Thursday, July 15, 2010

Washington Post vs. New York Times: Just What Is An Op-Ed For, Anyway?

I cannot vouch for what they think today, but back in 2007, they were saying 2 very opposite things.

The occasion was an op-ed by Ahmed Yousef, advisor to former Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh, on the same day in both the New York Times and Washington Post--June 20, 2007, following the bloody coup where Hamas killed Abbas and Fatah out of Gaza.

The ombudsman for The Washington Post at the time, Deborah Howell, defended Wapo's op-ed, favorably comparing the credentials of terrorist Ahmed Yousef and fashion editor Robin Givhan:
Readers continue to vent about fashion editor Robin Givhan’s commentary on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s hint of cleavage — and my column last Sunday about it. Mail is still coming in about an op-ed by Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. And some readers didn’t like a piece by Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a Hezbollah supporter, that was included in OnFaith, a washingtonpost.com feature that also runs Saturdays on the Religion pages. Gail Freedman of Minneapolis put it this way: “Once again, your news organization has given a soapbox to terror.”

The purpose of commentary — whether by journalists or not — is not only to let writers press a point of view but also to stimulate independent thought in readers. The best opinion columns are supported by reporting, facts and cogent arguments and give honest credence to opposing arguments. They are written by men and women with credentials. To bring up a sore point, Givhan has such credentials. While not journalists, so did the Muslim writers. [emphasis added]
Feel free to take a look at Yousef's op-ed and see if you agree with Howell's assessment of Yousef's credentials. I am more interested in what Clark Hoyt, The New York Times ombudsman wrote at the time:
The point of the op-ed page is advocacy. And, Rosenthal said, “we do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage, because it is opinion.”

David Shipley, one of Rosenthal’s deputies and the man in charge of the op-ed page, said: “The news of the Hamas takeover of Gaza was one of the most important stories of the week. ... This was our opportunity to hear what Hamas had to say.”

I agree that Yousef’s piece should have run, even though his version of reality is at odds with the one I understand from news coverage. He wrote blandly, for example, about creating “an atmosphere of calm in which we resolve our differences” with Israel without mentioning that Hamas is officially dedicated to raising “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” which would mean no more Israel.

Op-ed pages should be open especially to controversial ideas, because that’s the way a free society decides what’s right and what’s wrong for itself. Good ideas prosper in the sunshine of healthy debate, and the bad ones wither. Left hidden out of sight and unchallenged, the bad ones can grow like poisonous mushrooms.
None of this stuff about 'credentials' for Hoyt--no sir. None of this talk about "reporting, facts and cogent arguments and giv[ing] honest credence to opposing arguments."

For Hoyt, controversy is the name of the games. But he does say something about how good ideas prosper and bad ones wither--and not in the light of day, but "in the sunshine of healthy debate."

The only problem with that is that Hoyt already quoted Rosenthal that “we do not feel the obligation to provide the kind of balance you find in news coverage, because it is opinion.”

Hmmmmmm, a conundrum.

I guess that would explain why in 2007 the NYT printed an op-ed by Obama and refused to allow McCain to respond.

Hey, you want the sunshine of healthy debate? Go outside...or to a bar or something.

Of course, what both Howell and Hoyt agree on--but both neglected to mention--is that bottom line, it is all about selling papers.

Hat tip: Soccer Dad
Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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