Top Ten Lowlights of The New York Times in 2006
Narrowing down the 2006 edition of the Top Ten Lowlights of The New York Times to a mere ten entries was a tough task -the paper provided such a wealth of biased behavior throughout the year, from reporters throwing national security secrets onto the front page to publishers going on liberal rants at graduation ceremonies. But we've managed to whittle down the worst from another liberally slanted year from the New York Times, and here is the rundown, in ascending order of gruesomeness.
#10 Spinning Kerry's "Botched Joke"
Back in May, reporter Kate Zernike helped former presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry out by unquestioningly rehashing his revisionist account of the Swift Boats Veterans for Truth controversy, while failing to question several inconsistencies in Kerry's counterattack on the group.
Zernike again carried Kerry's water a week before the 2006 congressional election, in a November 2 "Political Memo," when it briefly seemed that a Kerry gaffe might hurt the Democrats. In the process, Zernike revealed herself as perhaps the only person following politics who didn't listen to Kerry's actual "botched joke."
What Kerry actually said at a campaign rally in California: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
Not only did the Times headline, "Flubbed Joke Makes Kerry a Political Punching Bag, Again," give Kerry the benefit of the doubt in assuming he didn't actually mean what came out of his mouth (he claimed he was attacking George W. Bush's lack of education, not the troops'), both the headline and the story managed to botch Kerry's "botched joke."
"But with a single word - or a single word left out of what was supposed to be a laugh line directed at the president - Mr. Kerry has become a punching bag again, for Republicans and for his own party."
"A single word?" Try an entire paragraph.
"Mr. Kerry's prepared remarks to California students on Monday called for him to say, 'Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.' In his delivery, he dropped the word 'us.'"
Zernike is implying Kerry actually said "Just ask President Bush," which would lead credence to Kerry's "botched joke" idea. But if Kerry had actually said that, it wouldn't have become an issue at all.
A correction appeared the next day: "Mr. Kerry not only dropped the word 'us,' but he also rephrased his opening sentence extensively and omitted a reference to President Bush. Mr. Kerry's aides said that the prepared text read: 'Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.' What he said: 'You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.'"
Which is what everyone but the Times already knew.
#9 Coddling Illegal Immigrants and the Liberals Who Love Them
Collectively, the Times' articles on the rallies this spring in support of illegal immigrants would have made for neat souvenir programs for the marchers.
"When members of the Senate Judiciary Committee meet today to wrestle with the fate of more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States, they can expect to do so against a backdrop of thousands of demonstrators, including clergy members wearing handcuffs and immigrant leaders in T-shirts that declare, 'We Are America.'"
Bernstein gushed: "But if events of recent days hold true, they will be facing much more than that. Rallies in support of immigrants around the country have attracted crowds that have astonished even their organizers. More than a half-million demonstrators marched in Los Angeles on Saturday, as many as 300,000 in Chicago on March 10, and - in between - tens of thousands in Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee and elsewhere."
By contrast, Rachel Swarns was harshly reductive in her March 29 take on anti-illegal immigrant House Republicans, "Split Over Immigration Reflects Nation's Struggle."
"It is almost as if they are looking at two different Americas.
"The Senate Republicans who voted on Monday to legalize the nation's illegal immigrants look at the waves of immigration reshaping this country and see a powerful work force, millions of potential voters and future Americans.
"The House Republicans who backed tough border security legislation in December look at the same group of people and see a flood of invaders and lawbreakers who threaten national security and American jobs and culture."
But illegal immigrants are by definition lawbreakers, whether House Republicans "see" them that way or not.
In his April10 story on the nationwide marches in support of illegal immigration, Robert McFadden got the "just folks" clichés just right: "The Dallas protesters were young and old. Some were families pushing baby strollers. Some walked with canes, others rolled along in wheelchairs. There were members of unions, churches, civil rights organizations and business groups, but many were strangers to one another. Some spoke passionately about their desire to be Americans, to vote and to hold a job without fear." McFadden quoted no one opposed to giving illegals more rights or putting them on a path to American citizenship.
Swarns also marked themarches in flattering fashion April 11: "In Washington, demonstrators carried children on their shoulders, ate popcorn and draped themselves in the banners of their homelands as they cheered Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who told them that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken here in 1963, and a host of other speakers, including John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington."
Jim Rutenberg nabbed a front-page byline May 26 by pitting "compassionate" conservatives like Bush, who favor amnesty for illegals, against "doctrinaire" meanies who actually want to enforce and strengthen America's border andimmigration laws.
"The negotiations between the White House and Congress that will follow the Senate's passage on Thursday of an immigration bill could decide not just how the nation confronts illegal immigration but also what strain of conservatism the Republican Party carries into the midterm elections and beyond.
"Will it be the compassionate brand Mr. Bush considers crucial to the party's future, in this case by signaling support for a provision in the Senate bill that would give most illegal immigrants an opportunity to become legal? Or will it be the more doctrinaire variety embraced by much of Mr. Bush's party in the House, one that shuns anything that smacks of amnesty for illegal immigrants and seeks to criminalize them further?"
#8 Howell Raines Rants Against Fox News
Theever charming Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the Times, released another autobiography in 2006, "The One that Got Away," a sequel to 1993's "Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis." As in his previous book, Raines was still rising to the conservative-bashing bait.
On page 189, he let fly with thoughts about liberal bugbear Fox News: "Fox, by its mere existence, undercuts the argument that the public is starved for 'fair' news, and not just because Fox shills for the Republican Party and panders to the latest of America's periodic religious manias. The key to understanding Fox News is to grasp the anomalous fact that its consumers know its 'news' is made up. It matters not when critics point this out to Foxite consumers because they've understood it from the outset. That's why they're there. Its chief fictioneer, Roger Ailes, had been making up news in plain sight for a half century."
When it comes to "making up news," Fox has nothing on Raines, who, before he was ignominiously drummed out of the Times' top slot editorslot three years ago, constantly pusheda ludicrous personal crusade to get women admitted to Augusta National Golf Club (home of the Masters golf tournament) even while the country prepared for war in Iraq.
He put down his fishing rod and picked up his brass knuckles to go after Fox again on page 242: "Fox Television showed us the future - outright lies and paranoid opinions packaged as news under the oversight of Rupert [Murdoch], a flagrant pirate, and Roger Ailes, an unprincipled Nixon thug who had assumed a journalistic disguise in much the same way that the intergalactic insect in Men in Black shrugged into the borrowed skin of a hapless hillbilly."
#7 "Racism" Against Democrat Harold Ford Jr.
Apparently bitter about not having everything go the Democrat's way on Election Day 2006, the Times put a racism spin on one of the few GOP bright spots - Bob Corker's win over Harold Ford Jr. in the Tennessee Senate race.
"When an advertisement mocking Representative Harold E. Ford Jr. set off controversy in the Tennessee Senate race last week, a question quickly arose: Who was behind the provocative and, critics said, racially loaded television spot?"
An editorial that same day, "Compounding a Political Outrage," bluntly called the ad racist: "Slick as a leer, pernicious as a virus, a campaign commercial transparently honed as a racist appeal to Tennessee voters has remained on the air, despite assurances from Republican sponsors that it was pulled down."
Adam Nossiter's post-Election Day story November 8 blamed racism in Tennessee: "In addition, Mr. Ford was trying to become the first black senator from the South since Reconstruction....Mr. Ford was faced with overcoming the suspicions of rural whites skeptical about his race, his background and his city."
The "racist" ad from the RNC got more play: "The first issue came to the fore in a television advertisement featuring a winking, bare-shouldered white woman intoning, 'Harold, call me.' Produced by the Republican National Committee and eventually disavowed by Mr. Corker, the commercial played on Mr. Ford's reputation as a man about town but also spoke to - or so critics charged - age-old white Southern fears of miscegenation."
Nossiter concluded snidely: "The crowd in the room packed with Corker supporters told its own story: It was almost entirely white."
#6 Linda Greenhouse's Liberal Harvard Admission
Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse went to Harvard in June and talked to her fellow alumni about how she broke into tears at a recent Simon & Garfunkel concert and what may have led up to her breakdown - the perfidy of the Bush administration.
