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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/27/14

Failure of The New York Times to Respond to Complaints

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Message Dennie Williams
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As an experienced investigative news reporter for over five decades, it is my experience that the New York Times' editors mostly fail to respond or answer to serious news complaints I file.

These problems continue into the present.

Over several years, I have written a umber of serious complaints to either the letters to the editor, the Public Editor, the editorial page editor or others. Some have been simultaneously addressed to all potentially concerned editors. None of my emailed commentaries have ever been satisfactorily answered. So how many other readers have encountered similar lack of attention to their own letters commenting on their concerns about Times' coverage?

Here are just some examples.

One of my complaints involved the failure of the paper to properly report background for major news story. Two others dealt with The Times' publishing of what I believe are two inappropriate page one photos.

The Times definitely missed a crucial perspective on the background of Pope Benedict, when he suddenly and surprisingly resigned in February 2013. It was called by some, said The Times, "one of the most dramatic acts in the history of the papacy."

In fact, in two Times articles on the subject soon after the shocking resignation, the paper failed to report crucial background on Pope Benedict's critical discretionary rulings both before he was pope and afterward. They certainly could have helped impact the overall reasoning for his resignation.

Before he became pope, Benedict, then Father Joseph Ratzinger, was responsible for a pivotal investigation into repetitious sexual assaults of children and others by a powerful Mexican priest, Father Marcial Marceil, founder of the influential Legion of Christ. Ratzinger had earlier defrocked many priests who abused youngsters, according to a detailed book account by Gerald Renner and Jason Berry.

After a brief inquiry, Ratzinger did nothing, despite nine legionnaires complaints about Marcials' sexual conduct. Afterwards in 2005 when he beame pope, Benedict was once again, faced with ruling on those very same issues, but again failed to act right away. Many months later in 2006, he finally banned Father Marcial from the active ministry without specifying why.

This missing Times' news information on Benedict's background was obvious, relevant to inquiries into ongoing and developing news about the church's hierarchy's failures to deal with sexual assaults by priests and their superiors. Yet, it was no where to be seen within the over all story written right after Benedict's resignation, February 1, 2013, and another six days later. That latter story was headlined "When a Pope Retires Is He still Infallible?" In allegedly answering that question, the article mentioned nothing about the pope's inadequate dealings with Marcial's church sex scandals.

Later in time, the page one Times' photos too revealed a editors' lack of sensitivity toward the readers.

A page one Times' photo November 26, 2013 included an unidentified 28-year-old Tel Aviv woman's middle body photo showing her breast nipple partially exposed, a stitched cut above it and a Star of David tattoo on her shoulder. In that case, Public Editor Margaret Sullivan wrote about the readers' and others' various complaints about such a questionable photo the next day in her column. But, essentially Sullivan concluded with answers from Michele McNally, assistant managing editor in charge of photography. She essentially gave an extended defense of that very photo in concluding Sullivan's column. My letter of complaint to Times' editors about that photo's unnecessary nipple nudity was never answered or published.

The other Times page one photo just appeared Saturday, July 19. It shows a nude victim's legs and blurred body from the Malaysian Airlines shot down jet in Eastern Ukraine. The body, partially buries in dirt and brush, was covered by a stray piece of dirty plastic sheeting with a red flower hanging down over the deceased. Interestingly, one observer assigned by CNN to view and photograph the scene of the crash said he was not going to televise any of the bodies due to sensitivity toward the victims' families. The covered bodies, as they were removed to a train, were televised.

It's hard to image the potential emotional reaction to the page one Times' nude dead body photo by anyone sensitive to the deaths of men, women and children on that shot down Malaysian flight. And, what about the possible reactions of the victims' relatives if they too viewed the photo? The Times' editors could have answered this after I sent my emails, but didn't.

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Thomas D. Williams, a freelance writer, worked at The Hartford Courant for almost 40 years before retiring in November 2005 to become an investigative freelancer on Internet news sites. He has written a unique nature book, The Spirits of Birds, (more...)
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