The New York Times’ credibility takes another blow

The new New York Times public editor has already stepped in it, it would seem. From Margaret Sullivan’s column yesterday:

Readers are quick to cite examples. Several who wrote to me thought there was an element of false balance in a recent front-page article in The Times on the legal battles over allegations of voter fraud and vote suppression — hot topics that may affect the presidential race.

In his article, which led last Monday’s paper, the national reporter Ethan Bronner made every effort to provide balance. Some readers say the piece, in so doing, wrongly suggested that there was enough voter fraud to justify strict voter identification requirements — rules that some Democrats believe amount to vote suppression. Ben Somberg of the Center for Progressive Reform said The Times itself had established in multiple stories that there was little evidence of voter fraud.

“I hope it’s not The Times’s policy to move this matter back into the ‘he said she said’ realm,” he wrote.

The national editor, Sam Sifton, rejected the argument. “There’s a lot of reasonable disagreement on both sides,” he said. One side says there’s not significant voter fraud; the other side says there’s not significant voter suppression.

“It’s not our job to litigate it in the paper,” Mr. Sifton said. “We need to state what each side says.”

Mr. Bronner agreed. “Both sides have become very angry and very suspicious about the other,” he said. “The purpose of this story was to step back and look at both sides, to lay it out.” While he agreed that there was “no known evidence of in-person voter fraud,” and that could have been included in this story, “I don’t think that’s the core issue here.”

It’s shocking to read a national reporter so casually dismiss the central point of his own article:

In the last few weeks, nearly a dozen decisions in federal and state courts on early voting, provisional ballots and voter identification requirements have driven the rules in conflicting directions, some favoring Republicans demanding that voters show more identification to guard against fraud and others backing Democrats who want to make voting as easy as possible.

The most closely watched cases — in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania — will see court arguments again this week, with the Ohio dispute possibly headed for a request for emergency review by the Supreme Court.

But this is the New York Times, after all. Even a column ostensibly criticizing the use of false equivalence manages to boldly reassert the practice by the bottom of the page.

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