New York Times Editor Apologizes For Criticizing Balanced Ferguson Reporting

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Alex Griswold Media Reporter
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The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan apologized Monday for her editorial last August, which criticized her own paper’s Ferguson reporting for including anonymous police sources saying that Michael Brown wasn’t shot with his hands up. (RELATED: New York Times Publishes MASSIVE Correction To Article Tying Anti-Vaxxers To Republicans)

In Sullivan’s initial op-ed, entitled “A Ferguson Story on ‘Conflicting Accounts Seems to Say ‘Trust Us,’” she criticized the New York Times’ “dubious equivalency” in including anonymous sources saying Brown was shot while running towards police officers along with witness accounts saying he was shot while surrendering. Sullivan would have preferred only the named witnesses– and therefore only the pro-Brown witnesses– be included in the story.

“The Times is asking readers to trust its sourcing, without nearly enough specificity or detail; and it sets up an apparently equal dichotomy between named eyewitnesses on one hand and ghosts on the other,” she wrote at the time.

Sullivan reached this conclusion, despite noting in the op-ed that her own deputy national editor James Dao disagreed. “In stories of this type, it’s rare and difficult to get on­-the-­record what investigators are learning,” he noted. (RELATED: A Dozen Parisians Dead: RADICAL MUSLIMS Hit Hardest, Says New York Times)

But after the release of a Department of Justice review, Sullivan apologized. “In the heat of a very hot news moment last summer, I criticized a Times story about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo,” Sullivan writes. “Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I want to acknowledge that I misjudged an important element of that story.”

“Now that the Justice Department has cleared [former Ferguson police officer Darren] Wilson in an 86-­page report that included the testimony of more than 40 witnesses, it’s obvious to me that it was important to get that side of the story into the paper…” she now admits. “In retrospect, it’s clear to me that including that information wasn’t false balance. It was an effort to get both sides.”

Sullivan is not the first major newspaper editor to apologize for their take on Ferguson. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart also apologized for the spreading the now-debunked “hands up, don’t shoot” meme.

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