The Times Watch Quotes of Note 2009
Worst Quotes of the Year
New York Times bias often came with a smile in the early part of 2009, with the paper falling hard for Obama's "historic" presidency and limitless intellect. But by late summer that smile had curdled into a snarl, as Times reporters seethed at"angry," "bitter," and, above all, "white" tea party protesters who challenged the president on his attempted takeover of health care and his massive spending proposals. Below is a collection of the worst bias the Times has to offer in 2009.
This year Times Watch welcomes first-time judge Scott Johnson to join Thomas Lifson and Don Luskin to choose the most biased quotes as their "favorite" from the Times in 2009.
Scott Johnson of the Powerline blog went beyond the call of duty and may qualify for hazard pay, picking favorites in each category. But he found this quote from Thomas Friedman's September 9 column in praise of Communist China the worst of all:
Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.
Johnson writes: "Given the esteem in which he is held by "right" (as in left) thinkers, Tom Friedman deserves special recognition for this quote. It sheds light on Friedman, the Times, and Times readers."
Thomas Lifson, editor and publisher of American Thinker, picked this September 13 quote from columnist Maureen Dowd:
Surrounded by middle-aged white guys - a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men's club - Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" at a president who didn't. But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!
Lifson commented: "Maureen Dowd's imputing of racism to Rep. Joe Wilson, in her infamous 'You lie, boy!' fantasy is not merely repulsive, it reveals a mind alarmingly detached from reality. The sheer meanness and casual flinging of a scurrilous charge plumb a moral low."
Don Luskin, chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC and publisher of The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid, picked the paper's double standards on unions, which are vital institutions - for other businesses. For the New York Times itself? Not so much:
The argument against unions - that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands - is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad....The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would. There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important. - Editorial from Dec. 29, 2008.
The New York Times News Service will lay off at least 25 editorial employees next year and will move the editing of the service to a Florida newspaper owned by The New York Times Company....The plan for the news service calls for The Gainesville Sun, whose newsroom is not unionized and has lower salaries, to take over editing and page design. - Richard Perez-Pena, Nov. 13, 2009.
Luskin said this double standard "expresses the fundamental hypocrisy of the Times as an elite institution that tries to establish its institutional legitimacy by attacking elite institutions."
Thanks to all our judges, and enjoy the quotes. - Clay Waters, Times Watch director.
WE LOVE OBAMA...
"Washington is suddenly hip again, infused with the heady double-barreled combination of a new crowd of idealistic young political worker bees, who actually believe they can change the world, and the arrival of America's first black president. It's even cool to wave the Stars and Stripes. And in the honeymoon months of the Barack Obama presidency, before the country's marriage to its new president undergoes the usual souring, a trip to the nation's capital is just the ticket. Why, it would almost be unpatriotic not to visit." - Helene Cooper in a January 18 travelogue, "36 Hours in D.C."
"It is an old tradition, a White House dinner governed by ritual and protocol that happens to be this city's hottest social event. But at their first state dinner on Tuesday night, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, made sure to infuse the glittering gala with distinctive touches. They hired a new florist, Laura Dowling, who bedecked the tented outdoor dining room with locally grown, sustainably harvested magnolia branches and ivy. They selected a guest chef, Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit in New York, an American citizen who was born in Ethiopia, reared in Sweden and cooks up melting pots of flavors and cuisines....And don't forget the dinner plates. For an administration that publicly prizes bipartisanship, what could be finer than an eclectic mix of Clinton and Bush china?....The evening was a potent mix of politics, diplomacy and glamour, with the administration's favored donors mingling with lawmakers from Congress, cabinet secretaries, Indian dignitaries and Hollywood celebrities decked out in tuxedos and designer dresses." - Reporter Rachel Swarns, November 25.
"As the most gifted orator of his generation, President Obama finds speechmaking perhaps his most potent political tool. It propelled him to national prominence in 2004 and to the White House in 2008. And whenever he needs to calm economic fears or revive stalled health care legislation, he takes to the lectern." - Reporter Peter Baker, November 8.
