Times Public Editor Suckered into Quoting Pro-Life Press Release

This evening, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan wondered in her "journal" (blog) whether the Times should have devoted more coverage to the annual "March for Life" in Washington D.C., happening this year for the 41st time. She quotes an email from one "Francis H. Hoffman":

Francis H. Hoffman wrote: "A handful of young people from Seattle who support their fired vice principal merits big coverage, but a massive pro-life march in a winter storm is all but ignored. And the motto of the New York Times is, "All the News That's Fit to Print." I guess pro-life news is not fit to print."

Not many people read both Sullivan's column and the all-too-frequent press-release email blasts from Catholic League president Bill Donohue. To those of us professionally obligated to do so, however, Hoffman's pithy email sounded familiar: It's lifted directly from the last paragraph of Donohue's latest email—the paragraph located directly above an exhortation to email Sullivan. (You can see the email here.)

It's not uncommon for pressure groups to provide form letters for their adherents to send en masse to editorial boards and politicians. Donohue's email, however, was not a form letter. It was a press release—sent from pr@catholicleague.org. Sullivan printed it, verbatim, and attributed it to the sender, and not the original author—a prominent right-wing Catholic ideologue and pundit.

"The lack of staff coverage" of the march, Sullivan concludes, "unfortunately gives fuel to those who accuse The Times of being anti-Catholic, and to those who charge that the paper's news coverage continually reflects a liberal bias." That may be the case. That the paper's public editor is unable to recognize the words from a Catholic League press release won't convince right-wing Catholics that the paper is in touch with their world, either. But in this case I think it'll matter less to them.