Plenty's been said about this, but not here, so:
New York Times Public Editor Daniel Okrent's recent on-his-way-out-the-door lovely parting gift (see item no. 2) to Paul Krugman strikes me as more than a bit strange, not to mention highly tacky and unprofessional (ah, but then Okrent's no longer a professional, is he?).
This is not to be interpreted as a comment on the need for, or lack of need for, an ombudsman at The Times, or any other media outlet. I think it all depends on how the position is handled by the individual, and this strikes me as a poor job of handling by this particular individual. Almost as bad as his off-the-cuff dissing of Krugman in print is his flip remark at the end of the item: "I didn't give Krugman ... the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist."
Well, allow me to impersonate Ted Nugent: Put up or shut up. Krugman has responded in a letter to the editor, one of only two not showering hot-fudge sundaes of praise upon Mr. Okrent's departed head. Apparently, Krugman and Okrent will be discussing the matter this week on the Web journal of the new Public Editor, Byron Calame, this week; see the link at the bottom of page 2 of the letters, right below Krugman's.
Still, it shouldn't have come to that. Ombudsmen can serve an important role. But serving the readers' interest does not warrant cheap shots at your own paper's columnists. If the paper has made a mistake, it's a serious matter, and it's the ombudsman's job to sort it all out in as complete and fair a manner as possible before publishing. It's inexcusable for one to, on his way out the door, come out with, "Oh, and one of the current Administration's most visible and consistent critics, one who works for the same publication I do, fudges numbers. You'll just have to take my word for it. Well, see ya! It's been fun!"
Bob Somerby has been commenting on this, too.
Like I say, I don't know if this answers the question of whether The Times or anyone else should have a reader representative; my paper doesn't. If Okrent is the template, I'm thankful for small favors.
(Addendum, 9:55 p.m. EDT, 5/31: The fur flew. Nothing much was resolved, it seems, except check out Mr. Okrent's curious comments:
"For a man who makes his living offering strong opinions, Paul Krugman seems peculiarly reluctant to grant the same privilege to others. And for a man who leads with his chin twice a week, he acts awfully surprised when someone takes a pop at it.
"Because only a fool or a supply-sider would eagerly engage in a debate on economics with Prof. Krugman, I'll try to eschew argument and stick to facts ..."
"This was the first he heard from me on these specific issues partly because I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error." Oh, well, then, clearly a passing snipe on his way out the door was ENTIRELY justified.)