"Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? Of Course It Is." - July 26, 2004 - TimesWatch.org

Times Watch for July 26, 2004

"Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? Of Course It Is."

Now, was that so hard?

Daniel Okrent, the Times "public editor" (what other newspapers would call an ombudsman) admitted the obvious in his Sunday Week in Review column, provocatively titled "Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?"

Okrent answers his own question in the piece's very first line: "Of course it is."

After making that admission (sure to inflame the Times newsroom), it's perhaps no wonder that he's taking the month of August off.

Okrent, who was the editor at large for Life magazine from 1999 to 2001, admitted his Democratic leanings in his very first column as ombudsman. Yet in Sunday's column he states: "I'll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed."

He concentrates in particular on the paper's coverage of gay marriage, which he terms "a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause" (and a cause Okrent himself appears to personally support).

Still, Okrent observes: "...for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it's disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading. So far this year, front-page headlines have told me that "For Children of Gays, Marriage Brings Joy," (March 19, 2004); that the family of "Two Fathers, With One Happy to Stay at Home," (Jan. 12, 2004) is a new archetype; and that "Gay Couples Seek Unions in God's Eyes," (Jan. 30, 2004). I've learned where gay couples go to celebrate their marriages; I've met gay couples picking out bridal dresses; I've been introduced to couples who have been together for decades and have now sanctified their vows in Canada, couples who have successfully integrated the world of competitive ballroom dancing, couples whose lives are the platonic model of suburban stability. Every one of these articles was perfectly legitimate. Cumulatively, though, they would make a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause. You wouldn't even need the articles: run the headlines over the invariably sunny pictures of invariably happy people that ran with most of these pieces, and you'd have the makings of a life insurance commercial."

Indeed, Times Watch criticized each of those front-page stories at the time they were filed. In the January 12 story, the Times reporter stated as fact that adoption laws favoring heterosexuals are discriminatory. In the January 30 piece, the Times went out of its way to portray gay couples as monogamous homebodies. And for its March 19 front-page story, the paper shut out experts opposed to gay adoption, quoting only those sympathetic to the cause. On gay marriage, Okrent concludes: "On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires."

Okrent takes the issue of liberal bias to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who of course disagrees. Okrent summarizes: "[Sulzberger] prefers to call the paper's viewpoint 'urban.' He says that the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means 'We're less easily shocked,' and that the paper reflects 'a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility.'"

It sounds like Sulzberger is trying to argue (nicely) that the Times is just a little more open-minded than its inflexible conservative critics.

For the rest of Okrent's sure-to-be-debated article, click here.

" Gay Marriage | Liberal Bias | Daniel Okrent | Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

Hussein's Downfall "Disillusioning" for Iraqi Artists?

Jeffrey Gettleman's front-page story from Baghdad Sunday looks at Iraqi artists. The headline reads "Art Attempts to Imitate Iraqi Life in All Its Chaos and Misery." Amazingly, all the "chaos and misery" Gettleman laments arrived only after the overthrow of the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein.

The story opens: "Adnan Abbas spends his days bent over an easel, turning bloodshed into art. Twenty-seven years old, surrounded by violence and gloom, he spreads a newspaper at his feet, dips his brush in linseed oil and tries to paint what it feels like to be an Iraqi."

How does it feel? Not good, says Gettleman, who claims Iraqi artists have found their liberation "disillusioning": "The war in Iraq has been especially disillusioning for young Iraqi artists, many of whom believed the American promises of freedom. As the old order fell, they sat in their cracked-window studios and at paint-splattered easels and dreamed of an Iraqi renaissance. They dream still. At the Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts, which Mr. Abbas attends, the school play last semester explored the humiliation of the American occupation and began with the sounds of helicopters and machine guns."

Demonstrating an amazing lack of perspective, Gettleman writes as if nothing untoward ever happened under Saddam Hussein and that things have only gone to hell since America barged in with its false "promises of freedom." He insists: "The amount of violence has stunned these artists. It has robbed them of business, killed classmates and made it difficult to work and live. But the war has also given them a lot to think about."

There is a bright side: "Artists often have found fresh, dramatic material in conflict, and Iraqi artists, young and old, are no exception. This spring, Fadel Hayat, a 58-year-old Kurdish painter, displayed two canvases, one he painted before the American invasion and one after. The first is a sunny scene of water and trees, the second a tableau of black and red squares. He is among many mature artists who say that all the recent death and destruction have turned them inward, seeking to make sense of a world that does not make sense."

The recent death and destruction? Surely Gettleman hasn't forgotten the mass murders under Hussein's rule.

"In mid-April, the Ministry of Culture tried to put on a big show to celebrate the first anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein. The problem was, not many artists felt like celebrating. 'We don't consider this moment the end of Saddam,' said Juma Shumran, manager of Baghdad's Hewar Gallery. 'We consider it the beginning of the occupation.'"

Freelance writer Stephen Vincent filed a report from Baghdad suggesting another reason the Hewar Gallery wasn't overjoyed at Hussein's downfall-simple greed: "To be sure, not everyone at the Hewar felt reborn, especially among the customers over 40, who remembered the good old days of government-sponsored awards and competitions, lucrative commissions for portraits of Father Saddam, and extra pocket money from spying for the Mukhabarat. 'Under Saddam, we could do any kind of art, as long as it wasn"t political; things were much better then,' Septi, the owner, said nostalgically. 'Saddam was good for us; we lived well!' declared former Saddam portraitist Abdul Jabar".The roughly 50/50 split between pro- and anti-Saddam voices at the Hewar is deceptive, however. Because of the despot"s beneficence to artists-advocates of government arts funding, take note-support for the tyrant runs deep there."

