That is, the ombudsman (or 'Public Editor'), is not a representative of the public, but rather the representative, the defender, the champion, of the paper or station in the face of public criticism. When the news organization's privates are too exposed, the ombudsman handles the fig leaf.
So the Times, long after its revolting coverage of Iraq and Bush via the accomplished bigot and liar Judith Miller, finally offered a "maybe we could have done things differently". Miller's lies had been repeatedly laid bare for almost 20 years, but it took glaring, frontpage coverage of outright falsification to finally damn her. Her cohort, Michael Gordon, is still lying with stunning arrogance on a regular basis. Pulitzer Prize winners John Burns, Thomas Friedman, and others offer marginally more respectable garbage to much official acclaim.
At NPR, Jeffrey Dvorkin was a routine apologist for NPR's atrocious coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, particularly of Linda Gradstein. He even went so far as to say (in a non-NPR forum) that he thought NPR's coverage was too pro-Palestinian.
Deborah Howell is the official shit-shoveler at the Washington Post. Salon's Glenn Greenwald vivisects the spineless creature in a current essay.
Despite the still-growing national and international consensus that George W. Bush is likely the worst President in American history (and probably the worst leader of the last 100 years among the industrialized democracies), Howell claims, as Greenwald reports incredulously,
that one reason that The Post and other papers are losing money is because they are "too liberal"; have had "more favorable stories about Barack Obama than John McCain," and "conservatives are right that they often don't see their views reflected enough in the news pages." To mitigate newspapers' financial problems, Howell decrees: "the imbalance still needs to be corrected." She adds: "Neither the hard-core right nor left will ever be satisfied by Post coverage -- and that's as it should be."
What if the actual facts -- i.e., "reality" -- are consistent with the views of "the hard-core left" and contrary to the views of the "hard-core right"? What if, as has plainly been the case, the conservatives' views are wrong, false, inaccurate? What if the McCain campaign was failing and relying on pure falsehoods and sleazy attacks, and The Post's coverage simply reflected that reality? It doesn't matter. In order to sell more newspapers, according to Howell, The Post's news coverage must shape itself to the Right and ensure that "their views [are] reflected enough in the news pages" (I don't recall Howell complaining when her newspaper -- according to its own media critic -- systematically suppressed anti-war viewpoints in its news pages and loudly amplified pro-Bush and pro-war views).
In Howell's view, The Post shouldn't determine its news reporting based on what is factually true. Instead, it should shape its coverage to please this discredited, failed political movement -- in order to sell more papers. That corrupt formula is, of course, what is now meant by "journalistic balance" -- say what both sides believe and take no position about what is true -- and it is precisely that behavior which propped up this incomparably failed and deceitful presidency for so long. The establishment media bears much of the responsibility for what has happened during the last 8 years, and amazingly enough, the lesson many of them seemed to have learned is that they didn't go far enough ("we're too liberal; we need to accommodate the Right more"). If there is an Obama presidency, watch for them very quickly to re-discover the long-dormant concept of "adversarial behavior."