When the New York Times Magazine published an 8,000-word puff piece in April about Anthony Weiner and wife Huma Abedin, the media predictably applauded with all three broadcast networks gleefully referring to the piece to assist in the sext-crazed politician's rehabilitation.
Adding insult to injury, the article's author Jonathan Van Meter - who is a contributing editor to Vogue and New York magazine - told the Washington Post's Erik Wemple Monday, "Never even occurred to me to ask" if Weiner was still sexting.
"I just assumed it had stopped when he got caught, lost his job and started therapy to save his marriage,” Van Meter admitted.
New York Times Magazine Editor in Chief Hugo Lindgren told Wemple the question about when Weiner stopped sexting “should have been asked.”
Lundgren now after the fact feels some responsibility saying, “The assumption that he made was the same assumption I made. It turned out to be a poor assumption.”
As Jammie Wearing Fool observed Monday, the error here is compounded by the amount of time spent on this article.
Here's what Van Meter said in a Q&A about the story published by the Times in April:
I tend to spend a lot of time with people to do long-form profiles, and it’s almost like a competitive sport now: journalists trying to outdo one another in terms of who can spend the most time. In this instance, I transcribed 15 or 16 hours of tapes. What was unusual about this was, normally you hang out with people and follow them around, but Anthony Weiner’s life is very circumscribed. There were no events to go to, nothing to really follow him to. We sat around and talked. That was novel. I really felt like I was his analyst. Our sessions lasted for a particular amount of time, we would bring up things with a certain repetition, start to recognize patterns. As someone who has had a standing appointment with my therapist for many years, the rhythms were familiar. Interviews normally don’t involve such thoughtfulness and searching.
Just how much time? This is how Van Meter's original piece began:
One day in early February, I met Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin for breakfast at the Gramercy Park Hotel, one of their regular joints, just a few blocks from their apartment on Park Avenue South.
The final copy was published on April 10.
That means Van Meter, Lundgren, and everyone involved in this 8,000-word disaster had more than two months to act like journalists rather than activists trying to rehabilitate a disgraced politician in order to assist his ascendancy to become mayor of arguably the most important city on the planet.
Makes you wonder if the folks at the Times wanted Van Meter to speak about this.
Consider that in its July 24 editorial calling for Weiner to quit the race, the board chose not to address their complicity in Weiner's revival or apologize for having failed over the course of two months to even bother asking if the sexting had stopped.
As NewsBusters' Tom Blumer observed at the time:
The paper's editorial should have owned up to the paper's horrid judgment and and its apparent failure to search for hints of a relapse. With others, it may have seemed unthinkable, but given how difficult it was to drag the truth out of him, bit by painful bit, in 2011, the possibility should not have been ignored. Apparently the paper's desire for an ultraliberal, borderline-celebrity mayor who might somehow erase and even reverse the legacy of legendarily effective mayor Rudy Giuliani overran whatever remains of its news acumen.
With Van Meter's revelation Monday, this now seems doubly true.
The Times owes a big apology to its readers and all New York City residents for its negligence and its part in helping put Weiner back on the map.
Will the Gray Lady do so?
Post facto follow-up: It seems almost impossible that in the ten weeks involved in putting this massive piece together, NOBODY thought this question should have been asked. Instead, this appears to be an instance of journalistic "Don't Ask, Don't Tell!"