BOB GARFIELD: In the past several months the New York Times has run more than three dozen articles and several editorials about sex discrimination at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament. Two pieces that have not run were columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton, each in its way quibbling with the Times' editorial stance that super star golfer Tiger Woods should boycott Augusta until women are admitted as members. Those columns were spiked by management because, according to a memo by managing editor Gerald Boyd, Araton's column was insufficiently logical, and Anderson's a case of intramural quarreling. But the stifling of dissenting voices has created an uproar of criticism including that of our next guest, Alex Jones. He is director of the Jones-Shorenstein Center for Media Studies at Harvard University, a former Times reporter and the founding host of this show. Alex, welcome back to OTM.
ALEX JONES: Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Before I ask you to unload on the Times for me, would you play devil's advocate and tell me why there are times when a newspaper can legitimately limit the amount of debate on a given subject?
ALEX JONES: Well I think that there are always good reasons for not putting something in a newspaper. I mean there are reasons of taste; there are reasons of vulgarity; there's reasons of dishonesty -- or of just incompetence and lack of, of making your case persuasively with the information that supports what you're asserting. I mean I believe in editing! Believe me, I do.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay, so what about the situation at the Times? Just good editing?
ALEX JONES:Well, you know, I mean the thing is this: the way it was explained to me by people at the Times was that, that these were not censured because of the perspective that they held but because of the way they were executed. That's, you know, that's up to them. But I think that it's a hard sell, because the appearance -- it's very much like the case of the conflict of interest policy at the New York Times. I was at the New York Times for nine years, and they had a very good and sophisticated policy about conflict of interest which said that it was not enough that there was no conflict of interest; there could not be the appearance of a conflict of interest. And I think this sort of falls into the appearance of censorship whether it is or not, and that I think is something that a news organization like the Times should stand against under all circumstances, and certainly not want to be perceived that way.
BOB GARFIELD:In the Washington Post piece you also acknowledged that it has long been at least unwritten policy at the Times for columnists not to quibble with the paper's stated editorial position.
ALEX JONES: Well it's more complicated than that. It's not so much quibbling with the editorial position as attacking the Times or attacking their colleagues at the Times or the Times's coverage. I mean I think that the New York Times' policy was born when Bill Safire came there. Now Bill Safire was, was hired as a columnist on the op-ed page because he did not agree with the editorial policies of the New York Times! And that's expected, and that was wanted. But what he was told he could not do was to attack the New York Times directly or his colleagues. He'd started doing something like that, and he stopped. But it was mostly on the basis of civility and collegiality that that was there; not because of the ideas and the positions he took.
BOB GARFIELD:Do you believe that this controversy about the spiking of this column would have been the big deal that it has become had not the New York Times written so many stories in its news pages and editorialized so passionately on this subject?
ALEX JONES: I think that for the New York Times to spike a column on the basis of a conflict with Times' editorial policy would have probably been a story regardless. I think for instance it could have been on any number of other issues that the Times has been strong about -- on, you know, in terms of-- of its coverage. But I, you know, I, I take your point that the fact that this is a very important story to the New York Times and that the columns that were spiked seemed to be in defiance of that, you know, that, that slant in the sort of sympathies of the New York Times has made this something that has gotten a lot of attention! Yes.
BOB GARFIELD: You talked about appearance of conflict, and the question is here -- is this a case of we are on a crusade and in--
ALEX JONES: Well--
BOB GARFIELD: --during the course of this crusade we will brook no dissent? From within.
ALEX JONES:Well that is - the Times, the Times says not. I've worked with those people a long time. I think that this was a mistake in judgment, but I do not think, if you're suggesting, that there is a - a, a party line at the New York Times and that no dissent will be, you know, will be tolerated in its news columns, I reject that idea. I think this was a mistake. I think it was a bad call, a mistake in judgment. But I do not accept the idea that the news coverage at the New York Times is cooked. I just don't look at it that way and don't believe it.
BOB GARFIELD: No smoking gun.
ALEX JONES: Not as far as I'm concerned. A mistake though, and one that's getting a lot of attention, and I think that's not a bad thing.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Alex. Well, thank you very much.
ALEX JONES: Okay. Thank you, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Alex Jones is the director of the Jones-Shorenstein Center for Media Studies at Harvard University.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Coming up, a CNN producer scrutinizes his cinematic self in Live from Baghdad and why Michael Moore's anti-gun documentary is so off-target.