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Objective journalism,

though apparently "objective" in the sense of "goal" rather than in the sense of "impartial." Check out the opening paragraphs of this New York Times story from yesterday:

When Mildred Fruhling and her husband lost their prescription drug coverage in 2001, they suddenly faced drug bills of $7,000 a year. Mrs. Fruhling, now 76, began scrambling to find discounts on the Internet, by mail order, from Canada and through free samples from her doctors.

"It's the only way I can continue to have some ease in my retirement," she said.

Last week, when the federal government rolled out a new discount drug program, Mrs. Fruhling studied her options with the same thoroughness. What she found, she said, was confusion: 73 competing drug discount cards, each providing different savings on different medications, and all subject to change.

"I personally feel I can do better on my own," she said. But she added, "At this point, I don't think anyone can make an evaluation." . . .

Now here's the editor's note, which was appended to the story today:

Editors' Note: May 13, 2004, Thursday

An article yesterday about confusion surrounding new prescription drug discount cards that are being offered to Medicare recipients included comments in the first four paragraphs from Mildred Fruhling and later in the article from Dr. Sydney Bild.

Unknown to the writer, both had been interviewed for a video on a Web site operated by Families USA, a consumer advocacy group that has criticized current Medicare policy as inadequate. When approached by The Times during the preparation of the article, Families USA suggested Mrs. Fruhling and Dr. Bild as interviewees without disclosing that they had appeared in the video. Had that been known, The Times would have chosen others to comment for the article or would have made clear the two interviewees' connection to the advocacy group.

Now I much appreciate the Times' coming clean on this, but isn't the editors' note missing the mark? The problem isn't that Mrs. Fruhling and Dr. Bild had appeared in some video. The problem is that the reporter (1) had gotten his interviewees from an advocacy group that was very likely to refer him to people who were critical of the current policy -- a likely source of bias even if they hadn't appeared in a video for that group -- and (2) had only quoted people who took that view (not just Fruhling and Bild but others as well). I didn't find a single senior quoted in the whole story who said that he appreciated the extra choices; and only one person ("an administrator at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services") was quoted in support of the program.

Now maybe this is because in fact seniors are overwhelmingly opposed to the policy, and the reporter had tried to find supporters of the policy -- for instance, by calling someone on the other side from Families USA and asking them for the names of some seniors -- but couldn't. Maybe. But given the story, and given the editors' note, does that seem particularly likely?

Thanks to Dov Fischer for the pointer.