By the time readers of the New York Times met Van Jones, the Obama administration’s so-called green-jobs czar, he had become the Obama administration’s former so-called green-jobs czar. Jones’s departure came over Labor Day weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The Times managed to squeeze into Sunday’s paper 71 words of an Associated Press dispatch about Jones’s resignation. The next day, the Times published a full story on his rise and fall:
Jones…signed a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.
He also used a vulgarity to refer to Republicans just before being appointed to his White House post early this year, and he has publicly supported Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer….
Chief among those keeping the story alive was Glenn Beck, the conservative host of a Fox News Channel program. Mr. Beck began criticizing Mr. Jones in July, first in segments on his syndicated talk radio show and then, on July 23, on his Fox News program.
The Times was rather coy in describing Jones’s offenses. It would have been more precise to say the petition he signed supported the notion that the Bush administration had “allowed the terrorist attacks to occur.” As for that “vulgarity,” it is unprintable here as well, but it was an eight-letter plural noun wittily defined by the news site Lucianne.com as meaning “proctological apertures.”
Later that week, the Times website published a “Talk to the Times” feature in which the paper’s managing editor, Jill Abramson, answered questions from readers. At least six of them asked, as one put it, “Why did it take so long to find a story about the Van Jones controversy in the NY Times?” Abramson answered:
The Caucus, our popular politics blog, first mentioned the Van Jones controversy on Saturday, Sept. 5. It was the second item on the blog….
The blog item itself referred to criticisim [sic] of the mainstream media for ignoring the story, which had been discussed on talk radio, Fox News and other venues.
The Times was, in fact, a beat behind on this story.
Why? One reason was that our Washington bureau was somewhat short-staffed during the height of the pre-Labor Day vacation period. This is not an excuse. Another is that despite being a so-called “czar,” Mr. Jones was not a high-ranking official. Nevertheless, we should have been paying closer attention.
We did cover Mr. Jones’s resignation on Page One on Sept. 7.
Abramson seemed to be saying that if you want to get the news ahead of the Times, you’re better off watching Fox News Channel. At the end of the week, Fox delivered on Abramson’s promise by scooping the Times again. In the early evening of Friday, September 11, the network sent an e-mail alert: “Census Bureau severs all ties with ACORN after hidden-camera videos expose 4 of group’s workers advising ‘pimp,’ ‘prostitute’ on subverting the law.” The Obama administration had signed ACORN up to “partner” with the bureau as “advocates for census cooperation and participation.”
Again, readers of the next day’s Times got only a short (225-word) report from the AP, which began: “The Census Bureau on Friday severed its ties with ACORN, a community organization that Republicans have accused of voter-registration fraud.” It made no mention of the hidden-camera sting. This time there was no follow-up story the next day.
The original AP dispatch, filed contemporaneously with the Fox alert, was twice as long. Among the material the Times cut was this:
ACORN fired two employees who were seen on hidden-camera video giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman who pretended to be a prostitute. Fox News Channel broadcast excerpts from the video on Thursday. On the video, a man and woman visiting ACORN’s Baltimore office asked about buying a house and how to account on tax forms for the woman’s income. An ACORN employee advised the woman to list her occupation as “performance artist.”
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