Patterico's Pontifications


Strawman of the Day

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:51 pm

The Strawman of the Day comes from New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt:

The Times was immediately accused — in The New York Post and the conservative blogosphere, and by hundreds of messages to the public editor — of portraying all veterans as unstable killers. It did not.

Here is the New York Post article in question. It doesn’t accuse the Times of portraying “all veterans” as unstable killers.* Rather, it focuses on the poor statistics of the NYT article — the same issue that the conservative blogosphere emphasized, and that Hoyt eventually admits is the article’s major weakness.

Hoyt’s piece is written in the fashion that readers have become accustomed to: mischaracterizing critics’ points early in the column, while burying admissions of error somewhere near the end.

Newspapers should figure out how to give these ombudsmen real independence, or scrap the whole concept. Phony representation of readers’ views is worse than no representation at all.

*Only a highly tendentious reading of an isolated sentence taken out of context could possibly justify such a mischaracterization. The piece acknowledges that the Times pointed to 121 cases — which hardly amounts to “all veterans.”

15 Responses to “Strawman of the Day”

  1. Now, now, oh esteemed one.
    You know these “readers representatives” lead a strenuous life battling the hordes of unfeeling reporters and editors, demanding that they acknowledge the needs, and viewpoints, of the readership that supports them.

    Actually, the “readers’ rep/ombudsman” scheme is just a PR fraud. They (editors & publishers) have no intention of ever acquiescing to, or acknowledging, the viewpoint of the readership; which in their minds, are just a bunch of boobs that must be lead to enlightenment.

    Your experience might differ, but you don’t write about it that way (or I don’t read it that way).

    Another Drew (8018ee)

  2. This is damn offensive stuff.

    Of course they were just suggesting that vets were more likely to be crazed killers. No one in her wildest dreams would take the interpretation this reader’s rep defends against.

    Do they think I’m stupid? This is actually worse than the original story. I can understand believing the idea that vets have problems, and just being too lazy to do the math and realize vets are pretty awesome. But this interpretation is obviously meant to hide the truth. It is the most cynical and disgusting form of propaganda.

    The NYT ran that story about the woman soldier who was raped in Iraq. Front page. She had never been in Iraq and was mentally ill. There was another story, I believe in the WAPO, about military suicide rates skyrocketing, even though the number in question was tiny and obviously subject to fluctuation and also far lower than civilian suicide rates. The press runs these stories all the time, and I wan to believe it’s just because they are lazy and stupid and biased. But it’s more than that. The troops cannot be forgiven for winning in Iraq.

    Jem (9e390b)

  3. Yes they do think you are stupid! Probably based on the fact that most of the words they use can’t be understood by half of the public anyway, and the word context is way out there.

    All papers today should add to their title, EDITORIAL content only, front to back.

    Strawman is way too stiff a title though. Percieved as weak but straw is far from weak. (ask anybody that runs rubber wheels through it). No not straw, but maybe jelloman might be more appropriate.

    TC (1cf350)

  4. From the link:
    It is an important and tragic subject to which an investigative team has devoted more than eight months of reporting…

    In eight months this crack team of professional journalists could not find the statistical logic flaws that bloggers found in less than one hour!!!
    Yep, journalists are mighty keen thinkers.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  5. The journalists most responsible for the series — reporters Lizette Alvarez and Deborah Sontag and their editor, Matthew Purdy — argued against trying to make a comparison to civilian homicide rates. The military does not accept people with mental problems or records of serious crimes — the likeliest killers in the civilian population — so its rate is likely to be lower and the comparison irrelevant.

    It creates them, though!

    I spit on Hoyt, Purdy, Alvarez, Sontag…and while I’m at it, Keller and Sulzberger.

    Pablo (99243e)

  6. It’s pretty simple he wants to keep his job. The last Public Editor got uppity and wrote a couple of critical columns and he was gone. I’m sure he was chosen by Keller and Salzberger specifically because he wouldn’t rock the boat and would do as told.

    airedale (925226)

  7. argued against trying to make a comparison to civilian homicide rates

    How can we determine whether the rates of murders done by veterans (or any series of events “X”) is something to be alarmed about if there’s nothing to compare it to?

    If we have no yardstick or guide to use, what use is a raw statistic or number?

    It seems to me that in 8 months, the reporters could crunch the numbers to give us some sort of backdrop or measure as a base.


    This was a poorly edited and thought out piece.

    SteveMG (fedc2b)

  8. Now, I’m sure the job of Ombudsman is a thankless job, where pretty much no one is happy with your answers.

    Mind you, that seems to be because the answers suck.

    I’ve always been more than a little suspicious of the concept of an employee who’s supposed to represent someone else’s interests.

    Wasn’t there, in some mythical Time Before Time, supposed to be a principle where different new organizations kept each other in line through competition? Or did I dream it?

    Merovign (4744a2)

  9. Re: Pablo’s #5:

    The reporters could have provided a comparison of civilian-military homicide statistics along with a sentence explaining why they thought it was not a good comparison, but now it’s clear they deliberately refused to provide the civilian statistics. The first option lets the readers decide if the comparison is meaningful, while the second makes it likely most readers won’t even think about the comparison.

    That speaks volumes about the New York Times’ agenda.

    DRJ (517d26)

  10. If it were not for, I would not be reading the NYT. I do not appreciate yellow journalism.

    Any way of getting the NYT off of Realclearpolitics? Then, maybe they would go out of business…

    Bill Sanford (eac2ce)

  11. The ombudsman is not really there to handle complaints. He is there to show the faithful that the paper is practically faultless. As such, he is doing a great job.

    Amphipolis (e6b868)

  12. The best example of an ombudsman for a paper was Pat Riley for the OC(Santa Ana, CA)Register during the 90’s.

    I caught a reporter lying about him laughing along with Willie Brown after Willie made a racist joke during a press conference. The reporter denyied it to the Riley, and Riley reported it in his column. Then, KOGO in San Diego played an audio clip of Brown making the joke and everyone laughing at it. I pointed this out to Riley. Riley must have contacted KOGO because he retracted his report from the reporter and chastised that reporter for lying to him. Riley published this in his column.

    Any more Pat Rileys out there?

    PCD (c378fd)

  13. Maybe this policy of publishing corrections that themselves will require corrections is his approach to job security. Not that they’ll actually run out of errors anytime soon, but it’s always good to hedge your bets.

    PCachu (e072b7)

  14. Come now. There was no way the NYT could defend it’s choosing not to use the civilian murder rate. If you avoid the street level drug trade, the odds of you being a murder victim are dramatically reduced. The other big driver is unstable romantic partners. Crazy knows no color, but the street drug trade is typically controlled by racial minorities.

    So the authors have to say that minorities are more likely to be the perpetrators of violence, and then argue that the military is too white and too sane to compare to the larger population. Exactly how many preconceived story lines would this assertion contradict at the NYT?

    Joe (d09918)

  15. Hoyt is the worst ombudsman I’ve seen at any media outlet. He’s just a complete shill. I wonder if he even knows it, though.

    Ironically, I think the best ombudsman out there is Le Anne Schreiber with It’s good that she’s there, but there are so many outlets that cover more weighty issues that could use an ombudsman with her toughness and honesty.

    T-web (ac713a)

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