What boundaries should columnists establish? That’s what the New York Times’ Arthur Brisbane wondered in his latest column as public editor.
Brisbane laid out the case of Times op-ed columnist Joe Nocera, who wrote a “blistering screed against Tea Party Republicans” that called the group “terrorists.” Nocera’s Aug. 1 column focused on what he called the Tea Party’s “jihad on the American people.”
But, Nocera later apologized for his column, which became one of the “most e-mailed” New York Tmes articles, after receiving “a wave of angry reader e-mails,” according to Brisbane. Complaints included those of Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin who blogged about Nocera’s original column that “There’s no denying the depths — and hypocrisy — to which the New York Times opinion section has sunk.”
In his Aug. 6 apology, Nocera wrote:
“The words I chose were intemperate and offensive to many, and I’ve been roundly criticized. I was a hypocrite, the critics said, for using such language when on other occasions I’ve called for a more civil politics. In the cool light of day, I agree with them. I apologize.”
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In closing, Nocera made a “promise” that he “won’t be calling anybody names.” That apology column also generated a large response from readers questioning the apology, according to Brisbane.
Brisbane noted that while Nocera admitted he thought he “stepped over the line” with his initial column, others, including New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, former Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll, and Arizona State University journalism professor Tim McGuire all agreed that Nocera didn’t have to apologize.
McGuire specifically commented that Nocera should “stick with” his original column.
For his part, Brisbane commented that Nocera’s “apology reflected well on him, and I believe, on the Times, too” because Nocera was making “a defining decision to elevate his writing in the future.”