There was a time when The New York Times never had to say anything back. If the newspaper caught hell for a story in the popular media, editors at the paper could rely on the time-tested formulation: “The story speaks for itself.” When critics carped about the newspapers’ editorial vision, business plan, or financial position, it was once enough for Arthur Sulzberger or Janet Robinson to just sort of roll their eyes and move along. At the end of the day, The New York Times was still The New York Times.
Back in October, executive editor Bill Keller held one of his regular “state of the newsroom” meetings (“Throw Stuff at Bill,” they are informally called even by Mr. Keller himself). At this one he addressed a notorious and much-maligned story about John McCain’s “friendship” with a certain lobbyist.
“In one case, the famous McCain and the lobbyist story, if I had to do it over again, the one thing I would do differently: I think I would have planned for the blowback better,” he told the staff, according to a recording of the proceedings obtained by The Observer. “It really took a day and a half to decide that we just weren’t going to let the story speak for itself-we were going to speak for ourselves. And by then, they had defined what the story was and, with Fox News as their megaphone, the world now believes it was a story about McCain sleeping with a lobbyist, which it was not. That one I’d wish we did differently.”
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