Times Watch Quotes of Note 2011 Worst Quotes of the Year

Welcome to Times Watch's end-of-year awards issue, celebrating the best of the worst quotes that appeared in the paper or were uttered by Times reporters and columnists during 2011.


The New York Times spent much of the year in pro-Obama defense mode, excoriating the Tea Party and conservative opposition to Obama's agenda. Yet the paper found one movement it could embrace wholeheartedly – the leftist campouts known as Occupy Wall Street. And sometimes - as when China-loving columnist Tom Friedman spouted, "If this were China they would have walked to the game in the snow, and doing calculus along the way," Times journalism was just too ridiculous to take seriously. Paul Krugman made his usual sterling showing as well, using the tragedies of 9-11 and the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to attack conservatives.


This year there were three categories of biased quotes:

• Occupy Wall Street's 'Athenian Democracy' vs. Tea Party 'Terrorists'

• Just Plain Bizarre


• Blaming Conservatism, not the Shooter, for the Rampage in Arizona


Ira Stoll is our guest judge. The editor of newstransparency.com and futureofcapitalism.com, Stoll offered his take on the'best' quotes from the Times for the 2011 edition.


His 'winner' in the category, Occupy Wall Street's 'Athenian Democracy' vs. Tea Party 'Terrorists,' was this poison dart from columnist Joe Nocera on August 2:


'You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them. These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America's most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn't care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that's what it took....For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests.'

Stoll notes: 'Even Nocera, on reflection, thought this was too much, writing, 'The words I chose were intemperate and offensive to many, and I've been roundly criticized. I was a hypocrite, the critics said, for using such language when on other occasions I've called for a more civil politics. In the cool light of day, I agree with them. I apologize.''


For the category, Blaming Conservatism, not the Shooter, for the Rampage in Arizona, Stoll picked this double, or perhaps quadruple standard, from the Times editorial board:


It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman's act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.' – From a January 10 editorial on the shootings in Tucson.

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'In the aftermath of this unforgivable attack, it will be important to avoid drawing prejudicial conclusions from the fact that Major Hasan is an American Muslim whose parents came from the Middle East....There were reports that some soldiers said they had heard him shout 'God is Great' in Arabic before he started firing. But until investigations are complete, no one can begin to imagine what could possibly have motivated this latest appalling rampage.' – From a November 7, 2009 editorial after a radical Muslim Army officer killed a dozen people at Fort Hood, Texas.


Stoll writes: 'This is a blatant double standard, times two (or Times two), which may be a quadruple standard. First, there's the double standard on rushing to judgment, in which it's okay to blame Republicans for violence before investigations are complete, but it's not okay to blame radical Muslims. Second, there's the double standard in which Republicans are to blame for 'arguments of division' and demonization when they criticize immigrants, welfare recipients, or bureaucrats, but the Times isn't demonizing or dividing anyone when it criticizes Republicans, Tea Party members, bankers, or members of the 'one percent.''


Stoll's winner in the category Just Plain Bizarre was this revealing gem from Times economics writer (now Washington Bureau chief) David Leonhardt, in a front-page economics column on April 13:

"In reality, finding a way to raise taxes may well be the central political problem facing the United States.'


Stoll replies: 'Maybe in Mr. Leonhardt's reality. At the Times this sort of opinion-column writing gets you a promotion to Washington bureau chief, which is Mr. Leonhardt's new job overseeing politics and policy coverage.'


Thanks to judge Ira Stoll, and enjoy the full collection of quotes below. - Clay Waters, Director of Times Watch.

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OCCUPY WALL STREET's 'ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY' vs TEA PARTY 'TERRORISTS.'


'The protesters, clustered together in a kind of ad hoc Athenian democracy in the canyons of Lower Manhattan, firmly deny that their demonstrations against corporate greed and the political power of banks exhibit antagonism that singles out Jews.' – Joseph Berger, October 22.


'Zuccotti Park has in fact become a miniature polis, a little city in the making.' – Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, October 16.


