Blogger Cheat Seeking Missiles didn't like a recent Times editorial about James Dobson and SpongeBob SquarePants, so he called to cancel his 25-year subscription. In the pitch to get him to reconsider, he writes, the person on the phone offered to let him keep getting Business, Calendar and Sports without receiving those pesky front news sections.
How often must the beleagured circulation department of the LATimes be dealing with calls like mine, for them to come up with a special like this? How many late-night workers do they employ to strip down opinion-sanitized versions of their paper in order to cling to a diminishing subscription base?
For another take on media bias, a long piece by Nicholas Lemann in this week's New Yorker (online for the week) talks about how newspaper editors are hearing more complaints, and from all sides of the political spectrum. But it doesn't always make sense. Chicago Tribune Editor Ann Marie Lipinski told of an especially maddening reaction to what the paper's editors thought was a straightforward photo of the Ronald Reagan funeral:
[It was] a large, ostentatiously grand, and dignified color photograph of President Reagan’s funeral service that the paper had run, showing President Bush speaking from the pulpit of the Washington National Cathedral to a big audience. She asked me if I could figure out what someone might find objectionable about it; I tried for a minute and gave up. “Think!” Lipinski said. “Keep trying. You’re not being paranoid enough here.”
I thought some more, and I still couldn’t figure it out. “So, Don Wycliff, our public editor”—whose job is to deal directly with reader complaints—“received five phone calls saying that the Arab sitting in the front row”—indeed, there was a man in a burnous visible in the audience—“is sitting with his legs crossed so that his foot is pointing at Bush, which is a sign of disrespect in the Middle East. These readers interpreted the photo to mean that the Tribune is anti-Bush. Do you know any editor who, upon seeing that picture, in a million years—I mean, look at that picture! There’s a sweep, a unity. It’s a newsworthy photo, and also beautiful. The notion that we’re sitting here looking for that kind of detail is so beyond any evil imagining of mine! I don’t want to suggest that’s the daily level of complaint, but not a week goes by that we don’t get something like that.”
The Tribune, incidentally, endorsed Bush's reelection.