Substantive tweaking

The New York Times got into hot water recently when its editors significantly changed the tone and theme of a piece published by one of its writers. The online article by Jennifer Steinhauer reported that Bernie Sanders has been an effective legislator by winning bipartisan support for amendments to major bills. In subsequent edits, the changed article  suggested that Sanders’s accomplishments were few and far between, hinting that he was not very effective at all.

Sanders’s supporters, of course, expressed outrage, accusing the paper of doing the bidding of Hillary Clinton. The paper’s public editor also took note, essentially siding with the objectors.

My take: The changes to this story were so substantive that a reader who saw the piece when it first went up might come away with a very different sense of Mr. Sanders’s legislative accomplishments than one who saw it hours later. (The Sanders campaign shared the initial story on social media; it’s hard to imagine it would have done that if the edited version had appeared first.)

Matt Taibbi, who writes for Rolling Stone, weighed in. He had previously tagged along with Sanders in Congress to observe how Sanders and others maneuver the congressional labyrinth. He says that Steinhauer’s story reflected his take on Sanders’s work in the Senate. Taibbi:

This stuff [the Times‘ editors changes] could have been written by the Clinton campaign. It’s stridently derisive, essentially saying there’s no evidence Bernie’s “small-ball” approach (I guess Republicans aren’t the only ones not above testicular innuendo) could ever succeed on the big stage.

The second paragraph just reeks of a passage written by an editor. It’s horrible English. Attention, New York Times: “A few stars here and there” is actually more than “the moon and a good part of the sun.”

There were other changes, as noted in the Medium piece. The salutary line about Sanders being an “effective, albeit modest legislator” – a key passage that in the original article directly contradicted the Clinton-camp contention that Sanders can’t “get things done” – is now followed by a sort of disclaimer:

“He has enacted his agenda piece by piece, in politically digestible chunks with few sweeping legislative achievements in a quarter-century in Congress.”

Right. He’s effective, except for the part where he hasn’t had any significant achievements in 25 years.

For shame.