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Rick Berke Justifies the Times' Politicized Tucson Coverage

News editor Rick Berke defends the Times politicized coverage of the rampage in Tucson: "After all, a politician was shot in the head while meeting with constituents. That same lawmaker had her office vandalized during an especially rancorous campaign. And after the shooting the sheriff called his state the capital of hatred and bigotry." But the paper's Public Editor disagrees.
Times news editor Rick Berke appears in the latest column by Public Editor Arthur Brisbane, justifying the Times' initial politicized coverage of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and over a dozen other people in Tucson. Brisbane's criticism of his paper's reaction comes under the exculpatory headline "Time, the Enemy." (In other words, it's not all our fault.)

After giving the rundown on why the paper had briefly reported on its website that Giffords had died, Brisbane vouched for reader concerns that the paper's "strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation" right from the start "was problematic."

Brisbane elaborated with comments from editor Berke:

To be fair, there were some good reasons to steer the coverage initially in this direction. As Rick Berke, the national editor, said: "Our coverage early on was broad and touched everything from the possible shooter to the victims to the reaction to, yes, the political climate in Arizona. By our count, there were 49 stories in the paper the first six days after the tragedy, of which only 14 were political in nature. But it would be ridiculous for us to neglect that. After all, a politician was shot in the head while meeting with constituents. That same lawmaker had her office vandalized during an especially rancorous campaign. And after the shooting the sheriff called his state the capital of hatred and bigotry."

(Indeed, the paper celebrated Sheriff Dupnik's comments from the day of the shooting as having "capture[d] the mood of the day at an evening news conference," while leaving off his reference to his state having" become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Brisbane disagreed in the end:

Still, I think the intense focus on political conflict - not just by The Times - detracted from what has emerged as the salient story line, that of a mentally ill individual with lawful access to a gun.

Whether covering the basic facts of a breaking story or identifying more complex themes, the takeaway is that time is often the enemy. Sometimes the best weapon against it is to ignore it, and use a moment to consider the alternatives.