Posted April 1, 2008 – When The New York Times got word a letter from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright blasting one of their reporters got out, they quickly attempted to set the record straight.
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Last week, BET.com posted a letter that Rev. Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, sent to the paper almost a year ago, lighting up The Times journalist for focusing on him supposedly being “disinvited” to the event where Obama announced his presidency instead of highlighting the positive role he’d played in Obama’s life. He went on to say the reporter lied to his face, and called the paper’s editor a “sensationalist.”
The New York Times recently decided to circulate its own letter, defending the paper, the article and the journalist in question, Jodi Kantor.
In the letter (complete with article links) written by Richard Stevenson, a political editor at the paper, he combats claims that Kantor lied or misrepresented herself in her dealings with Rev. Wright. In fact, Kantor, he writes, even made attempts to reach out to Rev. Wright after receiving his fiery letter, to no avail.
Go to the next page to read The Times full response to his letter (written to time.com).
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I see that you have posted Rev. Wright’s letter of a year ago to Jodi Kantor of The New York Times.
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At The Times, we generally choose to let our work speak for itself. But in this case, I’d like to add some facts to ensure that Mr. Wright’s complaints are placed in their proper context and that the dissemination of his letter now does not unfairly impugn Ms. Kantor’s work or undermine public confidence in our standards and practices.
In early March 2007, Ms. Kantor interviewed Mr. Wright, then senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, for a story about Senator Obama’s religious evolution.
During the lengthy interview, Mr. Wright told Ms. Kantor that Mr. Obama, on the night before the formal declaration of his presidential candidacy several weeks earlier, had canceled an invitation for Mr. Wright to speak at the event. Since Mr. Obama’s decision to disinvite Mr. Wright was clearly news – and because word of it was beginning to get around – we decided to publish a news story (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/06/us/politics/06obama.html)
about it right away. Ms. Kantor called Mr. Wright back and spoke to him to fact check the article before it was published.
Mr. Wright wrote his letter to Ms. Kantor several days later. He did not respond to subsequent attempts by Ms. Kantor to reach him. The following month, when the reporting and editing on it was complete, we published a much longer story about Senator Obama’s faith, including a full account of Mr. Wright’s influence on him, incorporating considerable material from the interview.
Ms. Kantor conducted herself professionally and honestly throughout her dealings with Mr. Wright. She did what any journalist would do: She brought the news he conveyed during the interview to the attention of her editors, including me. We decided to do what a newspaper does: to present that news to our readers, accurately, fairly and as quickly as possible. Ms. Kantor in no way misrepresented the nature or purpose of the interview; as soon as it was ready for publication, we published exactly the longer story we told Mr. Wright we were working on and that he referred to in his letter.
Putting aside the question of why a letter that is more than a year old is suddenly getting new circulation, it is worth noting that at no time has Mr. Wright challenged the accuracy of either story written by Ms. Kantor – both of which, given the events of the last several weeks, seem remarkably prescient about the potential political peril in the Obama-Wright relationship.
Richard W. Stevenson
The New York Times