New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan takes on the tricky issue of Anthony Weiner coverage on her blog today. Although the disgraced former congressman’s mayoral campaign kicked off with a soft, April 14 cover story in Times Magazine, Ms. Sullivan, reflecting, found the Times‘ coverage has gotten stiffer as the campaign roll-out progressed.
“This kind of hard-nosed skepticism has sometimes been in short supply in recent weeks when it comes to the former congressman, who resigned in June 2011 after an online sex scandal, and in his run for New York City’s top office,” Ms. Sullivan wrote. “It all began with a cover story in The New York Times Magazine on April 14. The cover headline’s first-name intimacy gave it something of a Brangelina vibe: ‘Huma and Anthony: The Private Life of a Former Power Couple.'”
Ms. Sullivan asked Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren about the story, which was criticized as “uncritical and unquestioning.” Mr. Lindgren defended the piece by noting Mr. Weiner was not yet running for mayor at the time that the story ran.
“We were very clear with our readers about the reason that Weiner and Abedin were cooperating with us, and our primary goal was to get them to speak as unguardedly as possible about the Twitter episode and its effect on them personally and professionally,” he said. “We think we accomplished that.”
As both Ms. Sullivan and Mr. Lindgren note, now that Mr. Weiner is actually running, the Times may be getting tougher in their coverage as magazine covers give way to the daily news beat.
“Whatever one thinks of the magazine cover story – some, no doubt, simply enjoyed it as a juicy read – the tone of the Times’s coverage of Mr. Weiner has toughened up,” Ms. Sullivan concludes, not weighing in on the matter herself. “That’s a welcome development.”
The real danger with a Weiner mayoral campaign is that tabloid writers may run out of pun-filled headlines. But as The Observer discovered with this post, they are seemingly inexhaustible and almost impossible to avoid.