Wouldn’t it have been refreshing if the New York Times had admitted it had a big problem and brought in some “new blood” to solve it? Someone who doesn’t represent yet another iteration of the brain-dead New York leftyism of its current boss Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger, who’s been running it into the ground for almost two decades now?
Maybe I’m being unfair to Jill Abramson, and I actually hope I am. Maybe she only looks and sounds like the “same old, same old” and will bring a breath of fresh — and even politically incorrect — air to the Grey Lady. But what hope is there when she goes out of her way to tell us that, at her home on the Upper West Side when she was growing up, receiving their daily Times was like a religious experience, because her family believed that “if the Times said it, it was the absolute truth.” That was never true — witness the Stalin-coddling of Walter Duranty in the ‘30s and the Castro-sanitizing of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, to name only a few flagrant examples — but it’s probably even less true now.
There was a time — I’m thinking of the A.M. Rosenthal era — when the Times wasn’t always totally in the bag for what I call “leftyism.” Rosenthal and his assistants probably rarely, if ever, voted for a Republican (except maybe John Lindsay, Jacob Javits, and Nelson Rockefeller, who epitomized “progressive” Northeast Republicanism), but they still retained some intellectual honesty. They could separate themselves enough from their beliefs to recognize — albeit perhaps grudgingly, at times — facts. The “Pinch” edition of the Times is almost totally at one with its pathetically parochial belief system and has been steadily changing itself from a news medium to a thought filter that enables liberals to avoid any contact with what they dread most — reality.
I remember so clearly the moment when my growing doubts about the reliability of the Times crystallized: It was the morning of the big “exposé” about the 2000 election. As everyone at the Times knew beyond question, and which it had appointed itself to prove, George W. Bush had “stolen” Florida and thus the presidency. The Times had been first among not-quite equals in a huge journalistic safari (perhaps the last gasp of the post-Watergate glory days of the American daily press) that went into deepest darkest Florida in the days after Gore conceded in order to bring back the pelt of the great infamy. Yet on that morning, in the form of a relatively smallish headline on page 1, it … didn’t. The head was a mealy-mouthed excuse for the huge, bold “J’accuse!” that Times readers had been so eagerly awaiting.
I read down the oddly oblique, sheepish paragraphs impatiently, until, at about the sixth or seventh one, I encountered the big news: The big expedition had found that Bush had actually won Florida by 537 votes. Not exactly a landslide, but according to the Times’ own parameters perhaps one of the biggest examples of “man bites dog” ever. Something they had known in their DNA to be true — something as obvious as the fact that the sun will rise tomorrow — had been shown to be false by their own hand! Not only that, but all the partisan caterwauling, all the nasty, deliberate poisoning of the W presidency by the Democrats and their allies on the left — all the threats of waving the bloody shirt of fraud forever and ever — had been utterly trashed. Like a crazed Samson, the Times had pulled down its temple of lies on its own head.
The Times’ bogus treatment of its own gigantic scoop was a revelation. It showed that its news-gathering operation was totally politicized from top to bottom. The reporters (the piece was gang-written) who filed it shouldn’t have written it that way; the assigning editors shouldn’t have approved it; the copy editors should have either rewritten it drastically or insisted that it be rewritten with a proper “lede” (something along the lines of “Despite a great many charges of foul play George W. Bush actually did win Florida, albeit by the slimmest of margins, a Times investigation has uncovered … .”), the editors higher up the totem pole shouldn’t have allowed it to go into the paper as it was, etc., etc. All in all, what the Times delivered to my desk that day was a massive train wreck not only of intellectual honesty but of basic journalism.
This kind of malpractice is a tragedy for all of us, because the Times, despite its massive faults, is perhaps the largest and deepest daily news-gathering operation on the planet. It still provides a lot of food for thought, but almost every bite of that food now seems to come with at least a touch of salmonella. It simply can’t be trusted, because it has shown again and again that anything that doesn’t support its “progressive” vision of the universe will be systematically changed, spun, downgraded, ignored — whatever it takes to avoid forcing its readers to encounter reality. In a way, it’s the readers’ fault. That’s the product they seem to demand, and even though their numbers are dwindling alarmingly, they’d apparently rather the Times die than compromise their own lefty fantasies.
Well, OK then. The fate of the increasingly slatternly Old Grey Lady is up to them and their enablers/co-dependents in the newsroom on Eighth Avenue, soon to be led by Ms. Abramson. Here’s a forlorn plea, Jill: When it becomes impossible, as it almost certainly will, to deny that “global warming” is nonsense — say, when the next ice age has well and truly begun — don’t bury the lede in the sixth paragraph.
(Also read Roger Kimball: “From Bad to Worse at the Times.”)