CURL: What has happened to the New York Times?

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What has happened to The New York Times?


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The Gray Lady, America’s Paper of Record, where readers turn to find “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” has gone off the deep end.

Last Friday, the paper published a huge story. “Christie Knew About Bridge Lane Closings, Port Authority Official Says,” the headline screamed.

Huge. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, during a two-hour press conference weeks ago, had repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing about lane closures on a bridge leading into New York City, after allegations emerged that the lanes were shut down to punish a mayor who failed to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Now, The Times said, it turned out “Christie Knew.” Huge.

“The Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge in the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said on Friday that the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening, and that he had the evidence to prove it,” read the lede of the blockbuster story.

The article went on to prove — nothing. No proof whatsoever of the “evidence” (which was highlighted by the weird wording “had the evidence” — does that mean he no longer “has” it?) Still, the claim was shocking. And it directly targeted a sitting U.S. governor, who just happens to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.

One might expect such a thin story from, say, the National Enquirer, but The New York Times? And one might wonder why the newspaper didn’t ask the very first question nearly anyone else would ask when presented with such a claim: “Uh, OK, you say you have evidence, can we see it?” Then, if said evidence didn’t pan out, it’d be Spike City for the big scoop.


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But no, The Times ran with the piece, which made the follow-on media follow on the story throughout the day. But few noticed the way the lede was changed — in less than 20 minutes.

In a write-through of the piece, the new lede said: “The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday that ‘evidence exists’ the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.”

“Evidence exists”? Where? Does anyone “have” it like, say, the reporter writing the story about its existence?

Meanwhile, the headline, once a killer with the declarative “Christie Knew,” also morphed into a watered-down weakling. “Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes.” “Linked to Knowledge”? A far cry from “Christie Knew.” And what does it even mean for someone to be “linked to knowledge”? Was President Richard Nixon “linked to knowledge” of the Watergate cover-up?

Don’t look in the article, it’s not there. The story no longer said a Port Authority official “had the evidence.” That was gone. The story simply said that the official claimed “evidence exists.” And the vaunted newspaper didn’t bother to ask him for the evidence? Hmm.

As questions began to emerge about the altered piece and headline, The Times was forced to put out a statement.

“Times metro editor Wendell Jamieson addressed the change in an email to HuffPost’s Michael Calderone: ‘We’ve made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more,’” the Huffington Post wrote.

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