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February 05, 2008

Sun Times endorsements of Obama and McCain rewritten, editor resigns

Editorial page editor Cheryl L. Reed has resigned from the Chicago Sun Times, alleging that the editorial board's endorsements for Obama and McCain were rewritten by people outside the editorial board:

Meanwhile, check out what happened when the Chicago Sun-Times pulled the level for Obama and McCain, clearly the choices of America's newspapers:

The Chicago Sun-Times today named Tom McNamee its editorial page editor after Cheryl L. Reed resigned, saying in a note to her staff she was "deeply troubled" the paper's presidential primary endorsements of Barack Obama and John McCain were subjected to "wholesale rewrites" by people outside the editorial board.

Here's what Reed claims happened:

Reed's note said such the rewriting did more than undermine her. "It devalues and patronizes the editorial board writers who wrote the original endorsements: an African-American, a Latino and two white women," she wrote, alleging the rewritten endorsements "were rewritten by white men."

Attytood wrote last summer about Reed's plan to remake the Sun-Times with an appeal to the working class. This story notes:

In it, she vowed to return the paper to its "liberal, working-class roots" and to add "seats to our editorial board so that board members -- the paper's brain trust -- reflect the ethnic and social diversity" of Chicago.

"My goal is to make us more relevant and irreverent," Reed wrote. "There will be no sacred cows here."

Your liberal media -- not very liberal, is it?--[Will Bunch]

Good catch by Will.

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Comments

well, in both law skool and b-skool, I made it point never to take a course taught by an african-american or a woman, if it could be avoided. I presume that it is more likely than not that such profs a) have academic careers in large part because of affirmative action rather than academic talent and b) are more likely to be wrapped up in womyn's issues, "black things I wouldn't understand," and the like. And the few times I had to take a course taught by a woman, one was of mediocre quality, two were unbelievably bad, ineptly taught by an idiological and intellectually dishonest fruitcake, and the last was laughably bad. Asked what a paradigm was, I gave a short recitation of Thomas Kuhn's authoritative definition. she said, oh, no it's any new idea, like a light bulb. Oh and she used terms like "sheroes." Ugh. So I imagine some minorities and women sitting in a committee might draft something so bad a re-write was required.

Lindsay Beyerstein -

What is the ethical issue?

Are the owners never supposed to interfere in editorials?

Why should anyone care who the Sun-Times endorses? Or what the editorial board has to say about anything?

I care what Lindsay has to say because she has a track record. I've been reading this blog for a while and I understand where she's coming from, even if I often disagree, so I know how to interpret her analysis.

Newspaper editorial boards are effectively anonymous committees, and they have no coherent identity as people drift in and out over the years. When they say something, it's usually pretty bland---as most committee efforts are---and I have no idea how to incorporate it into my world view.

If Reed or anyone else on the board wants to run a column in her name (or a blog) I might read it, and I'd be offended if someone else edited it. But when you agree to be the faceless voice of a media corporation, it's hard for me to feel you've been cheated when the corporation wants things to read a little differently.

Strange comments. I've edited a couple of papers and know what it means when an editor's duties are taken over by others. It doesn't mean you are mediocre or incapable. It means the boss, the publisher, maybe some advertisers, didn't like what you did, and they all have clout.

I don't know what the endorsements ended up saying, but the editorial page editor is not just an anonymous voice on an anonymous committee. Her reputation was at stake in these endorsements. She had no choice but to quit.

We're marching proudly backwards to the future. There's a good satire of the treatment of women in the workplace and at home in The Department of Homeland Decency: Decency Rules and Regulations Manual, just out from Three Rivers Press. Check it out at www.homelanddecency.com

I know nothing about the newspaper industry and the ethics of editorial page decisionmaking, and am really just trying to understand all the facts -- but am I right that the "rewrite" didn't change the candidates endorsed but merely the stated reasons (i.e., the editorial board's original endorsements said "we like McCain because X and Obama because Y," and that was rewritten so the endorsement as published said "we like McCain because U and Obama because v")?

If so, then on the one hand it's hard to see there being any practical real-world consequences to the "rewrite." In other words, if you take the universe of voters who are so low-information and/or fickle that they'll genuinely let their vote be swayed by the endorsement of editorial board of the Sun-Times -- the Sun-Times, for god's sake!! -- I would wager big dollars that the overwhelming majority of that universe is going to get all the information they need from the headline ("Our endorsements for Super Tuesday: Obama, McCain" or whatnot), and is unlikely to be so nuanced that they would have voted for McCain had they read Reed's original editorial ("McCain because X") but will be unswayed when they read the rewritten editorial ("McCain because Y"), or vice versa.

And in that respect, I share Windypundit's view: from a layperson's perspective, my initial inclination is to see an almost Joe-Klein-esque "I'm a very serious person (TM) who has spent my career getting all the right tickets punched and jumping through all the right hoops to become editorial page editor of the extremely prestigious Chicago Sun-Times (TM), so now how dare anyone else dare to alter my perfectly-honed writing?"

In fact, if there's one thing I think I care less about than "who Cheryl L. Reed likes in the D and R primaries," it would have to be "WHY Cheryl L. Reed likes those two particular candidates."

All that said, I am keenly aware of the importance of maintaining some tattered remnants of a sense of journalism as a "profession" rather than simply acting as stenographers for the class interests of wealthy media magnates, so I appreciate the principle involved...

A broken promise is always annoying. A boss's broken promise is really annoying.


Milo: "black things I wouldn't understand" - No, you wouldn't.

Psychopaths often feel that they do not get the props they think, often quite mistakenly, they deserve.

So it is not at all surprising that we are told that they had issues with college professors and such. The psychopath knows, really deeply knows, that he's smarter and better than the rest of us suckers who are saddled with moral sanity, and the fragile egos among them make sure we hear about these injustices. Even if the context isn't exactly appropriate.

Wow a lot of people here have no clue how newspapers work.

Generally there is supposed to be a very clear divide between the business side and and the news side, for good reason. In this case it sounds like the business side decided to start writing editorials.

Even if the business side is not involved, whoever re-wrote the editorials was obviously undermining the editorial page editor. How many people would appreciate it if some coworker took over what you were officially responsible for and changed it behind you back? Would you accept it if you were a CFO and some other employee altered the books without you knowing? Or if you were the head of marketing and the CFO changed your marketing campaign without telling you?

"I'm a very serious person (TM) who has spent my career getting all the right tickets punched and jumping through all the right hoops to become editorial page editor of the extremely prestigious Chicago Sun-Times (TM), so now how dare anyone else dare to alter my perfectly-honed writing?"

She is charge of the editorial page content - that is her job. There is nothing snooty about demanding that you be allowed to perform your job duties.

You have it almost exactly backwards. The problem is not the professional who demands that they be allowed to perform their job duties when their own credibility is on the line, the problem is the people undermining that person's judgement and professional credibility.

PRESS RELEASE

MC&D launches a daily English and Khmer language newspaper in Cambodia


Media Consulting and Development (MC&D) has the pleasure to announce the launching of a new daily English and Khmer language newspaper: The Mekong Times, commencing publication on Wednesday, February 6.

The Mekong Times will publish five days a week, and will initially be printed at 5,000 copies.
The Mekong Times will cover all economic, political and development-related events in Cambodia - as well as offering a comprehensive selection of stories on these topics from Asean, Asia and the rest of the world.

With our new daily newspaper The Mekong Times, MC&D hopes to bring more information on Cambodia to decision-makers and those interested in knowing what is happening in Cambodia on a daily basis.

The Mekong Times will benefit from key elements including experience, professionalism and independence.

The team working for The Mekong Times has extended experience in journalism. Some of its foreign journalists have more than 15 years’ experience in Cambodia, working for leading publications. Its Cambodian reporters have worked in foreign publications after being trained to international standards here and abroad.

Based on its four-year experience of monitoring the press and publishing specialized information for business, politics and development professionals in Cambodia and abroad, MC&D is reaffirming its ambition – to publish useful and non-partisan news. MC&D believes that our independence from political parties, business interests and governments in Cambodia or abroad and from any international influence is essential to the success of our company and projects.

MC&D is a foreign-owned private company, launched in 2003.
MC&D has been well-known by the public for publishing Somne Thmey (a weekly Khmer-language newspaper) and Development Weekly (an English-language weekly newspaper), that are now being combined to form The Mekong Times.

Margalis: "Wow a lot of people here have no clue how newspapers work."

I freely admitted as much up front ("I know nothing about the newspaper industry and the ethics of editorial page decisionmaking, and am really just trying to understand all the facts") and take your points about undermining the editor's authority and credibility -- and, upon reflection, I agree she absolutely did the right thing by effectively resigning in protest.

But I take exception, or am at least interested in being educated, to a couple of points.

You said "Generally there is supposed to be a very clear divide between the business side and and the news side, for good reason."

