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Watching the Watcher

An open letter to Daniel Okrent, the New York Times’ public editor.


Dear Mr. Okrent:

Now that you’re three columns into your eighteen-month tenure as New York Times ombudsman–hall monitor, I want to congratulate you on your successful debut. I do, however, have a few comments and questions.

1. Your use of pithy aphorisms (“when man bites dog, you talk to the dog”) and folksy similes (“a relic no more vital than the hardened city editor of long ago, green eyeshade on his brow and Lucky Strike hanging from his lip”) is a bit distracting. But as they say, when ideas fail, words come in very handy. (That was a pithy aphorism. Goethe, I think.)

2. In reference to a December 21 front-page story by Katharine Q. Seelye and Janet Elder headlined STRONG SUPPORT IS FOUND FOR BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE, you write, “I’m . . . puzzled by the notion that a poll conducted by the Times is front-page material.” So were we, Mr. Okrent. But if we’re going to open that can of worms (folksy metaphor), I’d like to know why a story about families using Instant Messenger was page-one material on Saturday, January 3. I have my own theory about the randomness of such “human interest” stories, but the incriminating dartboard has yet to be uncovered in Bill Keller’s office.

3. Re your argument that the George W. Bush quote in Seelye’s story (“I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that”) should have included the qualifier “if necessary,” I feel obligated to confess, that I, too, have elided a quote and may have distorted its meaning. Above, I repeated your line about the Times poll mostly verbatim but left out the “still” between the “I’m” and the “puzzled.” The quality of the A1 stories has obviously been bothering you for some time. So has it us, Mr. Okrent.
Best regards,
Your reading audience


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