Yet sometimes Times reporters--not columnists or editorialists, who are expected to issue conclusions--do set things straight. When the evidence is solid, they use unambiguous language like "stretching the truth" or "not very" accurate, as in the examples noted below.
Unfortunately, the "he said, she said" conventions of objectivity often leave reporters triangulating between two sides, assuming that the truth lies in between and treating provable statements as contentions or accusations.
The Times's 4/16/06 article about bloggers observed of the new AtlanticYards.com web site: "A day later, the site had already drawn jeers from at least two blogs." But I had not merely jeered at the site, I had fact-checked the site and found several errors. Later I found photos that lied.
Easily checkable truth-stretching
Forest City Ratner stretches the truth (to put it charitably) in several statements about the Atlantic Yards project, but the press has been reluctant to point that out. Here are a few examples:
--the claim of "over 18,000 jobs created" does not mean 18,000 people would get work or that the jobs would be new
--the use of a quote from the Daily News touting the project's potential for jobs doesn't acknowledge that it was written before office job projections were slashed by 75 percent
--the claim of $6 billion in revenues is a manipulation of statistics, a failure to acknowledge costs, and a huge overstatement of revenues
--a slideshow claiming to show current conditions of buildings in the project footprint includes photos that show buildings before renovation
--a flier falsely claimed that the project would be built "over the... train yard" even though the railyards would be 8.3 acres of a now 22-acre project
--a flier falsely claimed that a quote from then-New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp came from the newspaper itself, and the return address for the flier did not identify the sender but merely said "Atlantic Yards"
--the developer continues to locate the project in Downtown Brooklyn.
Some fact-checking rigor
In other cases, Times reporters have more diligently searched for the truth or, as Executive Editor Bill Keller would say, "give [readers] sufficient information to make up their own minds." A 4/18/06 Times article headlined Hints of Truth-Stretching in Weld-D'Amato Feud took statements by two politicians and checked them against documents and news accounts:
Last month, William F. Weld, a candidate for governor of New York, set state Republican politics astir by telling of an encounter with Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato that cast his fellow Republican in a bad light and offered an explanation for their simmering feud.
Mr. Weld said that in 1996, when he was governor of Massachusetts and running for the Senate, he received a $750,000 check from Mr. D'Amato that was delivered with an expletive-filled warning. Mr. D'Amato vigorously denied the encounter, calling it "a bunch of baloney" and asserting that he had never even spoken to Mr. Weld in person until this year.
But an examination of Federal Election Commission filings, other campaign finance records and news accounts suggests that both men, to some degree, were stretching the truth.
For one, there is no record to support Mr. Weld's claim that he received a $750,000 check from Mr. D'Amato, from his political action committee or from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Mr. D'Amato led during the 1995-96 election cycle. That committee and other Republican Party entities did directly contribute $802,907 to the Weld campaign and to the Massachusetts Republican Party in that cycle.
And Mr. D'Amato's claim that he had not even met Mr. Weld until this year appears to be contradicted by other accounts. Multiple news articles and interviews with two former Weld aides indicate that Mr. D'Amato and Mr. Weld were present at several large political events and fund-raisers in 1996, although there is no record that they conversed.
A 10/15/05 Times article under the category of "REALITY CHECK: Job Numbers" and headlined "Two Different Kinds of Math, and Two Spins on Unemployment," also teased out the truth, by checking with the author of a cited report:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's record on creating jobs for New Yorkers came under scrutiny this week as his Democratic challenger, Fernando Ferrer, once again accused him of ignoring the needs of poor and minority communities. At the heart of Mr. Ferrer's attack is his claim that 40 percent of the city's black men, and 33 percent of its Hispanic men, are unemployed.
Just how accurate are Mr. Ferrer's numbers? Not very.
Mr. Ferrer's aides said his unemployment figures were based on a report by the Community Service Society, a nonpartisan group that fights poverty. The report, released in February, is titled ''Unemployment and Joblessness in New York City, 2004: Better but Still a Long Way to Go.''
The author of that study, Mark Levitan, the group's senior policy analyst, said that he never made any such claim about minority joblessness being that high. ''My report definitely does not say the unemployment rate among blacks is 40 percent,'' Mr. Levitan said.
What it takes
Several of Forest City Ratner's deceptions would be checkable in seconds, thanks to the links posted above. All it takes is a willingness, rather than a reluctance, to set things straight.