bad behavior essentially entitles the paper to rely on assumptions and refuse to correct an unupported fact."

A ha! Not even Howell Raines would have been so imperious as Bill Keller.

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