It's really odd that they can't do it, because the Times is really good at criticizing other forms of writing and creative work. Their book critics, movie, theater and TV critics, even their critiques of software lead their fields and are considered by many to be authoritative.
But when they decided to criticize themselves, through the public editor who is supposed to speak for the readers, what you end up with is apologies and explanations, never anything remotely like what the Times deserves. As a result the editorial coverage of the Times suffers.
Yes, I know it's about more than suffering. The Times had a responsibility to tell us the truth about the buildup to the war in Iraq, among many other things they didn't tell us the truth about. And many people died as a result. And our country turned in a very bad direction.
That's why I'm glad to see the blogosphere has embraced the problem with the NY Times Examiner site.
This morning they took apart a Bill Keller piece that I had read, and had not considered who wrote it. I accepted at face value the facts they recited. Even thought to myself a few times "Oh I didn't know that." Turns out there's a lot in the Keller piece that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
When I read pieces in areas that I have expertise I can't believe how naive the Times reporters are. How they buy the bullshit they're fed without any serious challenge. How much they respect rich people. The assumption people make about getting Woodward-Bernstein level reporting is nonsense. There's a lot of self-congratulatory paper-of-record crap. In other words, if it's in the Times it must be true. Even if it's not.
One day the Times will have the courage to devote a serious amount of their space to self-criticism. To teach the readers how to file bug reports, and actually learn how to listen to them. And their product quality will soar. Until then, we should all be following the Examiner so there's at least some balance to the reporting in the Times.