"And of course my little crying jag occurred before we knew the worst of it, before it was clear the extent to which our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other places around the world. And let's not forget the sustained assault on women's reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism. To say that these last years have been dispiriting is an understatement."
Greenhouse, perhaps aware that her boss, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., had made a similar rant in May (see item #2), didn't seem overly concerned about her future with the paper, simply telling National Public Radio: "I said what I said in a public place. Let the chips fall where they may."
#5 Respectful Hearing Granted to "Bush Caused 9-11" Nuts
A wacky group of conspiracy theorists who think 9/11 was an inside job on the part of the Bush administration met in Chicago in May, and got a respectful hearing from Alan Feuer.
"500 Conspiracy Buffs Meet To Seek the Truth of 9/11" made Page 1 of the Metro section, and that very headline gave the conspiracy-mongers the undeserved accolade of truth-seekers when they're just crawling for scraps of evidence "proving" that Bush, not radical Islamic terrorism, was responsible for 9-11.
Feuer explained: "Such was the coming-out for the movement known as '9/11 Truth,' a society of skeptics and scientists who believe the government was complicit in the terrorist attacks. In colleges and chat rooms on the Internet, this band of disbelievers has been trying for years to prove that 9/11 was an inside job."
The text box placed the conspiracists in the same box as other historical sceptics to make them appear less wacky: "Some participants see an American tradition of questioning concentrated power."
Feuer painted the rag-tag group in non-threatening, almost affectionate terms: "[Group press director Michael] Berger, 40, is typical of 9/11 Truthers - a group that, in its rank and file, includes professors, chain-saw operators, mothers, engineers, activists, used-book sellers, pizza deliverymen, college students, a former fringe candidate for United States Senate and a long-haired fellow named hummux (pronounced who-mook) who, on and off, lived in a cave for 15 years."
The Times was not nearly as respectful of right-wing conspiracy theorists alleging perfidy in Democratic administrations. See Times' contributing writer (Times Select $ required)Philip Weiss's "The Clinton Haters" for the February 23, 1997 edition of the Sunday magazine, on those who questioned the verdict of suicide in the Vince Foster case.
The Foster-suicide skeptics aren't seen as lovable losers the way Feuer portrayed the 9-11 skeptics, but as dangerous. Weiss's 9,000-word article refers to Clinton "haters" six times, "Clinton crazies" 11 times. By contrast, Feuer didn't see a single hater or crazy among a sea of people holding up signs declaiming the "Bush junta" while alleging Bush instigated the destruction of the Twin Towers.
Reuthling changed the subject from the professor's wacky beliefs to a selective defense of academic freedom.
"Sipping on a bottle of water and holding a book about the history and future of Islam, Kevin Barrett ticked off a few examples of what he saw as evidence that the Sept. 11 attacks had been an 'inside job.'....'The 9/11 report will be universally reviled as a sham and a cover-up very soon,' said Mr. Barrett, who has been a teacher's assistant or lecturer on Islam, African literature and other subjects at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, since 1996....Mr. Barrett's views, which he described on a conservative radio talk show in June, have outraged some Wisconsin legislators and generated a fierce debate about academic freedom on a campus long known as a haven for progressive ideologies and student activism."
By contrast, Sara Rimer's February 16, 2005 article on the persecution by liberal faculty of Harvard President Larry Summers for suggesting that sex differences could account for the lack of women in the fields of math and science betrayed no concern over Summers' rights to academic inquiry. A series of Times stories (such as a front-page story headlined "Amid Uproar, Harvard Head Ponders Style") chided Summers for being unnecessarily provocative.
Apparently, saying 9-11 was an inside job is protected speech, but to suggest innate sex differences is beyond the realm of civilized discourse.
#4 Putting the Blame on Israel
The war between Israel and Lebanon began when the terrorist Hezbollah militia crossed the border into Israel, killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others. While initial coverage was mostly straightforward, the Times' anti-Israel biasbecame more obvious as the war went on. Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Lebanese Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, was hailed as a "folk hero," and the group's followers called "martyrs." The Times also adopted the irritating tic of referring to "captured" Israeli soldiers, as if the soldiers had been taken prisoner in an official conflict, as opposed to being kidnapped by a terrorist group.
