At the beginning of last year, the New York Times’ newly-appointed publisher A.G. Sulzberger, promised readers that he would hold the paper he inherited from his father to “the highest standards of independence, rigor and fairness.” Further, he vowed that the Grey Lady would resist “polarization and groupthink.”
How is that going, Mr. Sulzberger? Is the Times exhibiting much “fairness” these days? Or have you traded integrity for a new lease on life as a radical voice of the anti-Trump mob?
The Times is in the crosshairs once again, for having published yet another non-credible smear against conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The story, which ran in the paper’s opinion section this past weekend was authored by two Times reporters Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly. It was adapted from their soon-to-be-released book and claimed that Kavanaugh classmate Max Stier, “saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student.”
The Times failed to mention that the partisan Stier had previously been Bill Clinton’s defense attorney, or that Stier had engaged in legal battles with Kavanaugh in the course of the Whitewater investigation, but rather referred to him as a “respected thought leader.”
More importantly, the Times neglected to include the damning information that the female student supposedly involved in this episode denied any memory of the event and that efforts to find other corroborating witnesses flopped.
The blowback to this journalistic malpractice was so severe that the Times was forced to publish an embarrassing “editor’s note” admitting, “An earlier version of this article…did not include one element of the book’s account… that the female student declined to be interviewed and friends say that she does not recall the incident.”
Notwithstanding the severe drubbing handed out – even from some voices on the left – the Times was back at it the very next day, publishing a page one story with the headline “Allegation Reopens the Debate over Kavanaugh.”
Strike another blow against the Times’ shrunken credibility. It is only the latest in a string of almost incredible lapses in journalistic integrity. Indeed, coupling those words with today’s Times seems utterly inappropriate.
Remember that critics recently blasted Executive Editor Dean Baquet for changing a page one headline, “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism,” because it was too favorable to the president. In subsequent editions, the headline read “Assailing Hate but Not Guns,” which apparently mollified angry anti-Trumpers.
Baquet took the opportunity presented by the demotion of an editor not in lockstep with the Times’ prevailing political correctness to host a newsroom briefing this past August.
At that gathering, he explained how reporters could portray the president as a racist without actually defining him as such. This was the version of that staff gathering that was reported by the paper itself. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/13/business/media/times-editor-weisman-demoted.html
A transcript of Baquet’s remarks reveals him advising reporters that since Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s supposed collusion with Russia was a bust, the paper would now shift focus. He acknowledged that the Times was so dug in on Russiagate that they were slow to move on. “We’re a little tiny bit flat-footed. I mean, that’s what happens when a story looks a certain way for two years. Right?”
No, that’s actually what happens when you cling desperately to a conspiracy story about a political opponent instead of following the facts.
Baquet then suggested the paper would next focus on “the country, race, and other divisions.” That is the new mandate.
Using the newsroom as a political weapon is not only offensive to fair-minded Americans, it is also contrary to the supposed good intentions of Mr. Sulzberger.
As he took over as publisher, Sulzberger was reacting to the realization that the Times had gotten two of the most important news stories of our time dead wrong – the election of Donald Trump and the UK vote in favor of Brexit. In both cases, the smug ideological preconceptions of the Times’ staff overrode any consideration for, or awareness of, opposing views.
It is fair to say that to this day the Times’ staff cannot comprehend why anyone voted for Donald Trump or why any Englishman might choose to leave the EU.
So egregious was the error on the 2016 election that the former publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, felt compelled to write an apologia about his newspaper giving Hillary Clinton 85 percent odds of winning on the eve of the vote. He wondered whether “Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality [had] lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters?”
Sadly, no one at the Times, including Sulzberger, paid any attention to previous public editors who raised alarms about the paper’s bias.
The most recent was Liz Spayd, a former managing editor for the Washington Post, who, in 2016, attempted to respond to letters from readers like this: “The NY Times is alienating its independent and open-minded readers, and in doing so, limiting the reach of their message and its possible influence.” And this: “You’ve lost a subscriber because of your relentless bias against Trump — and I’m not even a Republican.”
She toured the Times’ newsroom asking about bias and was shocked to discover that Baquet, among others, “doesn’t believe that the coverage on most days has a liberal cast…” Spayd wrote that “this perception [of bias] by many readers strikes me as poison. A paper whose journalism appeals to only half the country has a dangerously severed public mission.”
Spayd left her post early just before the public editor position was eliminated. She would likely have been dismayed to see that, thanks to the Times’ venomous reporting, the paper’s subscription base would swell with anti-Trump readers. Now the paper has to feed that mob.
As a result, do not look for Sulzberger to push for moderation, or balance, or fairness. Those days are gone.