I'm fully on board with that statement -- but I've also heard what I think is an entirely separate principle, that there is supposed to be a similarly "very clear divide" between the NEWS side and the OPINION (i.e., editorial page) side of a media organization. (Indeed, this is something that I think both Eric Alterman ("What Liberal Media?") and David Brock (Media Matters) have written about on at length.) It is precisely because this principle has historically been honored (if often very imperfectly) which allows me to trust the reporting that I read on pages A1 through (say) A12 of the Wall Street Journal(*) even if the editorial pages at the end of section A are suitable for not much more than laying on the floor to paper-train a new puppy. (*Whether the credibility of the WSJ reportage will survive the mid-2007 takeover by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation going forward, is an open question).

That said where does the editorial page editor fall on the spectrum of "detached objective professionals practicing journalism" vs. "the owners of the business?"

I mean, if a reporter wrote a front page ("news") article about McCain's visit to Chicago, signed off on by the front page editor, and THAT ARTICLE was rewritten by the owners of the newspaper (i.e., to paint McCain in either a more or less flattering light), then I'd understand and join in the outrage.

But isn't the editorial page really, de facto, the voice of the owners of the newspaper, rightly or wrongly? In other words, if the editorial page editorial board of the Wall Street Journal starting writing editorials saying "perhaps it's really time to consider abolishing private property and nationalizing the means of production" -- would anyone really be troubled to see such editorial page editor sacked and replaced by someone who believes (or at least spouts) the free-market-fundamentalist orthodoxy that people expect from the WSJ editorial page?

And if that's the case -- that she's essentially being paid to deliver the opinion message that the owners want to the deliver, and is free to leave if she doesn't like that -- then while what happened may certainly be a breach of professional etiquette (i.e., they should have commented on the editorial board's original draft and given them an opportunity to respond to the changes and/or defend the original wording, rather than (as I gather) simply tossing the editorial board's draft in the trash and writing their own from scratch), I'm struggling to see the grand journalistic principle which has been assaulted.

Sigh.

>But isn't the editorial page really, de facto, the voice of the owners of the newspaper, rightly or wrongly?

Uh, no.

>In other words, if the editorial page editorial board of the Wall Street Journal starting writing editorials saying "perhaps it's really time to consider abolishing private property and nationalizing the means of production" -- would anyone really be troubled to see such editorial page editor sacked and replaced by someone who believes (or at least spouts) the free-market-fundamentalist orthodoxy that people expect from the WSJ editorial page?

Yeah, I'd be troubled. It would be a journalistic outrage. It's also, if the publisher has half a brain, very unlikely to happen. You get to hire editorial-writers you think will stick pretty closely to the orthodoxy of the paper (if that's all you want). You don't get to sack them or force them to do it if they don't.

Excuse my ignorance then, but what does an editorial board do? More specifically, what does an editorial board do for a paper that can't be done by its opinion columnists? If the editorial board doesn't represent the owners of the paper, who do they represent? If they represent only themselves, how come they don't just write bylined columns?

Perhaps she was too serious about the issues. Follow the link below to see what too many Americans really want:


http://www.theonion.com/content/video/poll_bullshit_is_most_important?utm_source=EMTF_Onion

Publishers in the end control everything in the paper, and for editorials they do help steer. But that's very different from rewriting editorials while leaving out the head of the editorial page.

I do agree that editorial pages (and op-eds) are basically worthless. But that's a separate issue.

Is she more upset about the rewrites or that the endorsements "were rewritten by white men." If the former, why even bring up the latter?

Going back to my days as a reporter, and then editor.

The editors are the "mind" of the paper. The reporters are the heart. They combine to give it soul.

The editorials are unsigned because they represent the collective opinion of the staff (and there was a cumbersome, process at my paper for getting editorials written). No, the staff is rarely unanimous about the more potent topics, but a good paper strives to keep those to a minimum, and to arrange for the staff to express themselves (if we had a strong enough staff opinion, we'd remove it from editorial. It might become a pro/con piece, or a simple column, instead).

The publisher owns the paper, yes, but the paper (because, in no small part of the special place in law the press has) is also something of a public trust.

The normal practice for a publisher who wants to express a personal opinion, is to have a column, on the opinion pages, under their own name.

Had the publisher at my paper stepped in to change an editorial, the EIC, and myself (as managing editor) would have stepped down. The Opinion Editor probably would have as well. It's been too long for me to say anything about the rest. Sports probably would have stayed.

Stepping in like that is lying to the public. It tells them the paper has an opinion which isn't truly the papers.

There you have it.

The precise expression of the situation in a classic newsroom arrangement.

That this was so unknown, and even a bit controversial, is sad commentary.

But tomato is another Dayglo.

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