Rarely did the Times suggest Hezbollah was to blame for the civilian casualties caused by Israeli air strikes. The Times deemphasized Hezbollah's battle and public relations strategy of ensconcing itself in civilian areas, when Israeli attacks were more likely to result in civilian casualties, and seemed taken aback by Israel's insistence on counterattack.
Sabrina Tavernise was in Beirut while parts of the city were being bombarded and filed a July 25 report: "For the south, which suffered for more than a decade under Israeli occupation, Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, is a folk hero who helped drive out the Israelis."
Tavernise portrayed Hezbollah as a charitable group, like a local Elks club with rocket launchers: "The situation is made all the more complicated by the nature of Hezbollah. It functions as a civil aid group as well as a militia, helping with schools and in hospitals, and in many cases providing essential public services at times in the years of the war when the government was simply not able. It has a savvy media operation, with a spokesman who takes groups of journalists on tours of the devastation in southern Beirut with a truck that blares Hezbollah fighting songs from rows of speakers."
Wouldn't "propaganda campaign" be a more accurate term?
A "news analysis" July 26 by pro-Muslim reporter Neil MacFarquhar carried this description of Israel's counterattack: "The consensus here is that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah were all taken aback by the ferocity of Israel's response to the capture of two soldiers; the seizure seemed to fall within the unspoken rules of limited engagements. Similar operations had prompted prisoner exchanges in the past, the current demand by Hezbollah for ending the fighting."
"Ferocity" is an interesting word to use for Israel's response to what was notonly a kidnapping (not "capture") of two soldiers, but the killing of eight soldiers in that same unlawful incursion into Israel.
On August 1 MacFarquhar appeared on Charlie Rose: "I'm in my mid-40s and who grew up in poor countries like Morocco, you know, they will tell you that when they went to school in the mornings, they used to get milk, and they called it Kennedy milk because it was the Americans that sent them milk. And in 40 years, we have gone from Kennedy milk to the Bush administration rushing bombs to this part of the world. And it just erodes and erodes and erodes America's reputation."
MacFarquhar was a repeat offender: On August 7he praised the leader of Hezbollah. "Now there is Sheik Nasrallah, a 46-year-old Lebanese militia chieftain hiding in a bunker, combining the scripted logic of a clergyman with the steely resolve of a general to completely rewrite the rules of the Arab-Israeli land feud."
And it wouldn't be an article on an Israeli-killing terror group without a nod to its "charity" work: "Aside from Hezbollah's secretive military operations, the state within a state that he helped build with Iranian and expatriate financing includes hospitals, schools and other social services."
#3 Mohammad Cartoon Hypocrisy
One might expect a liberal newspaper to at least be solidly in defense of freedom of expression. In September of 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published twelvecartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad last September in unflattering terms. Protests resulted from Muslims worldwide, many of them violent.
But when the American media picked up the story in February, the Times utterly failed to rigorously defend free speech.
In his February 5 story, reporter CraigSmith found the cartoons more inflammatory than Muslims burning embassies in protest. Even the headline to his story suggested that the Danish newspapers' exercise of free speech was somehow irresponsible, likening it to pouring fuel on a flame: "Adding Newsprint to the Fire."
Smith added his own fuel to the fire, comparing the cartoons to anti-black and anti-Semitic cartoons: "But this did not take place in a political vacuum. Hostile feelings have been growing between Denmark's immigrants and a government supported by the right-wing Danish People's Party, which has pushed anti-immigrant policies. And stereotyping in cartoons has a notorious history in Europe, where anti-Semitic caricatures fed the Holocaust, just as they feed anti-Israeli propaganda in the Middle East today.
"In the current climate, some experts on mass communications suggest, the exercise was no more benign than commissioning caricatures of African-Americans would have been during the 1960's civil rights struggle. 'You have to ask what was the intent of these cartoons, bearing in mind the recent history of tension in Denmark with the Muslim community,' said David Welch, head of the Center for the Study of Propaganda and War at the University of Kent in Britain. Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, put it this way: 'He knew what he was doing.'"
The Times was hypocritical as well.
