The NYT ombudsman’s blogophobia

By Felix Salmon
May 24, 2009

The good news: the NYT’s ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, has weighed in with uncommon speed on l’affaire Andrews. But he’s done so in a most peculiar way: he spends 11 paragraphs on whether or not Andrews should be covering his own personal housing crisis at all, given his job, and then moves on to Megan McArdle’s bombshell with one final tacked-on graf, in which he can’t even bring himself to mention McArdle by name. (She’s first “a blogger for The Atlantic”, and then just “the blogger”. You’ll excuse me for reading that language pejoratively: if a newspaper columnist had written the same thing, I doubt they would have just been “a columnist” and “the columnist”.)

Here’s Hoyt’s conclusion in full:

Andrews is an excellent reporter who explains complex issues clearly. There are plenty of them to cover without assigning him to those that could directly affect whether he keeps his own house. He is too close to that story.

He can’t be too cautious. On Thursday, he came under attack from a blogger for The Atlantic for not mentioning in his book that his wife had twice filed for bankruptcy — the second time while they were married, though Andrews said it involved an old loan from a family member. He said he had wanted to spare his wife any more embarrassment. The blogger said the omission undercut Andrews’s story, but I think it was clear that he and his wife could not manage their finances, bankruptcies or no. Still, he should have revealed the second one, if only to head off the criticism.

“He can’t be too cautious” carries with it the clear implication that the next bit of criticism is largely unwarranted — an implication which is reinforced by Hoyt’s inability to name McArdle. And the way he talks about Andrews being “under attack” from this anonymous blogger also naturally puts the reader on Andrews’s side.

Eventually, Hoyt decides that Andrews’s wife’s bankruptcies really aren’t germane after all, on the rather peculiar grounds that since Andrews is open about his inability to manage his finances in any event, the news of the bankruptcies doesn’t really add anything. Huh? There’s a world of difference between a couple who can’t manage their finances and who are sucked into the subprime bubble, on the one hand, and a couple with two bankruptcy filings in the space of 8 years and 4 months, on the other. (You’re not allowed to file for bankruptcy within 8 years of your last filing.)

The reason why Andrews should have revealed both bankruptcy filings (not only the second one) is that they’re highly relevant to his family’s finances, and he’s written an entire book about his family’s finances. The reason is not just “to head off the criticism” he might end up receiving from the blogosphere.

As for the whiff of latent blogophobia which wafts through the whole thing, it’s worth noting that although Hoyt has a blog, he hasn’t written a substantive blog entry there all year — all the content from 2009 so far has been written by others and simply posted by Hoyt. What’s more, the NYT has broken links to his predecessors’ blogs: Dan Okrent’s blog used to be here, while Barney Calame’s used to be here. Neither link works any more. Clearly, if you want to make an impression on the public editor, it’s best to avoid any hint that you might be a blogger. It seems that McArdle should have mailed Hoyt an official complaint, on Atlantic letterhead, signing herself the Business and Economics Editor of The Atlantic: Hoyt would probably have taken that more seriously. It’s very sad that he still hasn’t moved on from that credentialist world.

16 comments

Comments are closed.