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The NY Times lived by arrogance, will die by the same 12/14/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in NYTimes.
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It is now clear that the NY Times is a mere mortal, now 110 years since its rebirth as the paper with “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Its vital signs are failing. Its stock price is one-third what it was five years ago, its bond rating is two levels above “junk,” and grim reaper Rupert Murdoch has sent his emissaries, the Wall Street Journal and NY Post, to deliver the Times to its final reward. Let us look back at the remarkable life and times of the Times, which from cradle to grave lived by one guiding principle — arrogance.

The early years — The Times was born the bastard child of two snobby, rather off-putting parents. Its mother of invention was a necessity felt by upscale New Yorkers to make newspapers serious again. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer had discovered a breakthrough formula for maximizing circulation — publishing news stories the respectable public wanted in unrespectable ways that also attracted the downscale, e.g. with material that was sensational, titillating, and satisfied prurient interests. Both he and publisher William Randolph Hearst acquired NY newspapers to implement this formula, and they engaged in an epic battle whose stylistic excesses were pejoratively dubbed “Yellow Journalism.” In response, the NY Times rallied the upscale toward a paper offering a more serious tone, under a banner that sniffed “All the news that’s fit to print.”

The NY Times’ father was the father of Modern Journalism, the brilliant but insufferable Walter Lippmann. His book, Liberty and the News, was also a snobbish reaction to “Yellow Journalism.” It called for a now-laughable effort to turn a rough-and-tumble craft like journalism into a science. He envisioned reporters as detached scientists taking “objective” testimony from witnesses, protecting their evidence from contamination by those with agendas, then verifying facts using methods akin to laboratory experiments. While Lippmann reversed himself 2 years later in his book Public Opinion, claiming such methods could never work in a newsroom, the young NY Times had already been reborn and could not be placed back in the womb.

The middle years — As the NY Times grew, it began to hang around with the wrong crowd — not criminal thugs, but intellectual ones. One of their most daring adventures was the infamous, but still un-famous, heist of the First Amendment. Previously, it had been understood that freedom of the press referred to everyone’s right to use a printing press just as everyone had freedom to speak — it was never intended to give special rights to a special clique of people known as “the press,” which did not exist as we know it at the time the amendment was drafted.

In a second heist, journalists declared independence from accountability to anyone other than themselves, distorting Lippmann’s ideas on contamination. Today, when the Times ingenuously invokes the “public’s right to know,” we are scolded that no one must be allowed to tell journalists what to do — not a government trying to keep secrets from terrorists, news managers trying to run a profitable business, stockholders seeking a higher share price, or even readers with lower-brow tastes. For protection, they even created a dual-class stock structure to keep those who own most of the financial value of the company from picking Times Board members.

The curmudgeon years — Times Executive Editor Bill Keller recently left his papers’ new Manhattan fortress to give a revealing lecture in London. In a striking display of his insular existence, he painted all bloggers with the same brush, dismissing the legitimacy of them all. He stabbed some allies in the back by mocking the “citizen journalism” movement that encourages pro-am, journalist-citizen newsgathering. He declared newspapers’ superiority over all, claiming adherence to a “rigorous set of standards” and a “journalism of verification” with specific methods that no one has actually ever seen in writing, perhaps explaining reporter Walter Duranty’s cover-up of Stalin’s atrocities and the fabrications of Jayson Blair. He lauded his paper’s impartiality despite the inconvenient fact that Public Editor Daniel Okrent’s column “Is the NY Times a Liberal Newspaper?” begins “Of course it is.” He bragged about a worldwide corps of full-time reporters that included 6 in Iraq, fewer full-time reporters in a country at war than a typical local TV station has in a metro area. But, not a word about plans to make editorial changes to lure back disaffected readers.

With dwindling numbers believing the Times still offers “All the news that’s fit to print,” is it time for a new moniker? How about this one from Times editor Kate Phillips about those who leave comments on her blog?: “I almost wish we could go back to the days when we never heard their voices.” On second thought, that might make a better epitaph.

