In two previous entries, I posted an interview with L.A. Times Sunday Opinion editor Bob Sipchen. Part One is about the “Outside the Tent” feature. Part Two discusses objectivity and transparency in journalism.
I showed the interview to Sipchen before publishing it, to allow him the opportunity to object to any statements or quotations that he believed to be inaccurate. He indicated to me that he has no such objections, and that I “got it right.”
He did ask me to clarify two or three things, where he was afraid that people might get the wrong impression based on things he had said. Rather than try to summarize his clarifications, I’ll simply reproduce his entire e-mail below, in the extended entry portion of this post. (I encourage readers to read the interview before reading Sipchen’s reaction.)
I’m impressed. You got it right and I don’t seem to have said anything terribly stupid (although I’m sure your readers will disabuse me of that notion). Two small points.
1). Re: Dunphy. I didn’t mean to suggest that the conversation between the reporter and the author may not have occurred. It clearly did, and while I have no reason to doubt the author’s account of what was said, I can’t be put in a position of trying to judge whether his account is more accurate than the reporter’s or to sort out the myriad reasons (bite your tongue again, but they aren’t necessarily nefarious) why the well-respected and by all indications entirely honorable reporter chose what information to include in his report–or whether an assignment or copy editor may have deleted it for a million other reasons the author simply doesn’t know. Those are the kinds of tail-chasing “investigations” that could wipe out hours I don’t have as Sunday Opinion editor, and it’s hardly a task I’d want to delegate.
2). Re: That interesting little tangent on objectivity you lured me into: I don’t want to leave the impression that I disdain the views of someone just because she or he is a reporter (whether 28 years old or 68 years old). I spent most of my career as a reporter and hope to go back someday because I think it’s a far more important and difficult job than pontificating (or editing). The reporter’s job is to be fair while accurately and honestly reporting the facts and providing unbiased context. That’s a much tougher assignment that it might seem, for all variety of reasons–one of the least of which is that we all have biases. A good reporter has the discipline to filter out most personal bias. His or her editors then try to squeeze out any remaining slant or prejudice. It’s an imperfect science, but I think readers would grow weary quickly of the blather that would fill newspapers if reporters freely spiced their stories with whatever political, religious, philosophical, or culinary views they happen to hold that day. I teach journalism, and I can assure you that most of my young students know exactly what’s wrong with the world and how to save it. What they remain clueless about is how to report facts. They have to be taught the exhilarating skill of keeping an open mind while wrestling respectfully with other peoples’ views.
Oh, yeah. I only volunteered that I didn’t leak that to Kaus because you had a slightly accusatory tone in your voice when you brought it up (what do you do for a living again?). [For what it’s worth, I didn’t intend to sound accusatory. — Ed.] I never leak anything to anyone and speak only on the record in interviews.
I want to emphasize that I published this post at the same time that I posted the interview; it is only a separate post for space reasons.
Wouldn’t it be great if newspapers could provide full and instant feedback from the subjects of their articles, as I have done here? Don’t get me wrong: I understand why they can’t. Still, I think that seeing this e-mail gives you, the reader, a much greater degree of confidence in the accuracy of the interview than you would have without it. And to the extent that the subject of the interview feels the need to clarify a certain point, allowing him to do so at the same time that the interview runs is in the interest of accuracy, fairness, and the truth. And isn’t that what we’re all striving to achieve?