Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

General Motors Complains About the New York Times

As I've said before, I am wondering if there will be a New York Times in twenty years. If they want to remain as gatekeepers, they have to start building a reputation as honest gatekeepers. It may well be too late:

FYI Blog: The Ban on 'Rubbish' in The New York Times: By Brian Akre: GM Corporate Communications

I've spent much of the past week trying to get a letter to the editor published in The New York Times in response to the recent Tom Friedman rant.... I failed.... Friedman spent 800 words on the Times op/ed page to accuse GM of supporting terrorists, buying votes in Congress and being a corporate "crack dealer" that posed a serious threat to America's future. He suggested the nation would be better off if Japan's Toyota took over GM. Mr. Friedman later acknowledged in television interviews that the column was a bit "over the top," but that he wanted to get our attention.

He got it.

Part of our response was to send a letter from my boss, Steve Harris.... You'd think it would be relatively easy to get a letter from a GM vice president published in the Times.... Just a matter of simple journalistic fairness, right? You'd also think that the newspaper's editing of letters would be minimal -- to fix grammar, remove any profane language, that sort of thing. Not so....

First, there's the word limit. Our first letter came in at 490 words... after the Times ran four letters in support of Friedman's column on Friday, June 2, totaling 480 words.

The Times told us it would "consider" our response only if it were limited to 175 words max.... I note that today's (June 8) Times has a 304-word letter from two Democratic senators, Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer). We countered by offering to cut our letter to 300 words. They offered to go up to 200 words. OK, we reluctantly concluded, 200 is better than nothing.

Then came the editing.

They removed our invitation to Mr. Friedman to come to Detroit to learn the facts.... They removed a sentence in which Steve said falsely accusing GM of "buying votes" in Congress was irresponsible.... Our letter opened with a paragraph that accurately summarized the most bizarre elements of Mr. Friedman's attack, then reacted with this one-word sentence: "Rubbish."...

The Times suggested "rubbish" be changed first to, "We beg to differ." We objected. The Times then suggested it be changed to, "Not so." We stood our ground. In the end, the Times refused to let us call the column "rubbish."

Why? "It's not the tone we use in Letters," wrote Mary Drohan, a letters editor.

What rubbish.

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