NYT's Abramson: Political Coverage Being Trivialized

Sunday, 06 Oct 2013 01:30 PM

By Elliot Jager

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Sitting on the stage of a small upper East Side auditorium off Manhattan's Park Avenue on Saturday morning, two prominent figures of the liberal media, New Yorker Magazine critic Ken Auletta and New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, good-naturedly discussed the state of the/ news industry before a paying audience – $35 a ticket – of several hundred.

Abramson said she worried that coverage of politics was being trivialized.

"I worry that politics is covered almost like sports at a relentless who's winning and who’s losing kind of way, who's up, who's down and the political maneuvering becomes the dominant thread and what is lost is what effect it actually has on people," Abramson said, according to  Politico.

Auletta couldn't help pointing out that the Times' own political coverage has been criticized precisely for treating news like a horse-race, and asked why there should be different standards for the Times and its competition.

Abramson replied, "I don't know."

Then added, jokingly, "Can I go home now? This is starting to feel a little bit like a root canal."

On a more serious note, she also told Auletta that she disagreed with the Times' own Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, who criticized the Times for its implied disapproval of the competing McClatchy newspaper chain. Recent Times articles suggested that McClatchy should have withheld – as the Times did, initially – the names of al-Qaida chieftains whose conversations had been secretly intercepted in the summer by American intelligence.

Those intercepts led to emergency closures of thirteen U.S. missions in the Mideast in August out of concern that a terrorist attack was imminent.

Abramson defended the decision and said her paper's ombudsman "was wrong.” Abramson said U.S. officials warned the Times that if the paper published the names – which turned out to be al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, his man in Yemen – the Times would have "blood on our hands." McClatchy editors, in contrast, insisted terrorists in Yemen anyway knew that this conversation had been intercepted.

Lest anyone think Abramson had gone soft, she insisted that, on the whole, both the Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden leaks had been a "public service," Politico reported.

Manning was sentenced by a military judge to 35 years in prison for turning over more than 700,000 military and diplomatic files to Wiki Leaks. Snowden, now in Moscow, is the national security contractor who deliberately disclosed the scope of top-secret United States surveillance programs.

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