Is Ben Smith’s Column About Ronan Farrow Too Good to Be True? – By Ashley Feinberg (Slate) / May 21 2020
A close examination reveals the weaknesses in what may be called an overcorrection for resistance journalism.
It was a tantalizing story, written by the New York Times’ freshly poached media columnist and published with an attention-grabbing headline: “Is Ronan Farrow Too Good to Be True?”
In it, the columnist, Ben Smith, suggests something troubling about the New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow: What if one of the country’s most seemingly unimpeachable reporters wasn’t actually telling the whole truth but, instead, prioritizing storytelling to the point of ignoring necessary facts?
Reporters everywhere—but at the New York Times especially—could hardly contain their glee. Nearly everyone, it seemed, had been waiting for someone to take the first swing at one of the most widely praised journalists working today, and it made sense that one of the first attempts should come from Smith.
Coming to the Times after an eight-year stint as editor in chief of BuzzFeed, Smith has impressed readers as an unflinching critic of the journalism business, unafraid to call out inconsistencies and hypocrisies—even if means going after his own publication (in his debut column, no less). This most recent piece sets out to paint Farrow as occasionally incautious or even negligent, driven by his tendency to prioritize what Smith (and some of his new Times colleagues) like to call “resistance journalism.” Smith describes this mentality as one where, “if reporters swim ably along with the tides of social media and produce damaging reporting about public figures most disliked by the loudest voices, the old rules of fairness and open-mindedness can seem more like impediments than essential journalistic imperatives.”
But an examination of his Ronan Farrow column reveals a shakiness in his indictment. Had Smith taken a more rigorous approach to presenting his findings, he would have undermined his own argument. So instead, Smith chose to perform broad-mindedness, sacrificing accuracy for some vague, centrist perception of fairness. And in doing so, he opened the door for Matt Lauer to build on Smith’s own debatable representations, granting Lauer the legitimacy bestowed by the Times in the process.