'But I think the explosion of this movement really suggests that there were an awful lot of people who were just waiting for somebody to say it, and here we are, and it's a wonderful thing.' – Columnist Paul Krugman discussing Occupy Wall Street on PBS's Charlie Rose, October 12.


'Malka Lubelski marched for economic justice last Sunday dressed as Minnie Mouse....And so it goes in the second month of Occupy Wall Street, where children are becoming an increasing presence as parents try to seize a 'teachable moment' to enlighten them on matters ranging from income inequality to the right to protest.' – An October 27 story on Occupy Wall Street by Helaine Owen, headlined 'For Children's Sake, Taking to the Streets.'


'You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them. These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America's most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn't care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that's what it took....For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests.' – Columnist Joe Nocera, August 2.


'If China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage. Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it's not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists. We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength - and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America's national security this summer doesn't come from China, Iran or any other foreign power. It comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home....So let's remember not only the national security risks posed by Iran and Al Qaeda. Let's also focus on the risks, however unintentional, from domestic zealots.' – Columnist Nicholas Kristof, July 24.


'The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation's honor.' – 'Conservative' columnist David Brooks on July 5, in 'The Mother of All No-Brainers.'

'Many [OWS] protesters say the lawless visitors constitute a tiny fringe and are not representative of the movement, which, they say, has espoused nonviolence and mutual aid. Some have suggested moving the kitchen area and the comfort station out of the park to discourage freeloaders from congregating there. But there are concerns that even if the criminal and antisocial elements are a small minority, they are becoming visible enough to tarnish the image of the entire group.' – From a November 6 story by Cara Buckley and Colin Moynihan.


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'It was difficult, if not disingenuous, for the Tea Party groups to try to disown the behavior. They had organized the rally, and under their model of self-policing, they were responsible for the behavior of people who were there. And after saying for months that anybody could be a Tea Party leader, they could not suddenly dismiss as faux Tea Partiers those protesters who made them look bad.' – Reporter Kate Zernike on page 139 of her 2010 book 'Boiling Mad – Inside Tea Party America.'

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JUST PLAIN BIZARRE


'The vanishing began Wednesday night, the most frightened families packing up their cars as soon as they heard the news....Not far from the plant, in the Hispanic neighborhoods, it is hard to differentiate the silence of the workday, the silence of abandonment or the silence of paralyzing fear.' – Campbell Robertson on a new Alabama law restricting illegal immigration, October 4.


'I have a confession to make. I can describe the legal arguments and the judicial conclusions, but on a fundamental level, I just don't get the attack on the federal law. I don't understand people who voluntarily, without claiming poverty, let their children go uninsured. I don't understand the moral compass of the owner of the fancy car I saw the other day that sported the bumper sticker: 'Repeal Obamacare.'' – Supreme Court reporter turned online columnist Linda Greenhouse, September 21.


"We will realize, [environmentalist Paul Gilding] predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less." – Globe-trotting columnist Thomas Friedman (who owns a 11,400 square foot mansion in Bethesda, MD) in his June 8 column.


'We had Governor Ed Rendell, you know, criticizing the NFL for canceling the Philadelphia Eagles-Viking football game in December and saying we're a bunch of wusses. If this were China they would have walked to the game in the snow, and doing calculus along the way.' – Thomas Friedman, plugging his new book (coauthored with former Clinton advisor Michael Mandelbaum) 'That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back,' on the September 7 edition of Charlie Rose on PBS.


'I stopped eating on Monday and joined around 4,000 other people in a fast to call attention to congressional budget proposals that would make huge cuts in programs for the poor and hungry....These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts - they'd barely make a dent - will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now.' – Food writer Mark Bittman in a March 30 op-ed, 'Why We're Fasting.'


'In reality, finding a way to raise taxes may well be the central political problem facing the United States.' – David Leonhardt's front-page economics column, April 13.


"In downtown Baghdad, a police headquarters has been painted two shades of purple: lilac and grape. The central bank, a staid building in many countries, is coated in bright red candy cane stripes. Multicolored fluorescent lights cover one of the city's bridges, creating a Hawaiian luau effect. Blast walls and security checkpoints stick out because they are often painted in hot pink. Baghdad has weathered invasion, occupation, sectarian warfare and suicide bombers. But now it faces a new scourge: tastelessness." – Michael Schmidt and Yasir Ghazi from Baghdad, May 15.


