Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Being The New York Times Means Never Really Having To Say You're Sorry

Being A Noodge About Nudges
It's easy, often too easy, to take a slam at Geraldo Rivera. He practically begs you to roll your eyes when he straddles his high horse, be it drawing all-too-revealing maps in the desert sands of Iraq, or the toxic muck of New Orleans.
So there should be no reason to exaggerate when relating the latest episode of As Geraldo Turns, as Alessandra Stanley did in the Sept. 5 N.Y. Times when she wrote Rivera "nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety."
Rivera threatened to sue if he didn't get a correction, which finally arrived today in the form of an editors' note, which conceded "no nudge was visible in the broadcast."
But that admission, presumably from Executive Editor Bill Keller, came only after the note first proclaimed: "The editors understood the "nudge" comment as the television critic's figurative reference to Mr. Rivera's flamboyant intervention."
Exactly how is a nudge figurative? Either Rivera laid his hands on the rescue worker or he didn't. The once-Gray Lady seeks to create a gray area where none needed to exist. It was too tempting to pummel Rivera, so the nudge was a nudge, whether it was figurative or literal.
Keller's sort-of apology comes two days after Public Editor Barney Calame ripped him a new one for refusing to admit the paper was wrong in face of overwhelming evidence, namely the videotape in question.
Based on the videotape and outtakes I saw, Ms. Stanley certainly would have been entitled to opine that Mr. Rivera's actions were showboating or pushy. But a "nudge" is a fact, not an opinion. And even critics need to keep facts distinct from opinions.
Calame could barely contain his outrage over Keller's e-mail to him, which said as a critic, Stanley had "license" to label Rivera's showboating a "nudge."
I find it disturbing that any Times editor would come so close to implying - almost in a tit-for-tat sense - that Mr. Rivera's bad behavior essentially entitles the paper to rely on assumptions and refuse to correct an unsupported fact.

Exactly. Which demonstrates the level of conviction Keller wrote the editors' note. By dragging this out over three weeks, Keller, Stanley, et al., made this more than just a star reporter having a hissy fit. They even managed the impossible, having people who are not fans of Geraldo feeling sorry for him. And they didn't have to be nudged to feel that way.

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