Being a fastidious sort of chap, I rarely touch a copy of The New York Times these days. Various stories filter down through the internet; people send me links to this or that item; but I am generally spared direct physical contact. When visiting certain friends in Northwest Connecticut, however, it is part of my routine to rise early and fetch the papers, including the Times from a local purveyor. So I was the first in the household to see what John Podhoretz rightly called the “preposterous” front-page story about the Pentagon’s “hidden hand” that allegedly manipulates reporting on military affairs the way a puppet master manipulates his creatures. (Max Boot has more on the story here.)
I tossed the paper on the kitchen table and waited for a reaction from my host, a politically mature individual who continues to get the Times as an adjunct to his work as a political pathologist. I didn’t have long to wait. His eye fell on the paper.” Can you believe this?” he asked, absorbing the headline. The story featured photographs of six experts with (dread phrase!) “ties to the military” splashed across the front-page of the paper as if they were candidates for the FBI’s most wanted list. Below was a long, hand-wringing piece indited in the best Pentagon-Papers-all-in-the-public’s-best-interest Times style:
To the public, these men are members of a familiar fraternity, presented tens of thousands of times [Really? I’d love to see the numbers on that] on television and radio as “military analysts” [why the quotation marks? Does the Times writer doubt that they are military analysts?] whose long service has equipped them to give authoritative and unfettered judgments [Can’t you just hear the BUT screaming around the corner?] about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.
Hidden behind that appearance of objectivity, though, is a Pentagon information apparatus [“apparatus” is good but a “hidden apparatus” is even better because more threatening: you need that old journalist’s terrier instinct to dig up and expose a “hidden apparatus”] that has used those analysts in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance, an examination by The New York Times has found.
The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.
Et very much cetera. My favorite line in the whole sorry tale was “an examination by The New York Times has found.” Right. Like the examination by The New York Times that found plenty of evidence to indict those Duke lacrosse players who were falsely accused of raping a black stripper. Or maybe it would be like the examination by The New York Times whose front-page headline implied that John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist but whose text carried denials from all parties. Or maybe it would be like that examination by The New York Times informing the world that soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan were far more likely to be brought up on charges of homicide than the general public. That turned out to be the opposite of the truth, but for partisans of the Times it doesn’t seem to matter. What they want is not news but ideological solace. And that is something the Times supplies in never-ending profusion.
“Never-ending”? Well, that is probably too pessimistic. I predict that it will end, possibly a lot sooner than many observers suspect. When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, the inimitable Taki Theodoracopoulos threw a huge party in London to celebrate the fall of that monstrous tyranny. One friend of mine suggests that we begin planning now for an “end of the Times” party, sending out periodic pre-invitations to the crowd of grateful souls assuring them the date will be forthcoming soon. Can it be far off? It wouldn’t require that the Times actually go out of business, only that its increasing irrelevance to the world of news and cultural reporting be more broadly recognized. That recognition is already burgeoning in some quarters–in the world of finance and advertising, for example. “The New York Times Co. lost $335,000 in the first quarter as advertising revenues slumped,” the paper reported a week ago, noting that March ad revenues dropped by a whopping 11.1 percent. The friend who sent me that cheery item said he was setting it as the wallpaper on his computer monitor. I know how he feels. More to the point, many, many others do as well.