The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Shafer/Landesman: NYT Magazine Editor sallies forth

Gives an interview to New York Observer's Sridhar Pappu, at least. (For the background, start with my February 4 piece.)

One or two points.

He's commendably clear on one point:
The piece was carefully read by a number of readers, by me many, many times, and I stand by the story.

The wordage is an issue: Pappu specifies the published piece as 8,244 words;
The piece arrived in early December as an "unwieldy" first draft, Mr. Marzorati said: roughly 13,000 words.

Was it cut for space, or style, or content? In the intensive fact-checking Marzorati said went on, were any allegations of Landesman junked as unreliable or dubious?

Also, the numbers: the Mag piece had said that
"30,000 to 50,000" women-along with girls and boys-were being held as sex slaves in hundreds of "stash houses."

Marzorati told Pappu
Any kind of sex crime automatically entails estimates. We don't even know how many women are raped in America.

No - but I'm fairly certain that those who make official estimates of such figures would disclose the basis on which they arrive at them. They will have be less than 100% reliable, but, knowing the method, at least one can get a ballpark sense of just how much less.

There's plenty (and plausible stuff, too) about operating difficulties - but that cuts both ways, of course. He wants us to lower our expectations for corroborative detail; critics would say, Landesman should have lowered his claims for his material.

Then the use of the expression sex slave.
We didn't use the word slave without the word sex," Mr. Marzorati said. "It does carry a meaning that's different. Just in the way there's trafficking to do manual labor or agricultural work...The system is something different."

But the key thing about the status of a slave is his being forced to work, willy-nilly, not the tasks he's given to perform.

He takes a swipe at Shafer's allegation that Landesman's sources had a religious right bias:
In this country the issue of sexual trafficking isn't a liberal or mainstream feminist issue. Here, it's mostly an issue associated with the right and to some degree the Christian right, and I think in the polarized culture we have, there's suspicion with any issue associated with those groups, it seems to me.

And Marzorati is clear that magazine stories work to different editorial rules than news stories:
Magazine pieces are written in a different way. They have a point of view. They're often written with more intensity. They're often allowed a kind of normative ending...

Does he mean an ending conforming to a norm (like a piece of genre fiction) or prescribing a norm (like an After School Special)? Or something else entirely? Does he mean biased?

He goes on
The standards for a magazine piece, for a piece of long-form nonfiction, are different than they are for a news story. When you're putting together a magazine piece, organizing a magazine piece, you're allowing things like point of view and creating long scenes. This is not the function of newspaper writing, where the writing is: An event happens, you get comments from people on those events, you get other comments from people who disagree with the comments of people you just spoke to. Your conventions are such that you create something fair and balanced. That's not the magazine convention.

Not fair and balanced: does the average Times Magazine reader appreciate this distinction?

Just for the terminally obtuse he ends with an illustration:
When we're writing a story on these kids who write [computer] viruses and worms, we don't turn over half the story to people who say viruses and worms really aren't a big problem.

It's a refreshing change from repetitions of the fallacy of objectivity in journalism. But I'm not sure it helps Marzorati with persuading sceptics of the reliability of the Landesman sex slaves article.

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