"But Obama has also demonstrated, not for the first time, two things about his emerging governing style that contrast sharply with that of his predecessor. The first is that he means to draw a distinction between useful campaign rhetoric and the realities of governing, even if it makes him look inconstant. The second is that he doesn't seem especially bothered by the perception that he's dithering. Bush often seemed to measure leadership by the number of seconds it took to make a decision. Obama displays a different kind of spine - the capacity to take his time, even when allies and critics are pounding at the door." - Contributing writer Matt Bai in the November 1 New York Times Magazine.
"Mr. Obama's love of fiction and poetry...has not only given him a heightened awareness of language. It has also imbued him with a tragic sense of history and a sense of the ambiguities of the human condition quite unlike the Manichean view of the world so often invoked by Mr. Bush." - From book critic Michiko Kakutani's front-page story, "From Books, New President Found Voice," January 19.
...AND WE HATE CONSERVATIVES
"White supremacist groups are vastly expanding. And right-wing TV rhetoric, thoughtless in its cruelty and ratings-hungry demagoguery, is helping feed the paranoia and rage that for some Americans now bubbles just beneath the surface." - Online columnist Judith Warner, June 11.
"More than six and a half years after the United States-led invasion here that many believed was about oil, the major oil companies are finally gaining access to Iraq's petroleum reserves. But they are doing so at far less advantageous terms than they once envisioned." - The lead to Timothy Williams' December 1 story on U.S. oil companies in Iraq.
"That demographic is white and non-urban: Just look at the stops and the faces on her carefully calibrated book tour. The affect is emotional - the angry air of grievance that emerged first at her campaign rallies in 2008, with their shrieked threats to Obama, and that has since resurfaced in the Hitler-fixated 'tea party' movement (which she endorses in her book)....Palin is at the red-hot center of age-old American resentments that have boiled up both from the ascent of our first black president and from the intractability of the Great Recession for those Americans who haven't benefited from bailouts." - Columnist Frank Rich on Sarah Palin's fans, November 22.
"Unchecked fervor, of course, can be a raw and fearsome thing. Last year, the Young Conservatives embarrassed the university by throwing eggs at a picture of Mr. Obama ('He'll throw away your nest egg,' was the topical message lost to history) on national television. T-shirts bearing the legend 'Beat the Hell Outta Obama,' an ad hominem twist on a football slogan, did little to improve matters." - From Michael Brick's October 16 report on Obama visiting Texas A&M.
"Surrounded by middle-aged white guys - a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men's club - Joe Wilson yelled 'You lie!' at a president who didn't. But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!" - Maureen Dowd in a September 13 column on Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst during Obama's health-care address.
"They got up before dawn in large numbers with angry signs and American flag T-shirts, and many were seething with frustration at issues that went far beyond overhauling health care....Ms. Abram described herself as a stay-at-home mother from Lebanon, and in many ways she was representative of the almost entirely white and irritable crowd, most of whom were from the area. Many of the union members who showed up to support health care reform did not arrive early enough to get into the auditorium at the Harrisburg Area Community College, and thus were largely not represented among the 30 questioners called on by Mr. Specter. It was the angriest people who got in line first." - Ian Urbina and Katharine Seelye, August 12.
"It was a disgrace that W. appointed two white men to a court stocked with white men." - Maureen Dowd, in a July 15 column defending Obama Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
"Joe, a k a Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, was no good as a citizen, having failed to pay his full share of taxes, no good as a plumber, not being fully credentialed, and not even any good as a faux American icon." - Reporter turned columnist Timothy Egan in his December 7, 2008 column, "Typing Without a Clue," on a book deal for "Joe the Plumber."
"Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s - a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing. Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to 'segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration' and label them as terrorists. But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient. There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn't say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment." - Columnist Paul Krugman, June 12.
"I'm a huge Obama fan. I think it's such an unbelievably great thing to have a president who's competent and not insane." - "Ethicist" columnist Randy Cohen, on the April 24 edition of Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO.
"All of these tax day parties seemed less about revolution and more about group therapy. At least with the more widely known protest against government spending, people attending the rallies were dressed patriotically and held signs expressing their anger, but offering no solutions." - Reporter Liz Robbins in an April 15 online article about that day's anti-tax "tea parties." The paragraph was taken out of the version that appeared in the April 16 print edition.
"As someone who spends a lot of time on the road, I used to find Limbaugh to be an obnoxious but entertaining companion, his eruptions more reliable than Old Faithful. But now that Limbaugh has become something else - the face of the Republican Party, by a White House that has played him brilliantly - he has been transformed into car-wreck-quality spectacle, at once scary and sad. Behold: The sweaty, swollen man in the black, half-buttoned shirt who ranted for nearly 90 minutes Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference." - Former Times reporter Timothy Egan on his "Outposts" blog, March 4.
SAM TANENHAUS, UNDERTAKER FOR CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT
"Even today the right insists it is driven by ideas, even if the leading thinkers are now Limbaugh and Beck, and the shock troops are tea-baggers and anti-tax demonstrators." - Week in Review and Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, in an October 1 exchange with Reihan Salam at Slate magazine's "Book Club" feature discussing his recent book "The Death of Conservatism."
"Like the 19th Century nationalists who wanted to recover parts of their country that foreign nations had invaded and occupied, these radical people on the right, and they include intellectuals and the kinds of personalities we're seeing on television and radio, and also to some extent people marching in the streets, think America has gotten away from them....But what happened was the right was so institutionally successful that it controlled many of the levers, as you say. So, what happened in the year 2000? Well, the conservatives on the Supreme Court stopped the democratic process, put their guy into office." - From Tanenhaus's appearance on the September 18 edition of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.
"With Nixon, with Reagan, and with George W. Bush - decided there should be no constraints on the presidency at all. And we had three presidents in those three instances - Nixon, Reagan, and Bush - who committed impeachable offenses probably. And we had Democratic presidents who seemed to understand the limitations of power, and we had moderate Republicans who understood that - Gerald Ford, Dwight Eisenhower, the elder Bush." - Tanenhaus on the October 28 edition of Charlie Rose.
PRO-DEMOCRATIC DOUBLE STANDARDS
"The argument against unions - that they unduly burden employers with unreasonable demands - is one that corporate America makes in good times and bad....The real issue is whether enhanced unionizing would worsen the recession, and there is no evidence that it would. There is a strong argument that the slack labor market of a recession actually makes unions all the more important." - Editorial from Dec. 29, 2008.
"The New York Times News Service will lay off at least 25 editorial employees next year and will move the editing of the service to a Florida newspaper owned by The New York Times Company....The plan for the news service calls for The Gainesville Sun, whose newsroom is not unionized and has lower salaries, to take over editing and page design." - Richard Perez-Pena, Nov. 13, 2009.
"A referendum on Obama, or isolated local contests?" - Text box to a November 2 preview of the 2009 elections, anticipating Democratic defeats.
"Stinging Defeats for G.O.P. Come at a Sensitive Time." - Headline over a Nov. 9, 2005 story after Democratic wins.
"The fringe conspiracy theory - that he is not constitutionally eligible to be president - has taken on a life of its own and become a dreaded topic for some lawmakers." - Jeff Zeleny on those who question Obama's U.S. citizenship, August 5.
"Some participants see an American tradition of questioning concentrated power." - Text box from Alan Feuer's June 5, 2006 report from a Chicago convention of conspiracy theorists who think 9-11 was an inside job by the Bush administration.
"Indeed, by this measure, [Carlos] Slim is richer even than the robber barons of the gilded age. John D. Rockefeller, America's richest man, was worth the equivalent of about 1.5 percent of the nation's G.D.P....But the momentous scale is not the most galling aspect of Mr. Slim's riches. There's the issue of theft. Like many a robber baron - or Russian oligarch, or Enron executive - Mr. Slim calls to mind the words of Honoré de Balzac: 'Behind every great fortune there is a crime.'" - Eduardo Porter in an August 27, 2007 editorial on Mexican media mogul Carlos Slim.
"Carlos, a very shrewd businessman with an appreciation for great brands, showed a deep understanding of the role that news, information and education play in our interconnected global society....As he spoke at our meeting, he conveyed the quiet but fierce confidence that has enabled him to have a profound and lasting effect on millions of individuals in Mexico and neighboring countries. Carlos knows very well how much one person with courage, determination and vision can achieve." - Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. praising Slim for Time Magazine's 2009 "Time 100" list, soon after Slim had purchased 6% of NYT Co. shares and lent the company $250 million.
"Military personnel at Camp Victory in Baghdad applauded President Obama on Tuesday when he said 'It is time for us to transition to the Iraqis.'" - Headline and front-page photo caption over an enormous photo of Obama meeting troops on his first trip to Iraq as president, April 8, 2009.
