Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Real Issue is Editorial Oversight of Benjamin

I got up this morning and read Eric Benjamin's latest little piece of sour grapes and the question is no longer what he thinks he's doing, nor even how truthful he is....those imponderables will have to wait...but who has editorial responsibility for what the "general manager" of the Times writes.

We have editors for good reasons and first among them is to uphold the standards and reputation of the profession. All other editorial functions serve that single goal. Journalists are supposed to carefully fact check what they write; they are supposed to report fairly and in context; and they are supposed to deal honestly with valid criticism of their work. Editors are there to make sure that they do. Checking grammer is a spare-time sideline.

There is no, and has been no, editor listed at the Times and it shows most clearly in Eric Benjamin's slide from a color commentator who concentrated mainly on stylistic games to a poor reporter who concentrates mostly on bile. The last two "editorials" from Benjamin have been exercises not in commentary and not even in journalism but rather in making the news. What these last two editorials boil down to factually are claims that have only been made to Eric Benjamin and that only he can confirm. As nearly as I can tell we have to take Eric's word on all of it... and his factual failures in the last "editorial" he wrote have been documented both here and in the mainstream media.

In light of those documented failures, a real editor, should such be available, would demand that Eric either demonstrate that his critics are wrong or retract his words. What would not be allowed under the guidance of any real editor is that he be allowed to cavalierly dismiss his critics by claiming that one of their criticisms is true but unimportant (the bus issue) and to misrepresent the meaning of another point while admitting its essential truth (the attorney general had not, in fact, gotten any "letter" from Fiber 411 folks when Eric Benjamin claimed they did -- oh, and the attorney general didn't treat it as worthy of investigation when he did, finally, receive a complaint).

I fully realize that professionals are touchy about being instructed on their professional duty by those outside their profession. What the Gannett papers must realize, and realize quickly, is two things: 1) that criticism from within the profession has already been leveled. The critique of the Times by the Independent is not a comptetitor's attack but a legitimate professional protest; and 2) citizens like myself will complain and complain loudly if they do not perform the professional oversight that tradition, self-interest, and community interest demands. Benjamin's antics and misuse of his column threaten the credibility of a free press and that is something all citizens have a legitimate interest in preventing.

Who exercises editorial oversight of Eric Benjamin?

That is the real question. I suggest we all begin to ask it. Repeatedly.

Who exercises editorial oversight of Eric Benjamin?

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