Sunday, March 2, 2008

The NYTimes Needs A Smack On The Head

For the most part, I find myself defending the media a lot -- to friends, to students -- to anyone who will listen, quite frankly. I really believe that the backlash to the media is part of a political campaign to undermine the checks and balances of our country. When we malign the industry, rather than call for improvements, we both devalue and injure the many dedicated, hardworking, underpaid and often life-risking reporters who are working for our information.

But once in a while I notice a news decision or trend that really does bother me. Today is one of those days, and I guess I just need to rant about it for a second.

In the NYT today, Ben Stein has an article in the business section. The title of this article is, "Exxon Mobile Needs a Hug."

"We should not be beating up Exxon Mobil and its brethren and making them cry uncle to Uncle Sam. A better policy might be to keep making sure they have no role in price-fixing, and then to encourage them to go after and lock up as much oil and gas as they can for us to burn up. We would be better off with stronger oil companies that can serve our energy needs for the long haul than with weak and overtaxed oil companies that cannot deliver the needed juice."

The article is typical Ben Stein -- sarcastic and clever and over the top. He's complaining about Obama taxing the oil companies... "big oil is us, and we need us," he says.

Okay -- one could argue. One can argue that we often get entrenched in patterns that wound us -- from the bedroom to the kitchen to the boardroom. Saying that nothing needs to change is crazy -- shortsighted and crazy. This is very big issue, and with flip candor one can do nothing for sympathy, or empathy, or concern for our people or our environment.

But I was not annoyed (or surprised) by my desire to argue with Ben Stein.

As is often the case, the problem for me is of an editorial nature. What is this article doing in the Business Section?

I might be inclined to say that people reading the NYTimes business section are smart enough to notice an editorial when they see it -- but that is a lousy defense. First off -- I would hope that everyone is reading the NYTimes -- as the pillar that they are of fine reporting -- experience, dedication, history and pursuit of the truth. Everyone -- high school students, college students, people without an education, people in other countries.

News sections are for reporting. Editorial sections are for opinions. When the times blurs the lines for these purposes it is pandering to the entertainment of the newspaper, and stepping closer to the problems in journalism today.

1 comment:

Jennifer S. Flescher said...

Um, well, Ben Stein wrote me. He said,

"I am a COLUMNIST. I am supposed to give my OPINIONS"

Not the point, but thanks for writing...

I actually think it may be a problem of the set up of the online issue.