The New York Times’ little censorship problem

by Lisa Simeone on January 7, 2013


The New York Times has a travel blog called “In Transit.”

On Thursday, January 3, 2013 the blog published a post called ”Keep Your Shoes On, T.S.A. Tells Some Fliers.” It was written by Emily Brennan.

When I saw the post on Friday, January 4th, it had no comments. That cheery little “Be the first to comment!” exhortation beckoned.

So I did.

Here’s what I wrote:

Pre-Check isn’t new. Those of us who’ve been keeping tabs on the TSA have been writing about this boondoggle and extortion racket for over a year now.

Pre-Check isn’t a guarantee of anything. The TSA says so on its own website. TSA agents still have complete control, and whatever they decide to do or not do to you is according to whim.

You might not have to take your shoes off, you might not have to take your laptop out, you might not get scanned, you might not get groped.

More important, it’s ethically indefensible. It’s the very embodiment of All Animals Are Equal, But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others. Those who participate in it are saying, “Fine; whatever abuse you dish out to other people is okay, as long as you don’t dish it out to me.”

I comment often at the New York Times, always under my real name, at various articles about various subjects. The comment threads are moderated differently — by I know not whom — but they all have the usual rules about keeping it civil, don’t use vulgar language, don’t slander people, etc. When you comment, a little box pops up that tells you your comment will appear after it has been approved and that you will be notified by email when it does.

My comment never appeared.

Hmm, I thought, they must be swamped. Though that was unlikely, because the blog entry had been up since January 3rd and there were no comments at all. But ya never know. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Articles and blog posts on the TSA usually elicit hundreds of comments at the NYT.

Saturday, January 5th. Still my comment didn’t appear. But I noticed that another comment, submitted after mine, did: by “Mark A” of Berkeley. He questioned the TSA’s competence.

Blogs are usually eager for reader comments, especially newspaper blogs. But sometimes things go wrong in cyberspace. God knows I don’t understand how the whole thing works. So I tried again. I re-submitted my comment on Saturday, January 5th, with this sentence at the beginning:

Trying to post this comment again, since it didn’t appear yesterday when I first typed it.

Saturday passed. It never appeared. Sunday came. Still not there.

On Sunday night, January 6th, I submitted this:

Hmmm. Is there a reason the comment I’ve been trying to post for the past 3 days hasn’t been allowed to post? This is perplexing. If someone is moderating this discussion, I would appreciate knowing why.

I didn’t use any vulgar language, didn’t make any slanderous statements, didn’t post any links, didn’t violate any of the community rules.

I also started asking friends to try posting comments. Several did, including “Susie R,” who submitted the entire text of my original, with my name at the end and a link to TSA News, under her own name.

That didn’t appear either — at first — though a comment by Bill Fisher, one of the writers here at TSA News, did. Bill, as you know, is as critical of the TSA as I am. His comment was allowed to post. So was a different comment by Susie R. Not so a comment by another TSA News writer, Deborah Newell Tornello. In the meantime, comments by other readers appeared. All but two were critical of the TSA and of Pre-Check.

Monday, January 7th arrived. Still no go. I gave up.

Then, at 2:18 pm today, this email appeared in my inbox:

From: [email protected]
To: Lisa Simeone
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2013 14:18:48 -0500
Subject: your comment

It has been approved. Thanks for your interest in our section.

Regards,
Monica Drake
Deputy Travel Editor

I checked the NYT blog. And replied:

From: Lisa Simeone
To: [email protected]
CC: Susie R
Subject: RE: your comment
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2013 16:06:23 -0500

Thanks, Monica. But actually, it hasn’t. What has appeared is the reprint of my comment by someone else — “Susie R” — Susan R____, a friend of mine — attributed to me. She posted it because my original never appeared. So we thought, okay, let’s try this; let’s see if they post the same text under somebody else’s name. And so it happened.

I don’t pretend to understand all the vagaries of cyberspace, and I am sympathetic to websites that get swamped by comments and can’t keep up. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here. I’m thankful to Susie for getting my words out there, and for linking to TSA News to boot, which I didn’t do in my original. I’m just puzzled about why my original comment wasn’t allowed to appear on its own.

In the meantime, gentle reader, I saw that the comment by Deborah Newell Tornello had been allowed to post, as well as a second comment by Bill Fisher.

And here’s where the conversation with the NYT editor gets interesting:

Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2013 16:56:33 -0500
Subject: Re: your comment
From: [email protected]
To: Lisa Simeone
CC: Susie R

Hi Lisa -

After reviewing our comments, I see that you submitted one that seemed to suggest that our post was inaccurate. The later comment submitted by Susan does so as well and for that reason we should have rejected it. In these cases, we investigate whether a correction is warranted, and then publish one if it applies.

Thanks and best,
Monica

I saved the “wow” for myself and responded thus:

From: Lisa Simeone
To: [email protected]
Subject: RE: your comment
Date: Mon, 7 Jan 2013 17:48:02 -0500

Monica, now I’m even more confused than before. Suggested the NYT post was inaccurate? I don’t understand that. I just wrote my opinion about the TSA and about Pre-Check, didn’t suggest anything about the NYT piece.

Anyway, whatever. Not all things are meant to be understood.

That was a diplomatic way of my telling the NYT editor that I think she’s full of you-know-what.

What is Drake saying? That readers can’t disagree with the NYT? That they can disagree this way but not that way? Then what’s the point of soliciting reader input at all?

And even if I had “seemed to suggest that [their] post was inaccurate,” so what? The New York Times can’t take criticism? It’s that weak? When TSA News readers have pointed out where I’ve blundered in a post, I’ve apologized and issued a correction. I don’t censor their comments.

What is the NYT afraid of?

I don’t know. Several of the 25 comments, which obviously you can read at the link I provided at the top, directly contradict the NYT blog post. They were allowed to appear. So clearly the excuse of “seeming to suggest that a post is inaccurate” is baloney.

Oh, and just for the hell of it, I made one last stab at commenting, a very short reply to another reader elucidating something. I didn’t keep a copy of it. Of course, it hasn’t been allowed to appear.

Perhaps some TSA News readers can try posting at that NYT blog. Let’s see what happens. But be careful — the Times seems to have a delicate constitution. Wouldn’t want to upset it.

(Photo: Andréia Bohner/Flickr Creative Commons)

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