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In Sunday’s New York Times, rookie public editor Arthur Brisbane has his first opportunity to show readers what he’s made of by taking on a News Corp-sized, Rupert Murdoch-shaped complaint. The result is like that scene in the second Twilight where the innocent Jacob turns up in the rain with no shirt on, having all of a sudden gone through puberty and now he’s flexing and Bella’s weak in the knees and also wet, from the rain. And Rupert Murdoch is the vampire.
The issue at hand is whether or not the Sept. 5 Sunday Times Magazine story about the phone hacking of famous people and royals by The News of the World tabloid (Murdoch-owned) was really just a “thinly veiled attack on Mr. Murdoch,” who also owns the Times competitor the Wall Street Journal. Which, well, duh. If you can do great journalism — the kind that revs up parliamentary investigations and rearranges governments, as the phone hack story is doing — and piss on rivals in the process, then you’re golden. Brisbane is basically like, I’m not saying the Times absolutely killed it, but if I was going to say that, I’d also pump my fist while doing so.
In other words, if The Times’s article was a guided hit, it has landed with devastating accuracy and impact.
The other complaint, though, is that the Times</em> story is weak on sourcing, with a lot of anonymous players, “hearsay or supposition.” Times executive editor Bill Keller and Brisbane both see the Times story “on solid ground,” anonymity or not.
As for the business rivalry, Brisbane calls that ground more “squishy.” He convenes with some outside experts, because that’s his job, one of which praises the Times story outright. The other calls one paragraph or Murdoch piling on “gratuitous,” which is not bad in a story of 6,000 words. Brisbane admits:
Incorporating politics, and dressing the piece in a mock tabloid art treatment, leave room for some to perceive a hidden agenda, and perhaps even quiet glee.
Still, it’s a bit like he celebrated a touchdown with a little choreographed number and then felt bashful at how good his dancing was.