Is the NYT Coverage of Amazon vs. Hachette Really Propaganda?

This post by J.A. Konrath originally appeared on his A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing on 10/6/14.

By now you’ve seen the NYT Public Editor’s piece criticizing her own newspaper’s coverage of the Amazon/Hachette situation.

Note to David Streitfeld: see what Margaret Sullivan did? Being a competent reporter, she researched the situation and presented both sides of the story. That means quotes from authors representing both sides, and quotes from the very source (you) she was critical of.

She’s an excellent, smart, fair journalist, Mr. Streitfeld. Put your hat in your hand and go thank her. After you have, ask her for some pointers.

As well done as the piece was, Ms. Sullivan did write something that I didn’t agree with.

“A pro-Amazon author (Barry Eisler) charges that the paper is spewing propaganda…“propaganda” is a stretch…”

Is it really a stretch? Let’s dig a little deeper.

According to Wikipedia:

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.

Hyperlinked in that definition is “impartial” which leads to a wiki about journalistic objectivity:

Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.

Also linked is “lying by omission”:

Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, a lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions.

And “loaded messages”:

In rhetoric, loaded language (also known as loaded terms or emotive language) is wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes.

Mr. Streitfeld says his stories have been driven by one value: “newsworthiness”. Back to Wikipedia:

Newsworthiness does not only depend on the topic, but also the presentation of the topic and the selection of information from that topic.

Is Streitfeld presenting his topics well? What information is he selecting about the topic? Does it err to the side of journalistic objectivity?

Let’s go back to May when the Amazon/Hachette story broke and Streitfeld wrote this piece. Looking at the definitions above, do these quotes from Streitfeld’s piece qualify as propaganda?

Streitfeld: Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author.

Joe sez: Amazon “charging more for its books” actually means Amazon is charging Hachette’s suggested retail price. Amazon suggesting that readers might enjoy a book from another author “instead” is unproven. Amazon advertises other authors’ books on every book page. This isn’t unique to Hachette. Amazon also offers used books for considerably less than the price of the new version, on the very same page. (buy Whiskey Sour for only $0.01!) But where has Amazon said “Buy this instead of this”? The word “instead” is loaded.


Click here to read the full, lengthy deconstruction of Streitfeld’s piece with Konrath’s commentary on A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing.