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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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Dan Okrent's A1 with the Wall Street Journal

The Journal yesterday fronted a long piece under the hed New York Times Finds Its Watchdog Has a Strong Bite.

As a search on the guy's name will disclose, I've been keeping half an eye on Times ombud Daniel Okrent since his arrival. He's a tad more than halfway through his 18 month contract, and, I've assumed, is pacing himself - his piece on the Iraqi WMD coverage (May 30) was his first act closer.

The WSJ piece has Okrent as rubbing various elements of Times news and editorial staff up the wrong way. David Cay Johnston, darling of the left for being the author of some book on the iniquities of the Bush tax giveaway, gets a Pulitzer for snippiness:
"Sometimes you have to treat others like the Russians -- you have to demonstrate strength," says [Johnston]. "I'm just waiting for him to screw up," Mr. Okrent retorts in an interview.

Okrent says he was joking.

And he's been stepping on exalted corns:
More recently, in an e-mail exchange, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller complained to Mr. Okrent about inquiries he was making for his column yesterday about a case of alleged child abuse. "i've got to say: man, you need a vacation," Mr. Keller wrote. "It's called reporting, right?" Mr. Okrent replied.

[Copy/pasted without amendment: does Keller commit the barbarism of unpunctuated emails? The quote is repeated later in the piece - and the I is duly capitalised.]

It's a colour piece - the sort of stuff produced by Jodi Wilgoren about John Kerry that gets the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party [1] so aerated. It puts me in mind of Lt Columbo - shambling oddball with unorthodox methods who nevertheless gets his man. Just because it fits his story arc so deliciously doesn't necessarily mean its content is questionable [2], of course.

But why the front page treatment? There's no gotcha, that I can see; it's mostly gossip - interesting for Okrent-watchers, but scarcely hard news among the top half dozen stories of the day, surely? (What were the stories that got bumped to make way for the Okrent piece, I wonder?)

  1. The phrase, I think is that of the surely-not-long-to-wait-for-canonisation Paul Wellstone.

  2. I don't know the writer, James Bandler, from a hole in the ground. The lede is clearly a feature, not a news, lede. It's not reporting with a John Kerry long face: there's a definite wry smile in the tone. Which is great: I like the piece as a read. It flips off the notion of objective journalism - another reason to like it!

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