New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson defended what many saw as an attack on a rival publication on Saturday, calling her own public editor Margaret Sullivan’s criticism of the piece “wrong.”
Sullivan harshly criticized NYT’s article about an Al Qaeda plot leak. The article blamed McClatchy Newspapers for undermining U.S. intelligence efforts by publishing information (the names of two Al Qaeda operatives) the government asked NYT to withhold in its own story. Sullivan called the article’s headline “unacceptable” and the article itself “questionable.”
“I think she was wrong,” Abramson said of Sullivan’s assessment.
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“I think that the story we ran Monday had proper skeptical notes,” she said. “I don’t know that [McClatchy was] wrong to publish. What I was told was they had obtained information in Yemen and they had not gone to the government for comment. I don’t know whether that’s true or not.”
Abramson was speaking with media critic Ken Auletta at the annual New Yorker Festival. Though she had plenty of criticism to dish out to the way other publications had covered events, she was cagier when it came to criticizing her own outlet, often demurring rather than responding to direct questions about how NYT covers elections (asking “can I go home now?” instead) or any stories it’s gotten wrong in the last two years (Abramson answered instead that 2003’s Iraq War coverage was problematic. She was not the executive editor of the paper at the time, but its Washington bureau chief).
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Asked why NYT didn’t publish the names of Al Qaeda operatives initially in its story, as McClatchy had, Abramson said government officials told NYT it would have “blood on [its] hands.”
Also in the interview, Abramson made note of NYT’s publishing of the Pentagon papers, and how, in 1971 when those papers were made public by the NYT through a government leak, officials warned NYT not to publish them because, those officials said, it would cause “very very grave harm to the national security.”
Abramson said those warnings later proved to be unfounded.