* British journalist Boris Johnson was asked to write an op-ed for the New York Times last year. He relates the Times’ absurd process of rendering the column politically-correct enough for print:
I had said something to the effect that you don’t make international law by giving new squash courts to the President of Guinea. This now read ‘the President of Chile.’ Come again? I said. Qué?
‘Uh, Boris,’ said [Times editor] Tobin, ‘it’s just easier in principle if we don’t say anything deprecatory about a black African country, and since Guinea and Chile are both members of the UN Security Council, and since it doesn’t affect your point, we would like to say Chile.’ In the end, I gave way on this, since it was getting cold and I was worried about the battery of my mobile. But my views of the NY Times were starting to evolve.
How craven and mealy-mouthed can you get? Why is a mild insult more bearable because it is directed at a crisis-ridden Latin American country, rather than a crisis-ridden African country? Is it, heaven forfend, because one country is Hispanic and the other is black?
Read on for the Times’ ‘issues’ with making light of Gulf War Syndrome, and using the term ‘Gee’ (they were afraid of offending Christian sensibilies, since – if you didn’t know – ‘Gee’ originated from ‘Jesus’).
Note, though, how seriously The Times considers their own role in the dissemination of an op-ed piece. HonestReporting has continually stressed that a newspaper should be held accountable, to some degree, for the content of their op-ed’s (here’s the latest case), and this episode indicates that the editors themselves are very much aware of that.
* Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent released a mea culpa today after committing the very journalistic sin he himself decried just two weeks ago: partially quoting a source, thereby altering the source’s actual intention.
I suppose I could try to explain how I managed to mistranscribe a quotation in an e-mail message sitting right in front of me, or go through the reasoning that had me cut Halbfinger’s comment short. But explanation is not justification.
The mistake was entirely my own, and a pretty embarrassing one it is.
Another example of The Times altering an op-ed to conform with their views: human rights lawyer Anne Bayefsky’s piece on the UN’s unfair treatment of Israel – read about it here.