Comments»

1. verifi - 12/19/07

The Times claiming to be “liberal” is camouflage at best, sheer propaganda at worst. Lyons’ and Conason’s “The Hunting of the President” documents the Times’ encyclopedic lies – abjectly lying reporting – from all through the 1990s. At all times, this (lying) was in the pursuit of the agenda advocated by Times’ lead columnist, Wllm Safire – who was (hello?!) former Nixon speech writer, and (like Cheney) an unrepentant “nothing to apologize for” advocate of the imperial, unassailable presidency. Thomas Friedman may have been “liberal” back in the mid-90’s, but his whole “the world is flat” shtick since then is nothing but a thin, ivy league gloss on “we love wage-slavery wage scales, and don’t tell us about worker rights in China.”
Even Frank Rich succumbed to the Times’ insufferable Gore bashing all summer of campaign 2000… in an amazing piece, DailyHowler provides and exceptional, line-by-line deconstruction.
http://www.dailyhowler.com/dh060706.shtml
(Dowd and Herbert, the Times’ two “token” female/black in-house columnists respectively, were also completely full of themselves as the future of the nation was laid on the line back in 2000 – and both jumped on the ‘bash Al Gore for fun-and-brownie points bandwagon.) At least Frank Rich has come to his senses – and Dowd and Herbert are finally voicing a little outrage, though they’ll never admit to their role in the right-wing restoration. Ironically, the Times’ other (besides, belatedly, Rich) genuine liberal is Paul Krugman. In hiring Krugman, the Times thought they were getting an Economic Hit Man (which google), because Krugman’s academic specialty was currency collapse (when foreign investors sweep in like buzzards and buy a vulnerable nation’s assets for pennies on the dollar). But Krugman surprised his new bosses in the executives suites at the Times, because he was the opposite of an EHM. Krugman realized that , nine out of ten times, the massive default, if not hyper-inflation, of a developing nation in debt was created and encouraged by the IMF, World Bank, and foreign bankers, precisely to set up those ECM economic conditions. The entire paper has been ignoring Krugman’s calls for economic and reporting justice, ever since he started writing his column there!
Given that Safire, (and even his generational colleague and one-time foil, former “Pentagon Papers” “liberal” Abe Rosenthal), Brooks, Friedman, and even Herbert, Dowd and Rich were all against Al Gore in 2000; and given that since then the Times was the lead “major media” player in legitimizing the lies-to-war (Judith Miller, etc.); and since then the Times never saw a single issue of incompetence, corruption, lies, or torture that drove them to demand accountability from the current White House, who the heck seriously thinks they are “liberal” besides the scribes of the right who profit (as they have throughout history) from a bout of demagogy?

2. Bob Dinitto - 12/20/07

Touché verifi! Ah, but you forgot to mention how the NY Times conveniently (for Bush) forgot to mention the Administration’s rampant illegal wiretapping program until after the 2004 election, even though they knew beforehand!

The NY Times is the mouthpiece of the Administration and the large corporate entities who own the Administration. Mainstream Media can’t be trusted to report the news. They are a tool whose only purpose is to proliferate government propaganda.

That’s why we need the blogs. The grass roots citizen reporters are beholden only to themselves and are thus infinitely more capable of disseminating accurate information.

3. Mac Lichterman - 12/20/07

The far more dangerous disservice of the NY Times, as paper of record, is in what it does not cover. Per Noam Chomsky, the non-coverage of the East Timor genocide was startling in comparison to the coverage of the Kmer Rouge Kampuchea genocide. The Gary Webb investigation of the CIA’s role in helping the Nicaragua Contras to deal crack cocaine in Los Angeles (ultimatley confirmed by the CIA Inspector General) was not only not covered, but denounced by the NY Times.

Then there is a piece about our having already used nuclear weapons, 5 kiloton microbombs, one in February 1991 near Basra, Iraq, and 4 in Afghanistan at Tora Bora in 2001 (www.thomasonline.net). I can’t know if this is true, although it sounds plausible and credible, with details of the radiation after effects in Basra. Did the NYT or any mainstream media think it worthwhile to check? Again, I don’t know, but the sad state of affairs makes me believe that if it were true, every effort would be made to not report such an event, because serving the regime is more important than publishing the news we really need to know.

I guess what the NY Times means by “Independent Press” is operating and opining within a limited range of permitted topics, but mandatory complicity with crimes committed by our government in the name of national security.

4. martin weiss - 12/21/07

There are many stories that would improve circulation that the Times refuses to notice, like the Assistant US Attorney in Florida, a Republican, who was arrested in Detroit for arranging sex with a five-year-girl and subsequently hanged himself in jail.
Arrogance is the word for a news organ which disrespects the very market which supports it. The fact that the Bush Administration has violated the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg Charter, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Title 18, as well as the Magna Carta– is evidently not fit to print.

5. Steven H. - 12/21/07

“All The Fascism That’s Fit To Print”…

This Week In Fascism http://www.twif.org

6. Chrysippus - 12/21/07

There may be yet another example of the NYT’s lack of liberal bias: that just before election day it shelved the potentially explosive story about the possibility that Bush wore a wire at the first debate with Kerry in 2004. Can anyone confirm the paper did this?


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