An editorial February 7claimed: "The New York Times and much of the rest of the nation's news media have reported on the cartoons but refrained from showing them. That seems a reasonable choice for news organizations that usually refrain from gratuitous assaults on religious symbols, especially since the cartoons are so easy to describe in words."
Apparently the Arts page didn't get the memo, because on the very next day it ran a photo of Chris Ofili's dung-clotted "Holy Virgin Mary" in an Arts story by Michael Kimmelman, who called the Danish cartoons "callous and feeble." The sorry incident demonstrated that when it comes to offending religioussensibilities, the paper's sensitivities are engaged in solely toward Muslims.
#2 Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr's. Left-Wing Graduation Rant
Serving as keynote commencementspeaker at the State University of New York at New Paltz in May, Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "apologized" to graduates for the failure of the Vietnam generation to stop the Iraq War and to sufficiently promote "fundamental human rights" like abortion, immigration, and gay marriage.
Here's an extended excerpt of his self-satisfied "apology," which reads like a conservative parody of a 60s' holdover still obsessed with his youthful Vietnam-era antiwar days:
"I'll start with an apology.
"When I graduated from college in 1974, my fellow students and I had just ended the war in Vietnam and ousted President Nixon. Okay, okay, that's not quite true. I mean yes, the war did end and yes, President Nixon did resign in disgrace but maybe there were larger forces at play.
"Either way, we entered the real world committed to making it a better, safer, cleaner, more equal place. We were determined not to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. We had seen the horrors and futility of war and smelled the stench of corruption in government.
"Our children, we vowed, would never know that.
"So, well, sorry. It wasn't supposed to be this way.
"You weren't supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land .
"You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, whether it's the rights of immigrants to start a new life, or the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose .
"You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where oil still drove policy and environmentalists have to fight relentlessly for every gain.
You weren't. But you are. And for that, I'm sorry."
#1 The Times Cripples Another Terrorist Surveillance Program
On June 23, the Times' notorious tag team of intelligence reporters, Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, again revealed details of an anti-terrorist surveillance program while ignoring the concerns andpersonal pleas for secrecyfrom the White House. (Lichtblau and Risen also handled the 2005 NSA "domesticspying" scoop.)
This one, "Bank Data Sifted In Secret By U.S. To Block Terror," involved international bank transfers by the bank consortium SWIFT, and its exposure in the Times may well have sabotaged the program.
"Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials.
Lichtblau contradicted his own "secret" reporting in an interview on CNN's Reliable Sources July 2: "I'm not claiming I know the mind of every terrorist, but I am claiming to know exactly what President Bush and his senior aides have said. And when you have senior Treasury Department officials going before Congress, publicly talking about how they are tracing and cutting off money to terrorists, weeks and weeks before our story ran. 'USA Today,' the biggest circulation in the country, the lead story on their front page four days before our story ran was the terrorists know their money is being traced, and they are moving it into - outside of the banking system into unconventional means. It is by no means a secret."
But even the headline to the Times' story used the word "secret," as did the lead sentence: "Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counterterrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials."
When the heat refused to die, Executive Editor Bill Keller went on the sympathetic liberal talk show circuit to make his case. Talking as if he was executive of a nation, not a newspaper, he explained to CBS's Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation July 2 how he judges whether a national security secret is worth exposing.
"When lives are clearly at risk, we often hold back information. But this was a case where clearly the terrorists, or the people who finance terrorism, know quite well because the Treasury Department and the White House have talked openly about it, that they monitor international banking transactions. It's not news to the terrorists. The scope of the program and its evident successes and the questions about its oversight were news to voters and citizens."
Keller threw out some anti-conservative red meat to his liberal readership base (something his paper did all year in its news pages): "...it's an election year, beating up on The New York Times is red meat for the conservative base. But, I mean, I don't think this is all politics, I think the administration's a little embarrassed. This is the most secretive White House we've had since the Nixon White House, I think, by general acceptance, and I think they're a little embarrassed that they've had so much trouble holding on to their secrets. And making this kind of a clamor, I suspect, they hope will silence people who do talk to the press and maybe intimidate reporters."
The liberal reporters at the Times certainly weren't intimidated by conservatives in 2006.