A New York Times front page story from Monday by veteran James Risen about mineral riches in Afghanistan has quickly become a story about how The New York Times deals with criticism.
Critics questioned the news-worthiness and the timing of the story. For some, the article explained the American effort in Afghanistan too much, and the timing seemed strange.
“The Obama administration and the military know that a page-one, throat-clearing New York Times story will get instant worldwide attention,” wrote The Atlantic’s politics editor Marc Ambinder on Monday. “The story is accurate, but the news is not that new; let’s think a bit harder about the context.”
John Cook also questioned the timing of the piece.
From the Pentagon’s perspective, recasting old information about the country’s hard-to-access mineral reserves as a potentially game-changing bounty — and then handing it to the Times — could ward off slacking resolve in the American public and create a new argument for sticking with the war.
Mr. Risen spoke to Mr. Cook later in the week in what Mr. Cook called an “increasingly hostile interview.”
“Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don’t know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think,” Mr. Risen said to Mr. Cook.
Mr. Risen shared a byline on The Times piece about NSA wiretapping in 2005. He called Mr. Cook shortly after their interview to defang some of his remarks.
“I was taken aback by some of the criticism, and didn’t sleep well last night, and was upset about it,” Mr. Risen said.
Mr. Cook’s post was called “NYT reporter defends Afghani minerals piece, lashes out at critics.”
The Times washington bureau chief Dean Baquet, who will soon be taking a turn as the paper’s managing editor, also spoke up on behalf of the piece.
“The people involved in doing the survey said they were surprised by the extent of it,” Mr. Baquet told Lloyd Grove. “Criticism from other journalists who claim it was ‘widely known’ is bullshit. Maybe they should have written about it.”
Mr. Baquet added that Mr. Risen “is the last person the government would try to get to carry their water.”
A more level-headed Mr. Risen also spoke to Mr. Grove.
“It’s sort of an occupational hazard at The New York Times,” he said. “Frankly, I get my bones jumped more than just about any reporter in town.”
We’ll just have to imagine what Clark Hoyt would say.