'It's official: Elizabeth Warren will return to the torture chamber known as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on July 14. Earlier this week, Darrell Issa, the California Republican who is chairman of the committee, tweeted the news. Apparently, Democrats aren't the only ones who use Twitter to harass women.' – Columnist Joe Nocera, June 11.


"In less than two weeks, Ms. Wasserman Schultz - mother, wife, Girl Scout leader, legislator, fund-raiser and House vote counter - will add another job to her monumentally orchestrated life. She will become the first woman elected to lead the Democratic National Committee, a role that requires grit, exaltation and inspiration. At 44, she will be the youngest committee leader in decades....With her trademark curls, Ms. Wasserman Schultz has long been one of the '-est' girls: youngest, smartest, funniest, toughest. Her Democratic colleagues extol her fund-raising prowess, her ease on television and her indefatigability, which is legendary among her colleagues." – From Lizette Alvarez's April 25 profile. (And Wasserman Schultz is actually the second woman to head the DNC, not the first.)


'These candidates are peddling the worst kind of easy fairy tales to those voters who value simplistic prescriptions over hard choices. President Obama may have oversold the effects of his 2009 stimulus program, but it unquestionably saved millions of jobs.' – From a November 19 posting by David Firestone, a former Washington correspondent, now editorial board member.


'What happened after 9/11 - and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not - was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.' – Columnist Paul Krugman in a blog post at nytimes.com the morning of September 11, the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks.


'The images from Wisconsin - with its protests, shutdown of some public services and missing Democratic senators, who fled the state to block a vote - evoked the Middle East more than the Midwest. The parallels raise the inevitable question: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights?' – Michael Cooper and Katharine Seelye, February 19.


"The summer season brings the usual cavalcade of testosterone-fueled action heroes, including Thor, the Green Lantern, Captain America and Conan the Barbarian. But action-movie derring-do is not always an exclusively male preserve, and in the last year some women and girls - Evelyn Salt, Lisbeth Salander and the lingerie-clad avengers of 'Sucker Punch,' among others - have been shooting and not just clawing their way into macho territory. Is this empowerment or exploitation? Feminism or fetishism?....I just don't believe that scene where her character pulls out a rifle to protect the wagon train's Indian prisoner - or should I say when she takes possession of the symbolic phallus." – Feminist movie critic Manohla Dargis on a violent scene in "Meek's Cutoff,' May 1.


'It was in that city that he met Ernesto Guevara, an asthmatic teenager who was determined to play rugby with Mr. Granado's team. They became close friends, sharing an intellectual curiosity, a mischievous sense of humor and a restive desire to explore their continent.' – Obituary writer Victoria Burnett on March 7, marking the death of Alberto Granado Jiménez, travel companion the murderous leftist Che Guevara.


"Is there a racial element to some of the attacks on President Obama? It's pretty hard to argue there isn't, when a conservative writer like Dinesh D'Souza argues that Mr. Obama sees the world like an African nationalist (a theory Mr. Gingrich praised again in his interview Sunday), or when Donald J. Trump asserts that Mr. Obama isn't smart enough to have gotten into Harvard or to have written his own books....The infamous Willie Horton ad that George Bush deployed against Michael Dukakis in 1988, you may recall, was more overtly racist than anything Mr. Obama had to parry 20 years later." – From Matt Bai's May 17 column. The premise of D'Souza's book, "The Roots of Obama's Rage," is the theory that Obama inherited his left-wing ideology from his father, a Kenyan economist who became an anti-colonial agitator. Bush's campaign ads on Willie Horton issue didn't feature Horton's name or picture. Democrat Al Gore raised the furlough issue during a debate against Dukakis.


