Considering the NYT’s is home to Paul Krugman, who was one of the quickest and most insistent to blame Palin, Beck and the rest of the right for a mentally ill man deciding to use violence, this is a half-assed apology/excuse at best.
Time, the Enemy — NY Times
. . . The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.
C. Wenk, a reader in Alexandria, Va., criticized “an egregious rush to judgment in the Times coverage of the Arizona shooting, specifically aimed at linking the shooting to various conservative or Republican political rhetoric.”
A second reader, Kevin O’Donnell of Greenbrae, Calif., saw it as a case of The Times jumping too quickly: “I understand the larger point about coarse speech raising the potential for violence. By offering that debate within hours of events, doesn’t The Times risk starting at the conclusion end of the argument?”
The Times had a lot of company, as news organizations, commentators and political figures shouldered into an unruly scrum battling over whether the political environment was to blame. Meanwhile, opportunities were missed to pick up on evidence — quite apparent as early as that first day — that Jared Lee Loughner, who is charged with the shootings, had a mental disorder and might not have been motivated by politics at all.
So why does a story get framed this way? Journalism educators characterize this kind of framing as a storytelling habit — one of relating new facts to an existing storyline — and also as a reflex of news organizations that are built to handle some topics well, and others less well.
Jerry Ceppos, dean of the journalism school at the University of Nevada, Reno, said journalists’ impulse to quickly impose a frame on a story is “genetic.”
“Journalists developed automatic framing protocols generations ago because of the need to report quickly,” he said. “Today’s hyper-deadlines, requiring journalists to report all day long and all night long, made that genetic disposition even more dominant.”
To be fair, there were some good reasons to steer the coverage initially in this direction. As Rick Berke, the national editor, said: “Our coverage early on was broad and touched everything from the possible shooter to the victims to the reaction to, yes, the political climate in Arizona. By our count, there were 49 stories in the paper the first six days after the tragedy, of which only 14 were political in nature. But it would be ridiculous for us to neglect that. After all, a politician was shot in the head while meeting with constituents. That same lawmaker had her office vandalized during an especially rancorous campaign. And after the shooting the sheriff called his state the capital of hatred and bigotry.”
Still, I think the intense focus on political conflict — not just by The Times — detracted from what has emerged as the salient story line, that of a mentally ill individual with lawful access to a gun.