In Reporting on Jacko Estate Fight, New York Times Says It's Sorry for Doing What It Always Does
This editors' note appeared in yesterday's New York Times:
An article on Aug. 4 about a judge’s ruling granting permanent custody of Michael Jackson’s three children to his mother, Katherine Jackson, and an editors’ note last Thursday, said that lawyers for Mrs. Jackson were considering challenging the two executors of Mr. Jackson’s will on the grounds that they allegedly took advantage of addictions that incapacitated him and impaired his judgment. That allegation was attributed to “people close to the Jackson family who asked not to be named,” and in later copies of the newspaper the original article reported that a spokesman for the executors denied it. Times editors should not have published the anonymously made accusation, unsupported in the article by any evidence or publicly available corroboration — with or without a denial.
So, first we have an editors' note that is, in part, about another editors' note on Aug. 6, which admonished those who worked on the story by saying "The article should have noted that the reporter sought a response from the executors, but that a spokesman declined to speak on the record."
But now the editors apparently feel they didn't go far enough in flagellating the copy desk when it said "Times editors should not have published the anonymously made accusation, unsupported in the article by any evidence or publicly available corroboration — with or without a denial."
What they don't explain is why that anonymous sourcing is more problematic than any other no-name attribution that peppers the Times' pages. The note reads like a pre-emptive strike against a possible lawsuit, however flimsy its foundation would have been.
Then again, if the "people close to the Jackson family" are really not that close, or don't have access to the right information, then your sourcing could give you a case of the heebie-jeebies.
There are too many people wanting to lay claim to even a sliver of the Jackson legacy, and they're stuck in a petri dish where innuendo, rumors and distortions can thrive.
Being first with a story is nice. But being right is a whole lot better. The Times is apparently convinced it wasn't right.