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Speak No Bias: The Times Only Concedes ‘Insufficient Tuned-in-ness’

The New York Times comes up with more excuses for its failures. Everything but the B-word, of course.

by
Jennifer Rubin

Bio

September 29, 2009 - 12:18 am

Poor Clark Hoyt. He has the toughest job in journalism. As public editor of the New York Times, it is his job to explain away the Gray Lady’s bias.

Whenever the Times doesn’t report a bad-news-for-the-left story or mangles a hit piece on a conservative he’s there to tut-tut, but never under any circumstances will he concede the error is due to political bias.

He was tapped this past weekend to explain away the non-coverage of ACORN by the Times. He concedes the Times ignored the story:

It was an intriguing story: employees of a controversial outfit, long criticized by Republicans as corrupt, appearing to engage in outrageous, if not illegal, behavior. An ACORN worker in Baltimore was shown telling the “prostitute” that she could describe herself to tax authorities as an “independent artist” and claim 15-year-old prostitutes, supposedly illegal immigrants, as dependents.

But for days, as more videos were posted and government authorities rushed to distance themselves from ACORN, the Times stood still. Its slow reflexes — closely following its slow response to a controversy that forced the resignation of Van Jones, a White House adviser — suggested that it has trouble dealing with stories arising from the polemical world of talk radio, cable television and partisan blogs. Some stories, lacking facts, never catch fire. But others do, and a newspaper like the Times needs to be alert to them or wind up looking clueless or, worse, partisan itself.

But that’s a bum rap, don’t you know? The Times editors rush forward to explain that it was just that they weren’t “tuned in” to what conservative media was covering. Left unsaid is that conservative media is covering what the Times doesn’t and won’t report — anything unhelpful to Obama or the Democratic Party.

Hoyt is forever examining the Times’ hit pieces on conservatives — whether on Sarah Palin or John McCain. He’s forced to offer excuses for being late on the Reverend Wright story. (He even has to clean up after Maureen Dowd’s plagiarism.)  And yet he never quite seems able to connect the dots. The sheer number of  flawed stories, the consistency of the bias, and the shoddiness of his colleagues’ excuses never lead him to the conclusion that the only plausible excuse is that the Times is populated solely by liberals who either consciously or not skew news coverage to help their side.

At least Hoyt’s counterpart at the Washington Post, Andrew Alexander, is honest enough to admit the personnel issue. He wrote recently:

The most authoritative recent research into the political leanings of newsrooms (including television, radio, magazines, and wire services) shows they are considerably more liberal than the general public. At daily newspapers, those who “lean to the left still far outnumber those who lean to the right,” said Indiana University journalism professor David H. Weaver, whose researchers surveyed 1,149 journalists in 2002 and recently conducted a follow-up study of 400.

A recent Pew Research nationwide survey said only 26 percent of those questioned believe news organizations try to protect against political bias, while 60 percent said news organizations are biased.

Could liberal bias be at play at the Gray Lady? Hoyt dutifully reports:

Jill Abramson, the managing editor for news, agreed with me that the paper was “slow off the mark,” and blamed “insufficient tuned-in-ness to the issues that are dominating Fox News and talk radio.” She and Bill Keller, the executive editor, said last week that they would now assign an editor to monitor opinion media and brief them frequently on bubbling controversies. Keller declined to identify the editor, saying he wanted to spare that person “a bombardment of e-mails and excoriation in the blogosphere.”

Despite what the critics think, Abramson said the problem was not liberal bias.

So the Times isn’t going to actually cover news unfavorable to Obama; it’s going to monitor others that do. And that’s not bias. Got it?

What is missing in all of this is any indication that because the Times doesn’t cover bad-news-for-Obama stories the paper is misleading its readers. There is nary a hint that its “analysis” pieces (i.e., the op-eds on the front page) are flawed because they omit storylines unfavorable to the side for which the Times is rooting. Hoyt never would suggest that because the Times studiously refused during the campaign to cover Obama’s radical associations that the voters received a false portrait of precisely who they were electing.

Indeed, with the departure from the pages of the Times of Bill Kristol — who in his once-a-week column would sneak in a bit of news here and there that the Times readers would otherwise have been unaware of, causing untold confusion at breakfast tables on the Upper West Side (“Reverend Who?”) — the Times acts as a perfectly sealed bubble for the Left elites. They can peruse its pages with no mention of Republican health care plans. (Republicans don’t have ideas, you know.) They can enjoy the ludicrously oversampled polls which mask Obama’s plummeting popularity. They can be reassured that town hall attendees are kooks and crackpots. It is pure bliss for the liberal readers.

It’s not news, of course. News is the complete picture of the world’s events, not a carefully sliced and diced version of it. Hoyt’s not going to get into all that because the public editor isn’t paid by the public but by the Times. And they have to keep up appearances. “All the news that’s fit to print,” they say. Unfortunately, Hoyt never tells us that the Times has long ago determined that what’s fit to print is whatever brings assurance and comfort to its liberal staff and equally liberal readership.

Jennifer Rubin blogs at the Washington Post.
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