When Cheerleading Replaces Journalism
8. What do you think is the most significant revelation in your book?
I don’t think there’s any single “revelation” that would make “news” per se. But there are important insights. Among them are:
- Policies and personnel decisions made by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. are most responsible for the Times travails and its loss of gravitas.
- The Times continues to get hoaxed, conned, defrauded and manipulated by people using the paper to perpetrate a scam or propagandize. Credulous and naive reporters, besotted by the culture of victimology and political correctness prove ready accomplices.
- The Time is especially “soft” on Islam in America and the subject of Islamist terrorism. It is all-too-ready to make accusations of “Islamaphobia” in the tools used to conduct the War on Terror and all-too-resistant to report on aspects of Islamic culture at odds with progressive American norms, especially those involving women.
- The Times refracted much of its reporting on the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan through the dark, defeatist prism of Vietnam. Although the Bush administration made plenty of military, diplomatic and political mistakes, the Times reporting and commentary has been riddled with mistakes too, leading many to call its basic patriotism into question.
- Despite efforts to reform its institutional culture to be more open , self-critical and accountable, those reform efforts have not succeeded. Attempts to expand the ideological diversity in the news and editorial sections have been limited, at best. And ideological bias continues to plague the paper, both in its hard news reporting, its reporting on increasingly vapid “soft news” subjects and in its editorializing.
It’s worth remembering that Bill Buckley’s National Review — the bane of many a liberal — wrote of Rosenthal’s Gray Lady that if the rest of the media followed her journalistic example, the nation would be “far better informed and more honorably served.” I wrote the book because this equitable 1972 assessment was no longer true — and when cheerleading replaces journalism at the most important news organization in the country, our experiment in self-government suffers.
9. Do you think it would be better for newspapers to openly admit their political biases, like they do in the U.K.?
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that objectivity and detached neutral professionalism are still important, even if we fall short of achieving them. If news organizations here adopt the same open politicization practiced in Europe, I think our national conversation would grow even coarser and more polarized. The virtue of someone like Rosenthal was that he demanded that his reporters and editors be on guard against their own prejudices and have a commitment to telling the truth, now matter where the chips fell and no matter how difficult those truths were to swallow.
As the Professor adds, "I talked recently to an acquaintance who just left the NYT and he said that however bad you think the management is from the outside, the view from the inside makes clear that it’s ten times worse." And of course, in addition to the Gray Lady, the Washington Post and its current and former subsidiaries are also increasingly off the rails in recent years. Between the two of them, these papers shape the news at both every American TV network with the exception of Fox, and many, many smaller newspapers across the country. And we all know the role that they played in shaping the 2008 election.
Do they have any credibility left? Ultimately, that's up to you.
(For my podcast interview with McGowan, click here.)