2003-05-23 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

All the News That Fits
by Stuart W. Mirsky
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky All the News That Fits

Surprise, surprise: The New York Times has an agenda! It’s all over the news media these days. Turns out the venerable paper, whose slogan is "All the News That’s Fit to Print," has been shaping what it reports in accordance with its own point of view . . . a very questionable journalistic practice, to say the least!

I first noted this in print back in the early nineties when I was writing this column for a now defunct Wave competitor, remarking then how the Times slanted its economic and social coverage in order to advance a liberal agenda. This was not just a matter of tone or emphasis either. It involved actual misrepresentation and/or suppression of information. And it was not just reflective of the Times’ editorial page. No sir! It showed up in actual news stories where the Times alleged that economic conditions were much worse back then than the financial press (where business coverage really counts!) maintained.

More recently, in the January 4 edition of this paper, I noted, among other things, how the Times had misrepresented a statistical survey it was reporting on in its headline and lead-in text, leaving the impression that the survey’s findings were very different from what they actually were. Now it turns out, with the revelations of plagiarism and fictitious reporting and new information about the opinions of its staff (Times reporter Chris Hedges got booed off the stage at a Rockford Illinois commencement ceremony when he inveighed against U.S. policy in Iraq and managing editor Howell Raines admitted he let his belief in affirmative action affect his judgment in the plagiarism matter), this is a deeply embedded part of the paper’s culture.

As Andrew Sullivan, a blogger and occasional contributor to the New York Sun writes: ". . . while Mr. Raines was promising a new commitment to accuracy and openness, another one of his acolytes, Maureen Dowd, was up to her usual tricks of dissembling the truth." Sullivan goes on to note that Ms. Dowd, a regular Times columnist, known for her peculiarly petulant vitriol against Republicans and especially the Bush family, misquoted President George W. Bush in order to suggest he’d mistakenly claimed to have rendered al Qaeda "not a problem anymore." Sullivan presents the full quote, filling in Dowd’s strategic omissions, which alter the sense of what was actually said, and challenges Ms. Dowd to retract. Don’t bet on that one!

Indeed, on the very same weekend that Sullivan’s article appeared in The Sun, Ms. Dowd offered another Times column comparing "The Matrix Reloaded" with Renee Zellweger’s "Down with Love". What had this to do with Bush? Everything per Ms. Dowd who reserved the final three paragraphs of her article for a gratuitous swipe at our 43rd president, suggesting that Bush and his policies are all about "testosterone as a campaign accessory." Hey, I guess you hadda be there! Maybe she’s not stooping to misquotes this time but the constant tendency to take cheap shots betrays something quite a bit more serious: an agenda which has little or no interest in facts but a great deal of interest in savaging those with whom you disagree. Sure, she’s writing a column, an opinion piece, but even columns require some degree of dispassion and deference to the facts.

But in the New York Times these days, this commitment seems to have been lost. As Holman W. Jenkins Jr. notes in a May 21 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, the Times has a history of getting it wrong in order to advance an agenda. From misreporting a quote from a Texaco executive in order to support allegations of racism, to trying to stir the pot in the Augusta National Golf Club brouhaha, Jenkins suggests: "The Times can’t find enough racist behavior to suit it, so the paper has to resort to dubious statistical and other means to create the story it’s looking for."

Now comes disgraced reporter Jayson Blair who, in the face of Howell Raines’ claims to have given him "one chance too many" because of his race, avers that Times editorial management, in fact, just weren’t too bright since he, Blair, was able to fool them so thoroughly (from an interview in The New York Observer). Blair then goes on to accuse the Times staff of racism and holding him down. So the Times is hoisted on its own petard. Shaping its coverage to advance an agenda of liberal social activism and affirmative action, it’s tarred, in the end, with the brush of racism and and just plain dumbness by the very man its management bent over backwards to excuse for his excesses in order to promote diversity in the workplace. Maybe there’s a message in all this?

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