"President Bush with American troops yesterday at the mess hall at Baghdad International Airport." - Front-page photo caption to medium-sized photo of Bush's dramatic, secret Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad, November 28, 2003.
"President Bush posed for a photograph yesterday during his surprise visit to American troops at the airport in Baghdad, Iraq. Few journalists were told of the trip or allowed to cover it." - Photo caption to a jump-page photo of Bush's Thanksgiving visit, November 28, 2003.
"Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77." - Lead to John Broder's August 27 obituary to Sen. Ted Kennedy, under the online headline "Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Is Dead at 77."
"Jesse Helms, the former North Carolina senator whose courtly manner and mossy drawl barely masked a hard-edged conservatism that opposed civil rights, gay rights, foreign aid and modern art, died early Friday. He was 86." - Lead to Steven Holmes' July 5, 2008 obituary to former Sen. Jesse Helms, under the headline "Jesse Helms, Unyielding Beacon of Conservatism, Is Dead at 86."
JUST PLAIN WACKY
"In their heart of hearts, few in the Obama administration would have predicted late last year that they would be this well positioned by June to achieve a major victory on health care. As the economy faltered, and attention focused on Wall Street and Detroit, it seemed unthinkable that Congress would be ready to devote the summer of 2009 to the costly proposition of providing health coverage for all, a goal that has eluded presidents since Theodore Roosevelt." - Lead to health reporter Kevin Sack's June 19 story.
"Next to the other hoaxes and fantasies that have been abetted by the news media in recent years, both the 'balloon boy' and Chamber of Commerce ruses are benign. The Colorado balloon may have led to the rerouting of flights and the wasteful deployment of law enforcement resources. But at least it didn't lead the country into fiasco the way George W. Bush's flyboy spectacle on an aircraft carrier helped beguile most of the Beltway press and too much of the public into believing that the mission had been accomplished in Iraq." - Columnist Frank Rich, October 25.
"If Hamas is ready to talk, and there are lots of different strands to Hamas, if Hamas is ready to talk, what is the problem?" - Foreign affairs columnist Roger Cohen on the October 15 edition of the PBS talk show Charlie Rose.
"'The Stoning of Soraya M.,' a true story of religiously sanctioned misogyny and mob violence in an Iranian village, thoroughly blurs the line between high-minded outrage and lurid torture-porn." - Movie critic Stephen Holden, June 26.
"Still shaking off the cobwebs of its failed experiment in Maoist utopia, China was home to 1.3 billion people whose wallets awaited credit cards, 2.6 billion feet eager for Nike sneakers, and 13 billion fingers waiting to be licked in the thrall of KFC chicken." - Economics reporter Peter Goodman in the May 17 Week in Review.
"Less than two days after he lost his bid for re-election, and four days before he was to go on trial, the mayor of Jackson, Miss., died early Thursday, city officials said....Mr. Melton was known for his flashy, hands-on approach to combating urban crime. He carried a police badge, two guns, a bulletproof jacket and a large stick while personally patrolling Jackson's toughest streets, although he was not certified as a member of the Police Department. This approach earned him a national reputation and the support of conservatives like the Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera." - Robbie Brown, writing on the death of former Jackson, MS mayor Frank Melton on May 8. "Conservative" Rivera was a passionate defender of Bill Clinton during impeachment proceedings and strongly supports Barack Obama.
"During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office, enchanted you the most about serving in this office, humbled you the most and troubled you the most?" - Reporter Jeff Zeleny at the White House's "100 Day" press conference April 29.
"Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages." - Columnist Thomas Friedman on China, September 9.
"Americans like their toilet tissue soft: exotic confections that are silken, thick and hot-air-fluffed. The national obsession with soft paper has driven the growth of brands like Cottonelle Ultra, Quilted Northern Ultra and Charmin Ultra - which in 2008 alone increased its sales by 40 percent in some markets, according to Information Resources, Inc., a marketing research firm. But fluffiness comes at a price: millions of trees harvested in North America and in Latin American countries, including some percentage of trees from rare old-growth forests in Canada." - From a February 26 story by Leslie Kaufman. The New York Times prints over one million copies every day.