For the rest of Gettleman on the post-Hussein plight of artists in Iraq, click here.

" Arts | Jeffrey Gettleman | Saddam Hussein | Iraq War

Giving Bush a Raspberry

Reporter Katharine Seelye makes the best of what was apparently a very slow news week, speculating how a facial expression by Jenna Bush may damage her father's image in the war on terror. Really.

In "When Daughter Seems a Bit Too Much Like Father," a surprisingly uptight Seelye disapproves of first daughter Jenna Bush sticking her tongue out at some reporters and photographers (the photo caption reads: "Jenna Bush, campaigning for her father last week, makes an unintended splash").

Seelye even manages to work in a snide reference to Jenna Bush's alleged wild side: "Well, that was a fine how-do-you do. This was supposed to be the new Jenna Bush. Fresh out of college, ready to shed the 'Jenna and Tonic' image she earned as a partying undergraduate, she posed for Vogue in a couture gown and declared an interest in working with charter schools. It was all a prelude to becoming a public figure at 22 and heading out on the campaign trail for Dear Old Dad. Then last week she stuck out her tongue at reporters and photographers. The pictures whizzed around the globe."

Later Seelye spins hard to make the harmless gesture look harmful to Bush: "And in fact, Ms. Bush's poke of her tongue at the media may not have done her father any harm. She probably inspired cries of 'You go, girl!' from supporters who think the president should stick his tongue out at the media once in awhile anyway. But her off-message gesture may also have reminded voters of her father's reputation as a frat-boy prankster, which may not be the image that his campaign wants to rekindle in a time of the war on terror."

What in the world is Seelye talking about?

For the rest of Seelye disapproving of Jenna Bush, click here.

" Jenna Bush | George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | Katharine Seelye

Sandy Berger, Terror Fighter

More pro-Sandy Berger spin from the Times in Sunday's Week in Review section. The "Page Two" rundown of the weeks news includes a summary of the findings of the 9/11 report.

Titled "On Sept. 11, Did Anything Go Right?" the story (perhaps written by Richard Stevenson, though it doesn't have its own byline) poses the question: "Who comes out worse, President Bush or President Clinton?"

The answer comes with some pro-Berger spin on top: "Neither comes off well, but if there has to be a winner, the report seems to portray Mr. Clinton as better informed and more engaged than Mr. Bush. Mr. Clinton and his national security adviser, Samuel Berger, the report says, had 'a special daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on bin Laden's reported location.' And it describes how Mr. Berger took the lead in December 1999 in mobilizing the F.B.I. and other domestic agencies to address the so-called millennium plot, in which attacks planned in Jordan and Los Angeles were disrupted. The report says that Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, did not seem to regard the coordination of domestic agencies as part of their responsibility after they took office in 2001, even as warnings of a possible attack continued to grow."

Yet as Byron York recently pointed out: "[Richard] Clarke apparently concluded that the millennium plot was foiled by luck-a border agent in Washington State who happened to notice a nervous, sweating man who turned out to have explosives in his car-and not by the Clinton administration's savvy anti-terrorism work."

For the rest of the Times on Sandy Berger, scourge of the terrorists, click here.

" Sandy Berger | George W. Bush | Bill Clinton | Condoleezza Rice | Richard Stevenson | Terrorism

Downplaying Al Qaeda-Iraq Ties, Again

It's becoming a pattern: Times reporters trying to minimize the proven ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq in Sunday's front-page story on the 9/11 Commission's final report.

The story, written by Philip Shenon and reported by Shenon, Douglas Jehl and David Johnston, includes this long attempt to make the Bushies look misguided: "The Bush administration has long maintained that there was a close working relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq. In October 2002, with the invasion of Iraq only months away, Mr. Bush said in a speech in Cincinnati that 'high-level contacts' between Iraq and Al Qaeda 'go back a decade,' and that 'we've learned that Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.' As recently as last month, Vice President Dick Cheney said there was reason to believe a disputed Czech intelligence report that Mohamed Atta had met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague in April 2001, suggesting a tie between Iraq and the Sept. 11 plot. But in its most contentious effort to set the record straight about the origins of the plot, the bipartisan commission's final report found no evidence of close collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, appearing to undermine a justification for the Iraq war".While there had indeed been periodic contacts in the late 1990's between Al Qaeda representatives and Iraqi officials, principally in Sudan, the commission found, those contacts did not amount to much."

Again, the Times is trying hard to downplay ties between Iraq and al Qaeda-a subject about which the commission's report goes into significant detail. Journalist Byron York read the report and found it mentions several ties between bin Laden and Hussein, many occurring even after bin Laden moved from Sudan to Afghanistan (despite the Times implication they were "principally in Sudan").

York quotes the commission's report: "In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December".Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of the United States."

For the rest of Shenon on the 9/11 report, click here.

" Saddam Hussein | Douglas Jehl | David Johnston | Osama bin Laden | Philip Shenon | Terrorism