Will Arthur Brisbane Scold the 'Times' For its Coverage of Arthur Brisbane?

By Tom McGeveran (New York Capital)
May 22, 2012

In an article calling out The New York Times for completely failing to mention the role of community presses in reporting the story of the suppression of claims of sexual abuse in Orthodox Jewish circles, Times public editor Arthur Brisbane wrote on Saturday, "fairness dictates what the emerging expectations of the Internet era also dictate: readers should be told more clearly about precedent coverage by others. The Times has little to lose in doing so, except perhaps the impression that it got the story alone."

Yesterday, in the course of breaking the news that Brisbane is leaving the Times, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple cited the column as an example of how lame Arthur Brisbane is, for being a public editor who polls "experts" in journalism ethics to draw his conclusions.

For what it's worth, Brisbane talks to the Times Metro editor about the decision not to credit the multiple smaller newspapers and websites that had already reported significant chunks of the material the Times presented in its article without any attribution. The interview is pretty unsatisfactory; the reason the Times didn't credit anyone else was basically because the Times reporters already knew what was being reported elsewhere when it was reported, she told him. The Times simply declined to publish any of it until now.

It's of course risible to anyone with a basic understanding of the traditions of attribution. Beating someone to a story means publishing it first, not finding it out first.

Three hours after Wemple's piece was published and after it had circulated widely in social networks, Christine Haughney, the newest addition to the paper's media beat, wrote about the news. She interviewed her co-worker and elicited stuff like the following:

Mr. Brisbane said that during his tenure at The Times he had enjoyed working with different departments on a range of topics and watching how much the company had grown on its digital side.

"I'm really struck by how much has happened just in the relatively short period of time in my term," Mr. Brisbane said.

The article does not credit The Washington Post for breaking the story. But then, presumably the Times already knew Brisbane was leaving when Wemple broke the news.