On Monday, the New York Times' public editor Arthur Brisbane got taken to the woodshed after criticizing his newspaper's aggressive coverage of other media companies. He said the Times looks like a "bully" when it dresses down the management at the Los Angeles Times or Gannett or News Corp. His launching off point was the L.A. Times' acceptance of two Pulitzer Prizes last week, which came three months after the Times published a critical take on the newspaper's decline. Brisbane suggests that the awards are evidence that the Times' thesis was wrong and that its writers should focus on more positive media news stories "which are at least as interesting as accounts of decline."
The suggestion that the Times play nice in its media coverage elicited an allergic reaction from media watchers, led by Slate's Jack Shafer who labels Brisbane a "muttonhead" with "stupid ideas:"
What would Brisbane prefer? That the Times view the Murdoch papers' conduct, the Gannett pay packages, and the frat-boy shenanigans at Tribune from the perspective of a guidance counselor? That the Times pussyfoot while composing its stories? Give me the bully treatment any day—even though I don't think any of the pieces cited by Brisbane comes remotely close to bullying. Or would Brisbane prefer that the Times recuse itself from covering all critical stories about the press and publish only positive ones?
The muckrakers at FishBowl agree with Shafer, saying "we sort of enjoy it when the newspaper goes on the offensive." Meanwhile, the New Republic's Isaac Chotiner focuses on Brisbane's reference to the Times story on the L.A. Times:
The problem with Brisbane's argument, at least on first glance, is that everything in the NYT story is true. Any Californian will tell you that the Los Angeles Times--despite some great reporting--is not the paper it was two or five or ten years ago. On closer glance, however, it is clear that Brisbane's real concern is not that the piece was inaccurate, but rather that it wasn't nice enough. He goes on to subtly scold David Carr for writing a critical column, but then he praises Carr for writing a column about a media success story in Minnesota.
Brisbane doesn't do himself any favors by ending the column with the Rodney King quote "Can we all get along?" Chotiner writes:
If you think the last line is a joke, read the column. Brisbane is perfectly serious. The man charged with critiquing The New York Times is most concerned with happy stories and people being nice to each other. Who knew that this was the definition of journalism?