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New York Times Publishes First Front Page Editorial In Nearly 100 Years

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

June 13, 1920 was the last time The New York Times put an editorial on its front page. Today, following a mass shooting in San Bernardino and, the week before, the shooting death of three in Colorado Springs, The Times decries what it calls an epidemic of guns in America in an editorial on its front page. NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us. David, thanks for being with us.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: You bet.

SIMON: An unusual step for a mainstream newspaper. Why this one now?

FOLKENFLIK: The publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, made a statement saying that they did this in order to deliver what he called a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about these headlines that we keep seeing, time after time - put the editorial on the front page intentionally to occupy the most prominent real estate he could offer in print, as well as to call attention to it through postings on social media around the country. And a number of conservative critics online, and more than a few liberals and non-ideological commentators too, were struck by the fact this was the first editorial in 95 years. And that meant that The Times did not offer front-page editorials on, say, the scourge of the Soviets, on, say, the Holocaust, on, say, the debacle in Vietnam. These were issues that The Times chose not to weigh in on. And some questioned why this and why now.

SIMON: Now, this has been The Times editorial position for a number of years at this point. What influence is stepped up by putting this on the front page?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it tends to focus the attention of elites, of lawmakers, of policymakers, of certain kind - it tends to stir certain kinds of public advocacy groups. And there are advocacy groups on the gun control side of the ledger. But that said, you know, the calculus in Congress is such that particularly in the House and in red states where conservative lawmakers hold sway, there's a minority but very passionate part of the electorate that wants to preserve gun rights and that the general public is not overwhelmingly in favor of simply taking all guns way. So The Times came out today - as it has before - in favor of really strong regulation, in a sense, confiscation of certain kinds of assault style-weapons. And that's been a hard sell on Capitol Hill.

SIMON: Another topic this week, the media was granted access to the apartment of the San Bernardino shooters. It was quite a scrum, wasn't it?

FOLKENFLIK: It was one of the most remarkable things I've seen on live television. I mean, in some ways, what you were seeing were the - was the raw material of reporting being gathered. I think there was almost zero value added by each of the dozens of reporters and news organizations that wended their way through the rather modest apartment.

SIMON: They were truly running into each other, I mean...

FOLKENFLIK: It was - you know, in the words of MSNBC's Kerry Sanders, a-pushing (ph) and a-shoving (ph). In Sanders' case, he also showed, among other things, something for which MSNBC later apologized, the ID of one of the shooter's mothers. She has not been, to date, in any way implicated in those killings. But, you know, her driver's license was shown, un-blurred, by MSNBC to the world. And it seemed to me that this was sort of thoughtless abdication of editorial process.

SIMON: So you can see why any news organization would go in there if invited, but the whole idea of broadcasting it live before you've had a chance to see what's there, that's the question.

FOLKENFLIK: What did we gain? I think we just saw little snippets here and there. We saw photographs. We saw a baby's crib. It's very invasive. You know, people online instantly called it voyeuristic; some called it pornographic. I think that it played to our sort of baser instincts of we want to know things now. But it wasn't clear what we actually learned or knew after having done so.

SIMON: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik, thanks so much for being with us.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.