Sunday, September 11, 2005

Further about Keller of the NYT on Posner: remembering Herbert Matthews

In 1975, Newsweek ran a story which included the sentence Back in 1959, National Review magazine ran a cartoon of Fidel Castro sitting on a map of Cuba and proclaiming, "I got my job through The New York Times." One does not hear much these days about how Herbert Matthews, a New York Times correspondent whose published 1957 interview with Castro in his Sierra Maestra redoubt assured the world that Fidel was not a Communist. The assertion of Matthews wasn't true in 1957, 1975, or 2005.

Ever upbeat, Newsweek itself stated in 1975: It's only a matter of time
before we'll be puffing (one hopes) choice Havanas again.
Thirty years have passed, and that didn't happen.

Forty years after the Matthews' interview with Castro, in 1997, the American Spectator wrote: [The New York Times] is a newspaper that never learns. It still yearns for the days when Fidel and Che were holed up in the Sierra Maestra.

The formula here is simple: Revolutionaries are good, generals are
bad, and what is actually happening in a country is irrelevant. Times foreign
correspondents come and go, but the formula remains, and the Times
applies it all over the world. (...)

Neither Buckley nor the Journal mentioned the [discussion of Fujimori by the New York] Times, of course. In proper media circles, things are not done that way. The Washington Post editorial at the end of that week did not mention the Times, either, when it said it found the criticism of Fujimori "more than a little offensive." But the Post, of course, was alluding to the Times. Unlike the Times, the Post had
learned something.

On August 21, when Bill Keller wrote of his 35 years in newspapers, one notes that such a span does not include the time period of Herbert Matthews: The saddest thing is that Judge Posner's market determinism leaves no room for the other dynamics I've witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers: the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better, the intellectual satisfaction of puzzling through a complicated issue, the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story, the pride in striving to uphold a professional code of fair play, the quest for peer recognition and, yes, the feedback from attentive and thoughtful readers. While one suspects that Matthews may have thought he could have made the world better, he didn't. It was a superficial look that proved wrong. The later Times coverage shows there was no learning curve.

Dean Velvel discusses the Posner book review on his blog,


John Giuffo wrote a piece
Judging Richard which has the text:

Keller was hardly the only journalist to take a shot at the essay. Along with his letter, the August 21 Book Review included angry ones from, among others, Bill Moyers, who criticized Posner’s denigration of “the people’s need to know,” and Eric Alterman, who accused Posner of “ideological sleight of hand.” That’s not to mention a number of online articles and blog posts. Jack Shafer, in his August 1 Slate column, cited numerous weaknesses in “Bad News.” Among other things, he pulled apart Posner’s assertion that eroding trust in the news media, as measured between 1973 and 2002, was partly due to the fact that “blogs have exposed errors by the mainstream media that might otherwise have gone undiscovered.” Shafer pointed out that blogs hadn’t entered the mainstream consciousness before 2002, and details a Nexis search to support his argument.

I guess Shafer is picking on the year 2002, but is this comment pulling apart Posner's larger themes?

***Update. I came across this at
history news network:

Most days the NYT corrections' list is dull. But this one caught our eye this past July--that's July 2005:

An obituary on Jan. 6, 1993, about William G. McLoughlin, an emeritus professor of history and religion at Brown University, misstated the date and cause of his death. Professor McLoughlin died on Dec. 28, 1992, not on Jan. 4, 1993; the cause was colon cancer, not liver cancer. The article also misstated the location of his World War II military service. It was at Fort Sill, Okla., not in Europe. The Times learned of the errors through a recent e-mail message from a family member.

This is worth remembering the next time the Times refuses to publish your letter complaining of some mistake or other that has found its way into the paper. The editors do care about some mistakes. But just not the one to which you want to draw attention.


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