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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Saturday, May 01, 2004

What's up with Daniel Okrent?

The New York Times ombud, that is, a frequent visitor to the Plawg - by my count, around thirty appearances.

If ever there was a guy deserving of the Kremlinology treatment, it's Okrent. Yet - so far as I'm aware, nary a watchblog.

To recap, Okrent's peculiar significance lies in the fact that, inter alia,
  1. he came in reaction to Jayson Blair, the biggest journo scandal of recent times [1];

  2. he's the Times' first ombud, of which the NYTC management made a whole big thing;

  3. he seems - so far as I can work out - to be accepted by journos as primus inter pares (despite the fact that WaPo's Michael Getler has been in place for some time);

  4. Okrent himself has sought to stand out: by drawing attention to his fixed-term contract, by spreading into his quasi-blog, by his theatrical approach to his work.

In sum, Okrent has a story arc. Act I climaxed with the Landesman A Girl Next Door sex slaves story [2], on which Okrent uttered muted criticism. This was explicable (my explanation, not Okrent's!) by an understandable desire not to exhaust his ammunition - his welcome at W 43rd Street, most notably - on a minor target, and so early on in the piece. I gave him a qualified free pass.

Since Landesman, Okrent has not been put on the spot to quite the same degree. As discussed here, there's been the case of the spoof corrections page (March 17), his strange introduction to executive editor Bill Keller's whitewashing of Judith Miller's WMD fantasy (March 28) and his casuistry on correction of errors made in Times op-ed articles (March 29).

I've certainly not been following the Okrent play by play. Whether by accident or design, the pseudo-blog is a useful aid in permitting material to be released more or less at random. It's unsettling, guerrilla ombud-ing, vaguely redolent of a Oneupmanship [3] ploy.

One characteristic of Okrent is his facility with Mandarin prose - to formulate comments which, at first glance, appear relevant and cogent, but, in fact, are carefully calibrated to miss their ostensible target. Email exchanges noted at the Daily Howler (and here) and Kevin Drum illustrate the point.

As the Drum case illustrates, things are not helped at the Times' Circumlocution Office by the interposition 'twixt reader and ombud of the Dickensianly named Arthur Bovino, whose role seems to be to make obscurity doubly obscure lest his master find himself committed to positions that may prove awkward in the future.

I don't feel motivated to Kremlinologise Okrent right now. However, the time may come...

  1. Let him duke it out with Jack Kelley and USA Today - but I'd still say Blair is the biggest.

  2. Work back from March 5 piece.

  3. Stephen Potter, natch.

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