The wonderful parody in Slate today, “The New York Times: The Final Edition,” got me to thinking about the “paper of record” once again. The parody deftly captures its irrelevance, the pomposity of its reporters’ stories, the grandiosity of its op-ed writers, and what undoubtedly the paper would be like were they running their very last edition!
If William McGowan has to write a new chapter for the paper edition of his book Gray Lady Down, he won’t have one bit of trouble coming up with lots of new material. As the paper steadily moves downhill, its editors and writers keep coming up with new material, which they will be handing to him on a silver platter.
There’s no secret anymore as to why the paper has become worse than it ever was. The editors and writers are on the political left; and they are pompous enough to think that since everyone they know thinks the same way, what they are writing is objective. This is not to say that its bias is a relatively new thing. It’s just that in the paper’s heyday, you could find relatively straightforward top-notch reporting. But even then, on certain issues, there was very little difference between the editorial side and that of the reporters.
There are two main examples of this. First, of course, is Walter Duranty, whose falsehoods on the Soviet famine in the Ukraine got him the paper’s very first Pulitzer Prize. The second is the reporting on Castro and the Cuban Revolution by Herbert Matthews. New Yorkers remember the billboard ads taken by National Review of the magazine’s famous cover of Castro with the heading, “I got my job through the New York Times.” As his biographer wrote in his book The Man Who Invented Fidel, the paper let Matthews both report and write editorials on the subject of his reporting, without even the pretense of a separation between the two departments of the paper. (You can find my review of the book here.)
The past week, there have been more than a few good examples of how the paper’s bias appears. The first is in an amazing dispatch in the new issue of The Weekly Standard, in which the editors point out that “if you get your news only from the New York Times, the self-styled newspaper of record, you would have read on Wednesday that information from enhanced interrogations played only a ‘small role at most’ in finding bin Laden.”
As they explain:
The Times is heavily invested in this storyline, having claimed repeatedly over the years that such interrogations are ineffective. Never mind that the CIA’s own declassified assessment of the interrogations demonstrates the opposite: Some 70 percent of what the U.S. intelligence community knows about al Qaeda came from detainees subject to enhanced interrogation, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad willingly gave “terrorist tutorials” to his interrogators after he was broken.
The editors also point out that the two reporters for the NYT story were Scott Shane, whose articles “would fit comfortably in the pages of The Nation,” and Charlie Savage, author of a comfortably left-wing book about national security issues. The editors write:
The authors pitted Bush administration officials against “human rights advocates” and former intelligence officials. They quoted Glenn Carle, a former CIA operative. Carle did not speak directly to the piece of intelligence that set the CIA on the trail to bin Laden, but he did share his opinion that coercive techniques “didn’t provide useful, meaningful, trustworthy information.” Such procedures, he added, were “un-American.” The next day, Carle continued his campaign against enhanced interrogation on a conference call conducted by the left-wing think tank Center for American Progress.
What the Times story does not point out are the contrary assessments of both former CIA director Mike Hayden and Leon Panetta. Panetta “confirmed that intelligence obtained through enhanced interrogations helped the agency find bin Laden.” This means that our president won his victory partially on the basis of information gathered by the Bush administration through “enhanced interrogation techniques,” obviously including waterboarding. The Standard editors conclude: “The Times, however, did not find this news fit to print. They ignored it.”
That, sadly, is becoming par for course at the once-admired newspaper.
The second story is the barrage of the Times, discussed in my previous blog, about the award to Tony Kushner first rescinded by the CUNY Board of Trustees and then, at their emergency Monday meeting, reaffirmed after the city’s elites went to bat for their favorite agitprop playwright. Story after story read exactly like the paper’s own editorial, which took Kushner at his word that he is a supporter of Israel, condemned the solitary trustee who raised the issue about Kushner’s views, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, and agreed with Board Chairman Benno Schmidt that awarding the honorary degree to Kushner was “a matter of principle.” The paper’s final story, appearing May 9th, was written by the same reporter who had phoned me for my views. Yet her story, like the previous ones, had not one dissenting voice cited who supported not giving Kushner the award.
Strangely, one story did appear on the paper’s website — not read regularly by those who look at the daily paper’s contents — and it appeared in their online contributor’s column, that of academic superstar Stanley Fish. The paper’s reporters did not see fit to cite anything Fish wrote in “the Opinionator” section of the website. What Fish did quite elegantly and persuasively is to virtually tear apart every excuse made by the paper’s editors on behalf of Kushner, as well as to shed light on the supposedly objective basis of the award.
Not only was it not anything resembling “a matter of principle,” but as Fish writes, the arguments for Kushner are not persuasive. Taking up the claims of historian Ellen Schrecker, Fish notes her claim that academic McCarthyism is occurring is completely false. Fish points out: “Kushner is not an academic and so he has no academic freedom that can be demeaned. And his more general freedom — his freedom as an artist and a citizen — has not been infringed on by what the board did. He can still write and speak and say pretty much what he wants. He just won’t be saying it at a CUNY graduation ceremony this spring.”
As for honorary degrees, Fish reveals, having been on committees that choose who gets them, that in fact extraneous factors are always considered when deciding who gets an award. They discuss, for example, the views of a recipient, especially if they “are controversial in ways that might generate unwelcome publicity.” He also mentions that one regularly hears in discussions “political and ideological objections to some candidates,” and if they are raised, nominees are often put aside to be considered again at a future time. And that, indeed, is precisely what Mr. Wiesenfeld was asking of the CUNY Board of Trustees.
Contrary to Dr. Schrecker, he notes that to refuse or rescind an honorary degree is not the same as hiring or firing an instructor because of his political views. That, he points out, is against the law. “Refusing to award an honorary degree even for political reasons involves no penalties — the disappointed non-honoree doesn’t have a case — except for the penalty of looking small-minded, biased, and stupid.” Fish concludes: “Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the fiercely anti-Kushner trustee, got it right when he declared that ‘An honorary degree is wholly within the discretion of the board to grant.’”
So even when the paper is forced to run a column that regularly appears on their website, its reporters and editors see it not fit to even call attention to Fish’s disagreement with them in the paper’s own pages. Sure, if you regularly look at what is on “the Opinionator” site, you would have caught it. But how many regular readers of the paper do?
Obviously, as with the story about interrogation techniques, the editors want one line to be reflected in both editorials and news stories — nothing is to interfere with that. There is one point of view, that of the editors, and that is, they obviously feel, the truth.
That is why I often reflect as I read the NYT that it reminds me of my youth, when I would read the New York City left-wing press, The Communist Party’s Daily Worker, the leftist fellow-traveling Daily Compass, and later, the far left National Guardian. No wonder those outlets have disappeared. Today, those who read it have The New York Times, ever ready to tell the city’s left-liberals what to think.
Update: Also read “The NYT debunked its ‘Beast in the Heart of Every Fighting Man’ story, 20 years ago,” on the Tatler.