On Monday, New York Times national editor Suzanne Daley took to the internets to answer reader questions, and a couple questions about the paper’s placement of the JFK bomb plot this week stand out. Two readers were upset that the Times first day coverage placed the story deep in the paper, while the next day saw it in the Metro section.
One reader raged, “what has happened with the news judgment of your colleagues? A terrorist plot that could have badly damaged the entire economy of the nation…and it’s relegated to the level of bridge club reports,” while another commented that the coverage “was noticeably different than the way the other leading national papers played it; your placement (Metro) and coverage have been more skeptical. I’m particularly curious about why it was not considered a national story, but rather, a local one.”
Daley responded that,
In the years since 9/11, there have been quite a few interrupted terrorist plots. It now seems possible to exercise some judgment about their gravity. Not all plots are the same. In this case, law enforcement officials said that J.F.K. was never in immediate danger. The plotters had yet to lay out plans. They had no financing. Nor did they have any explosives. It is with all that in mind, that the editors in charge this weekend did not put this story on the front page.
In truth, the decision was widely debated even within this newsroom. At the front page meeting this morning, we took an informal poll and a few editors thought the story should have been more prominently played. Some argued it should have been fronted, regardless of the lameness of the plot, simply because it was what everyone was talking about.
Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.
I’m with Daley here. As I said when the Fort Dix plotters were caught last month, not all terror threats are created equal, though its important that the public is informed when a plot, no matter how ill-conceived, is broken up. That said, there’s no need to splash stories like this all over the front page and make them out to be bigger, or more well-planned, than they in fact were. New York mayor Mike Bloomberg made this point yesterday when he told reporters that “there are lots of threats to you in the world. There’s the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can’t sit there and worry about everything. Get a life. You have a much greater danger of being hit by lightning than being struck by a terrorist.”