My first full-time job in journalism was on the copy desk at a daily in Champaign, Ill., so I have been on the other side the editing process. I would like to make three comments about the Dawn Eden affair, based on what we know so far. I have never met Dawn (the logo is from her blog) and I hope we can discuss this sooner, rather than later.
1. In the newspapers where I have worked, the changes she made would have been considered on the pushy side, but not fatal. They are right at the point where you should clear them with an editor, or the reporter, if you can. No way you get fired for this stuff. The blogging on company time issue is something else — a whole new source of tension between journalists and their bosses.
Of course, we are talking about abortion. There is a reason that almost all of the media-bias studies end up returning to questions about abortion coverage.
I could offer loads of case studies here. I once had the end cut off a story — I turned it in short, so a trim would not be needed — because the final quote was from a priest active in AIDS ministry. That was fine, but he linked his stand on that issue with his high-profile work as pro-life activist. This was a consistent, culture-of-life priest who was taking a controversial stand on two issues that he believed were connected by an ethic of life.
I warned the city editor at the Rocky Mountain News that someone in the editing process would be offended and try to cut that final quote. He said I was being paranoid. Then someone cut it off, without putting their initials on the page as required. Nothing was said, except that the city editor knew I had predicted it. That made him more sensitive to the issue.
2. During my religion-beat reporting days, I had copy editors add all kinds of things to my stories — often thinking they were correcting something. More than once, they edited in errors.
Here is an example. In a very sensitive story on Mormon theology, I quoted a leaked audiotape of the secret rites in Mormon temples. In an older version of the rite, a worshipper would vow to “suffer his life to be taken” for revealing temple secrets. A copy editor thought that sounded stuffy and changed it to say that Mormons “vowed to commit suicide.” Needless to say, we received more than a few calls from Mormons who disagreed with “my” interpretation of their theology. No punishment for the copy editor, however.
3. This is one case in which it really helps to remember that the New York Post is not a culturally conservative newspaper. It is a Libertarian newspaper. Once again, I think we are seeing evidence of the massive war still to come in the GOP in the next four years, as the moral and cultural conservatives — many of whom are old-fashioned Democrats — square off with the hard-core moral Libertarians. Jeremy can shed some light on this, I am sure, because he is a Catholic who works in one of the various Libertarian sanctuaries.
So Dawn Eden was the wrong brand of conservative. I always wondered: Why did the Post hate Bill Clinton so much? He seemed like their kind of guy, once you veered into the moral issues.