Paul Krugman: 'To be a little melodramatic, the voucher would kill people, no question.'Gloria Borger: 'His ideas infuriate liberals, like Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.'Krugman: 'The cuts in Medicare that he's proposing, the replacement of Medicare by a voucher system, would in the end mean that tens of millions of older Americans would not be able to afford essential health care. So that counts as cruelty to me.' – Columnist Paul Krugman on CNN's 'Up Close' profile of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, September 25.

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BLAMING CONSERVATISM, NOT THE SHOOTER, FOR THE RAMPAGE IN ARIZONA


'We don't have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She's been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she's a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that 'the whole Tea Party' was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin's infamous 'crosshairs' list.' - Columnist Paul Krugman in a January 8 post at nytimes.com, the day Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson.

'But fairly or not, Arizona's image has been forged in part because of [Gov. Jan] Brewer herself, who has been identified with the tough law aimed at illegal immigrants, budget cuts that include denying aid to people who need life-saving transplants and laws permitting people to take concealed guns into bars and banning the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools.' – Reporter Adam Nagourney, January 12.


'[Loughner] became an echo chamber for stray ideas, amplifying, for example, certain grandiose tenets of a number of extremist right-wing groups - including the need for a new money system and the government's mind-manipulation of the masses through language....A few days later, during a meeting with a school administrator, Mr. Loughner said that he had paid for his courses illegally because, 'I did not pay with gold and silver' - a standard position among right-wing extremist groups.' - Front-page story by Dan Barry, January 16.


'On Sunday, the state found itself increasingly on the defensive against notions that it is a hothouse of hateful language and violent proclivities. It was as if Arizona somehow created the setting for the shocking episode, even though there was no evidence to support the claim....While the individual components of Arizona are shared by other states, the mix of the state's border proximity, rapid growth and dire fiscal circumstances have combined in the last few years into a riveting and sometimes chilling theater of fiscal, political and cultural tensions.' – Jennifer Steinhauer on January 10, reacting to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson.


'Some people who study right-wing militia groups and those who align themselves with the so-called Patriot movement said Mr. Loughner's comments on subjects like the American currency and the Constitution, which he posted online in various video clips, were strikingly similar in language and tone to the voices of the Internet's more paranoid, extremist corners....The position, for instance, that currency not backed by a gold or silver standard is worthless is a hallmark of the far right and the militia movement, said Mark Potok, who directs research on hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center....Law enforcement officials said they suspected that Mr. Loughner might also have been influenced by things like American Renaissance, a conservative magazine that describes itself as 'America's premiere publication of racial-realist thought.' - From a January 10 front-page story by Kirk Johnson, Serge Kovaleski, Dan Frosch, and Eric Lipton.

'Have politicians stoked the pre-Loughner violence by advocating that citizens pursue 'Second Amendment remedies' or be 'armed and dangerous'? We don't know. What's more disturbing is what Republican and conservative leaders have not said. Their continuing silence during two years of simmering violence has been chilling.' – From Frank Rich's January 16 column.

'The district has become a caldron of divisions over government spending, immigration, health care and Barack Obama....the shootings came after a disconcerting run of episodes in this district of mountains and desert, raising temperatures here in a way that some that some of Ms. Giffords's friends argue fed an atmosphere that might encourage violence.' - From a January 11 front-page article by Sam Dolnick, Katharine Seelye, and Adam Nagourney.

'It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman's act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats. They seem to have persuaded many Americans that the government is not just misguided, but the enemy of the people.' – From a January 10 editorial on the shootings in Tucson.


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'In the aftermath of this unforgivable attack, it will be important to avoid drawing prejudicial conclusions from the fact that Major Hasan is an American Muslim whose parents came from the Middle East....There were reports that some soldiers said they had heard him shout 'God is Great' in Arabic before he started firing. But until investigations are complete, no one can begin to imagine what could possibly have motivated this latest appalling rampage.' – From a November 7, 2009 editorial after a radical Muslim Army officer killed a dozen people at Fort Hood, Texas.

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The paper's overwhelming bias of 2011 makes Jill Abramson's June 2 remarks upon her ascension to the executive editor slot (scrubbed from the print edition) all the more dubious: "In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion. If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth."