I've never met Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the current publisher of
the New York Times. In fact, I hadn't even really heard of
him until three months after I began writing this book. I'm certain
he is a thoughtful, caring, talented person who thinks he is making
the right decisions for the institution over which he, by
birthright, has been given plenary control. But no one is immune
from error, and Sulzberger, in my view, as documented here, is
making the blunder of a generation.
I have been an avid reader of the New York Times ever since
a daily subscription was offered to me at a discount in the 1960s
when I was a pupil in the New York public school system at P.S. 169
in Queens. I would today consider myself a typical reader of the
Times, though my political beliefs are far to the right of the
Times' editorial page—which, in the minds of many, might mean
I am a moderate.
For many years, I have enjoyed my morning coffee with the breadth
of wonders presented in the New York Times, from its
extensive coverage of international news to always interesting
articles on the arts, media, business, and the latest developments
in science and technology—though, in recent years, I've been
skipping each day's editorial page offerings because I can no
longer stomach them.
But it is not the editorial pages of the Times that have prompted
me to write this book. While traveling with my wife through New
England last summer, my vacation was punctuated each morning with a
copy of the New York Times. With my daily task being merely
to navigate us to the next used bookstore, diner, or motel, leisure
provided me with that rare pleasure of slowly perusing the morning
paper—even during the work week—wringing out as much
information and entertainment that the Times may afford a happy
tourist while at breakfast. What I found, however, was something
more disturbing than entertaining.
Quite simply, I began to notice a fundamental change in the way in
which the Times has been reporting the news. I'm not referring to
the substance or tone of its editorial views, but to the way the
paper has been expressing those views—specifically, to the
way the Times has waged editorial crusades, not on the paper's
editorial pages, but within "objective" news stories appearing on
the front page and other news pages. With my wife at the wheel, I
started memorializing my observations in my Palm Pilot. By the time
we got home, I had twenty pages of notes and a determination to
carry on. I continued to read the Times carefully each morning,
very carefully, and organized my observations on a new laptop
computer. After many trips to libraries, including a visit to the
New York Public Library, the result was this book.
Suffice it to say that it pains me to watch the New York
Times lose the ´eputation that so many honest journalists
have worked so hard to build over its 152-year history. It is not
an overstatement to say that if the current publishing policies of
the Times continue, the "newspaper of record" will become
indistinguishable from the "tabloid" publications the Times seems
fond of deriding.
I state this not as an expert but as a consumer, and I know there
are many who are beginning to feel the same way. According to
published reports, even some of the reporters and columnists who
work at the Times are becoming increasingly concerned about the
changes we are witnessing.
One need not be an insider or a professional critic to take note of
the changes threatening the demise of the Times. I am not an
historian or journalist, and I have not interviewed anyone for this
book. The criticism presented here is derived solely from the pages
of the newspaper, combined with my training as a lawyer and the
education of journalism classes I took in school.
Though the criticism in this book may in some places be severe,
I've worked to carefully document every fact. As for the tone, I've
tried not to be too academic, striving for the balance of gravity
and passion typifying that of the editorial pages of the
Times—no less objective, no more "mean-spirited."
I am just a guy who reads the Times carefully each morning, and I
believe I am speaking on behalf of tens of thousands of like-minded
readers. Many of us had hoped to be reading the Times during our
retirement, enjoying the well-written prose on a variety of
political and cultural happenings with our morning cups of
It is the sad prospect of losing that little pleasure that has
driven me to complete this book. It is my earnest hope that those
to whom this preface is addressed will read this as they would a
customer complaint letter. The response I hope to evoke, howover,
is not a refund of my money but a genuine change in the editorial
attitude of the publisher, drawing the Times back to the reverence
for impartiality it demonstrated over half a century ago. Only in
that way will fervent fans be able to imbibe their daily dose of
the Times, comforted by the thought that the same pleasure may be
enjoyed by their children some day.
I am not suggesting that the Times change its editorial
views—its editors are free to crusade against all the
"wrongs" they believe are fit to print on their editorial pages.
I'm just suggesting that the editors of the Times limit their
crusading to their editorial pages and leave the news gathering and
reporting function to those who appreciate their responsibility to
report accurately that which happens—to report the news
"impartially, without fear or favor."
Unfortunately, I have no insight into the likelihood that this
advice will be heeded. I can only hope the following pages will
provide the spark of understanding necessary to reverse the steady
decline in the Times' reputation and value as a credible source of
"The only end in writing," said Dr. Samuel Johnson, "is to enable
the reader better to enjoy life, or better able to endure it." If
little else, it is hoped this book will enable frustrated readers
of the Times to better tolerate their few minutes each morning with
the ailing "Grey Lady."
June 6, 2003
Bias, Slander, and Fraud
For more than a century, men and women of The Times have jealously
guarded the paper's integrity. Whatever else we contribute, our
first duty is to make sure the integrity of The Times is not
blemished during our stewardship.
— From "Code of Conduct for the News and Editorial
Departments of the New York Times" (January 2003)
Times have changed, and with it, regrettably, so has the Times.
What was once considered the "newspaper of record"—a moniker
reportedly coined by an early advertising manager for the New
York Times—is quickly losing its reputation as a reliable
source of news.
The aim of this book is to convince the publisher of the Times to
reverse the ideologically tainted news reporting practices that are
destroying the integrity of his newspaper. The means is simple: By
providing examples taken directly from within the four corners of
the news pages, this book exposes the pronounced liberal bias that
pervades the news pages of the New York Times. This book
does not concern the political positions taken in the editorials or
opinion columns of the Times. Nor is it about media bias, insofar
as that term has been used to describe perceptions of an overall
liberal bias in the mainstream media. This book is about editorial
opinion disguised as objective news and what can be done to stop
The crux of this book is best illustrated by a joke that has been
circulating around the Internet:
The Pope was visiting Washington, D.C. and President Bush took him
out for an afternoon on the Potomac, sailing on the presidential
yacht. They were admiring the sights when, all of a sudden, the
Pope's hat—his white zucchetto—blew off his head and
out into the water. The secret service guys started to launch a
boat, but Bush waved them off, saying, "Wait, wait. I'll take care
of this. Don't worry."
Bush then stepped off the yacht onto the surface of the water and
walked out to the Holy Father's little hat, bent over and picked it
up, then walked back to the yacht and climbed aboard. He handed the
hat to the Pope amid stunned silence.
The next morning, the New York Times carried a story, with
front-page photos, of the event. The banner headline read: "Bush
The revelations of "frequent acts of journalistic fraud"—upon
the discovery in May 2003 that a Times staff reporter, Jayson
Blair, engaged in fabrications and plagiarism that may have
polluted hundreds of the paper's news articles—brought to
light what may be the underlying cause of the journalistic fraud
addressed in the following pages. As the Times scrambled to defend
its reputation in the aftermath of its startling disclosure, facts
about the circumstances leading up to the scandal began to surface.
Commentators in the media, including respected journalists and
academicians, began to accuse the top managers of the Times'
newsroom of arrogance, hypocrisy, and incompetence.
One would expect that these unfortunate events would have humbled
the publisher and resulted in an earnest effort to uproot the
offending practices. While the Blair scandal led to a high-level
management shakeup, there are no signs of any real institutional
change on the horizon. On the day the Times announced the
resignation of Howell Raines as executive editor, the Wall Street
Journal reported on the debacle with views from those inside and
outside of the Times. "There is an endemic cultural issue at the
Times that is not a Howell creation," said veteran Times reporter
Linda Greenhouse in "Amid Turmoil, Top Editor Resigns at the New
York Times" (June 6, 2003). "[I]t's a culture where speaking
the truth to power has never been particularly welcomed."
In an editorial entitled "Turmoil at the Times" (June 6, 2003), the
editors of the Wall Street Journal honed in on the broader
questions of credibility still facing the Times:
[O]ur view is that what we have been seeing on the front page [of
the Times] in recent years is less straightforward reporting and
more advocacy journalism. In this sense, the scandal over Jayson
Blair's fabrications is symptomatic of a broader credibility
problem that won't vanish merely because Mr. Raines does.
Yet, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., the publisher of the Times, has
since made it clear that readers can expect no real change in the
paper's strategic vision. When asked by the New York Observer
("Sulzberger Jr. Vows to Right Times' Course," June 16, 2003) about
the future of the front page after Raines' departure, Sulzberger
"bristled." "That's strategy," Mr. Sulzberger said. "Things that
are strategic don't change with people."
Despite the managerial shuffle, the Times' practice of distorting
its news pages to reflect its ideological opinions goes on, and the
reputation of the New York Times as a credible source of
news has gone into a tailspin.
Much has been published on the subject of liberal media bias.
Bernard Goldberg, a veteran reporter for CBS News, courageously
blew the whistle on his colleagues in his book BIAS (Regnery,
2001). In that bestselling exposé, Goldberg revealed in
stunning detail how liberal bias pervades television newsrooms, not
by virtue of a "well-orchestrated, vast left wing conspiracy," but
by a common view of the world held by those who occupy America's
Ann Coulter, in her book SLANDER (Crown, 2002), enlarges upon what
Goldberg called "liberal hate speech" and demonstrates how the
liberal media acts like a classic propagandist, using name-calling
to advance their political agenda. "Progress cannot be made on
serious issues," she says, "because one side is making arguments
and the other side is throwing eggs."
But again, this book is not concerned with name-calling or what the
Times says on its editorial page. Nor does it concern "the media,"
which Eric Alterman, in his book WHAT LIBERAL MEDIA? (Basic Books,
2003), found to be "on the whole" more conservative than liberal.
Though, arguably, purveyors of conservative commentary, such as
Rush Limbaugh, have as much influence on public opinion as their
liberal counterparts, such as the editorial pages of the New
York Times, Alterman misses the point.
Though conservatives may strongly disagree with editorials
published by the Times or with liberal columns, or other forms of
liberal commentary, they don't fundamentally object to them for
what they are—as long as such commentary is properly
represented or labeled as such. What they object to is commentary
that is misrepresented as "objective" news reporting. They object
to how news organizations use their news pages to convey the same
opinions that appear on their editorial pages.
Thus, the true debate is not about media bias, but about news bias.
Alterman fools no one by trying to refute evidence of liberal bias
by cleverly changing the playing field—from a discussion of
"the news" to a discussion of "the media." You can't take a lead
front-page story in the New York Times, place it alongside a
Rush Limbaugh monologue, and then call them both "journalism" for
the purposes of weighing whether the media is biased. The Rush
Limbaugh program is pure commentary and analysis—never
represented as objective news—and is therefore, by nature,
biased. Under no circumstances could the same be said of lead
stories appearing on the front page of the New York Times,
and to suggest otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand the
difference between telling the truth and telling a lie.
This book makes no claim that "the media" as a whole has a liberal
bias. It more modestly intends to demonstrate, systematically, that
a liberal bias pervades the news pages of the New York
Times. In other words, what this book takes aim at is not the
slander, but the journalistic fraud: what Goldberg called "passing
off editorial opinion as straight news" and what Coulter, from the
reverse perspective, called "ostensibly objective news coated with
It is not about the media, but the news—purportedly "hard"
news, "objective" news, "straight" news—and how that news is
distorted for the purpose of influencing public opinion, aligning
it with the liberal views of the Times. This book also explores how
the integrity of the Times is being destroyed under the stewardship
of its current publisher and what can be done to save a great
American institution from his folly.
A Tradition of Impartiality
It had been the long-standing tradition of the New York
Times to strive for impartiality in its news reporting. When
Adolph S. Ochs purchased the Times in 1896, the Times was widely
considered to be an organ of the Democratic party. To reassure
Republicans of the paper's political objectivity, Ochs published
one of the only statements ever to have appeared in his paper over
It will be the aim of the Times . . . to give the news impartially,
without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect or interests
Adolph S. Och's son-in-law, Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who succeeded
Ochs as publisher (serving from 1935 to 1961), continued the Times'
tradition of impartiality, through at least the early 1950s.
Sulzberger reconfirmed his father-in-law's promise—to report
"the news impartially, without fear or favor." That promise, he
once wrote, "continues to be the role of the Times in the
community." On the division between reporting the news and
publishing editorial opinions, Sulzberger added:
We are anxious to see wrongs corrected, and we attempt to make our
position very clear in such matters on our editorial page. But we
believe that no matter how we view the world, our responsibility
lies in reporting accurately that which happens.
Sometime before the end of Sulzberger's reign as publisher in 1961,
the Times began to abandon its tradition of impartiality. In 1969,
Herman H. Dinsmore, a 50-year veteran of the newspaper
business—as a reporter, editor, and college
professor—published the book All the News that Fits: A
Critical Analysis of the News and Editorial Content of The New
York Times (Arlington House, 1969). Dinsmore joined the foreign
desk of the New York Times in 1929, rising to the position
of editor of its international edition from 1951 through 1960.
After thirty years as a reporter and senior editor for the New
York Times, Dinsmore retired to teach journalism at the
Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He, like Bernard Goldberg,
knew firsthand what he was talking about.
Reflecting on the transformation of the Times from a "great
newspaper" prior to the end of World War II to what it had become
by the end of the 1960s, Dinsmore unabashedly introduced his 1969
book with the following blunt disclosure:
The New York Times today is deliberately pitched to the
so-called liberal point of view, both in its news and editorial
His book proceeded to expose the worldview of his colleagues, the
paper's editors of that time, and provided specific evidence of the
bias employed by the Times during the 1950s and 1960s. As just one
example, the book makes a serious and convincing case that the
New York Times, through a series of editorials and news
articles, was influential in bringing Fidel Castro and his
Communist regime to power in Cuba.
It was a Times reporter in Havana who reported that Fidel Castro's
Cuba was "free, honest, and democratic" as thousands suffered and
died in Castro's political prisons. Similarly, in the 1930s, Walter
Duranty, a Times correspondent in the Soviet Union, assured readers
that there was "no actual starvation" in the Ukraine while Stalin
was mounting his campaign to "collectivize" the farms in the
region. The West later discovered that Stalin's actions resulted in
a famine that claimed the lives of millions of people. For his
deceptions, Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize, an award that has been
challenged and is now under review by the Pulitzer board.
In terms of their human dimensions, these distortions of the truth
tower over the startling but relatively minor accounts of lies and
plagiarism by Times reporter Jayson Blair. Yet, the Times calls
this most recent affair "a low point in the 152-year history of the
newspaper." No doubt Blair's actions represented "a profound
betrayal of trust," as the paper's mea culpa stated, but the
journalistic fraud regularly engaged in by the Times goes far
beyond the unethical conduct of a solitary reporter whose
transgressions are merely symptomatic of a more endemic
While the Times engaged in damage control in response to the Blair
scandal, it failed to address the journalistic fraud that had long
been spreading through its news pages like a virus. The New York
Times may have emerged from the intensive care necessitated by
the lapses of this one reporter, but its ultimate credibility will
depend on whether its publisher recognizes the full extent of the
problem and, by addressing its causes, implements its cure.
The Changing Times
On May 22, 2001, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., the grandson of A.H.
Sulzberger and current publisher of the New York Times,
announced the appointment of Howell Raines as the new executive
editor of the paper, effective September 6, 2001. For nearly nine
years prior to that appointment, Raines had been the Times'
editorial page editor, what may be considered the chief opinion
officer of the New York Times. Now, as executive editor,
Raines assumed the role of chief news officer, responsible for
reporting the news, with the news division's staff of about 1,200
people worldwide at his disposal.
Upon the announcement of Raines' appointment to head the news
division, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote in an internal memo to the
What to say about Howell? Well, most of you know him as our
esteemed fire-breathing, take-no-prisoners editorial page
Howell Raines is what the Times would call an "unabashed liberal."
A profile of Raines in the New Yorker entitled "The Howell
Doctrine" (June 10, 2002) stated:
[Arthur Sulzberger Jr.] knew that Raines, like him, took liberal
positions on affirmative action, capital punishment, abortion
rights, health insurance, welfare, the environment, and the role of
an activist government. Sulzberger said that he saw the
editorial-page editor and the executive editor as partners in the
In an autobiographical book published in 1993, FLY FISHING THROUGH
THE MIDLIFE CRISIS (William Morrow & Co.), Raines wrote
about his disgust for President Ronald Reagan:
In 1981, shortly before the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, my
family and I arrived in Washington. . . . I had arrived in our
nation's capital during a historic ascendancy of greed and
hard-heartedness. . . .
Then one day in the summer of 1981 I found myself at the L.L. Bean
store in Freeport, Maine. I was a correspondent in the White House
in those days, and my work—which consisted of reporting on
President Reagan's success in making life harder for citizens who
were not born rich, white, and healthy—saddened me. . .
Reagan couldn't tie his shoelaces if his life depended on it.
Even after he assumed his post as head of the news division, Raines
continued to wear his extreme left wing political views on his
collar. On November 30, 2001, Raines appeared on C-SPAN's
"Washington Journal," hosted by Brian Lamb. Regarding President
Clinton and his policies, particularly the ill-fated attempt to
introduce socialized medicine in the United States, Raines said,
"We had editorially supported virtually every aspect of his
program, and were particularly evangelical, I would say, about his
medical care reform package."
On August 6, 2002, Raines appeared on "The Charlie Rose Show,"
broadcast on PBS. When asked how history would judge Bill Clinton,
Raines steered clear of the fact that Clinton was only the second
president in U.S. history to be impeached, and replied:
Huge political talent. Huge political vision and I
suspect—none of us, I can't predict who's going to win the
next election, much less what history is going to say about anyone.
But I think President Clinton's role in modernizing the Democratic
party around a set of economic ideas and also holding onto the
principles of social justice. And presiding over the greatest
prosperity in human history. Those would seem to me to have to be
central to his legacy.
Shortly before Raines assumed control of the newsroom, a few
solitary words of concern were being expressed about the propriety
of Raines' selection as chief editor of the Times news division. In
a piece published in the Washington Post, "A Liberal Bias?"
(August 29, 2001), columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote:
We in the press are routinely self-righteous, holding
others—politicians, public officials and corporate
executives—to exacting standards of truthfulness, performance
and conflict of interest. But we often refuse to impose comparable
standards on ourselves, leading some (or much) of the public to see
us as hypocritical. A troubling example involves the recent
promotion of Howell Raines from editorial page editor of the New
York Times to executive editor. . . .
In many ways, he seems superbly qualified. Raines, 58, has been a
Times bureau chief in both London and Washington. In 1992, he won a
Pulitzer Prize. But what ought to disqualify him is his job as
editorial page editor, where he proclaimed the Times' liberal
views. Every editor and reporter holds private views; the
difference is that Raines' opinions are now highly public. His page
took stands on dozens of local, national and international issues.
It was pro-choice, pro-gun control and pro-campaign finance
"reform." Last year, it endorsed Al Gore. In general, it has been
critical of President Bush, especially his tax cut.
Does anyone believe that, in his new job, Raines will instantly
purge himself of these and other views? And because they are so
public, Raines' positions compromise the Times' ability to act and
appear fair-minded. Many critics already believe that the news
columns of the Times are animated—and distorted—by the
same values as its editorials. Making the chief of the editorial
page the chief of the news columns will not quiet those suspicions.
But asked about possible conflicts, publisher Arthur Ochs
Sulzberger Jr.—who selected Raines—dismissed them with
a short statement: "The brilliant and honorable tenure of Max
Frankel as executive editor of the Times (1986-94), following his
years as editorial page editor (1977-86), stands as a testament
that a great journalist knows the difference between these two
roles. Howell is certainly a great journalist." In other words: Get
Concerns that Raines would aggressively use the news division to
advance the editorial positions he had driven in his previous
position were soon confirmed.
The bias had gotten so bad that, within a year after assuming
control of the news division, Raines found himself dealing with a
minor revolt among the rank and file news reporters at the Times'.
The Times reporters were becoming gravely concerned that Raines'
use of the front page to crusade editorial causes was beginning to
reflect poorly upon the reputation of the professional reporters
associated with the paper. Some of these reporters even began
talking to other members of the press about their disenchantment
with Raines' aggressive use of the front page for editorial
As we have seen, critics have long charged the Times with bias, but
if the Times' own staff was taking notice, something very unusual
was happening. From all appearances, when Raines took charge of the
news division, he simply pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor.
As a result, the exploitation of the news division for advancing
the editorial positions of the Times had become brazen and
On September 11, 2001, with the attacks against the World Trade
Center towers and the Pentagon, the nation found itself suddenly at
war. Soon after launching its military response against the Al
Qaeda terrorist organization and factions in Afghanistan accused of
aiding them, the Bush administration considered the unthinkable
consequences of weapons of mass destruction finding their way into
the hands of terrorists. Given that one potential source of such
weapons was Iraq, President Bush quickly pressed the United Nations
to resume its inspections of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction
and suggested that if Iraq balked at those efforts, force may be
necessary to open Iraq's borders to UN inspectors or to disarm the
To no one's surprise, the New York Times immediately
declared its opposition to the use of military force against Iraq,
beginning with an editorial entitled "The Wrong Time to Fight Iraq"
(November 26, 2001). What few saw coming, however, was how Howell
Raines was about to set in motion one of the most extensive
crusades against an administration's wartime policy ever to appear
on the front pages of any newspaper.
Over the following several months, the Times rolled out an
unprecedented series of news articles calculated to advance the
Times' political agenda and oppose the Bush administration policies
on Iraq. (This remarkable use of the front page of the Times to
crusade for the paper's editorial views is more fully described in
Chapter Nine.) The more Bush talked about potential military action
against Iraq, the more vociferous the Times' opposition
became—on both its editorial pages and its news pages.
The campaign against Bush administration policies on Iraq conducted
by the news division reached a crescendo in August 2002 when an
especially egregious front-page story in the Times prompted
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer to declare in
the Washington Post (August 18, 2002):
Not since William Randolph Hearst famously cabled his correspondent
in Cuba, "You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war," has a
newspaper so blatantly devoted its front pages to editorializing
about a coming American war as has Howell Raines' New York
Times. Hearst was for the Spanish-American War. Raines (for
those who have been incommunicado for the last year) opposes war
Krauthammer, in that column, went on to expose how the
Times—in a front-page article entitled "Republicans Break
with Bush on Iraq" (August 16, 2002)—distorted the views of
former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to sensationalize a
fabricated rift between Dr. Kissinger and President Bush on Iraq
policy. (The details of this story are set forth in Chapter Five.)
The Times later printed a half-hearted retraction, but its
front-page campaign against the way the United States was carrying
out the war on terrorism continued.
A few weeks later, Raines and Sulzberger were the subjects of a
taped interview sponsored by the journalism department at the
University of California, Berkeley. The forum, held on November 18,
2002 and later broadcast on C-SPAN, was entitled "Business and
Editorial Policies of the New York Times."
Mark Danner, a U.C. Berkeley journalism professor, and occasional
op-ed writer for the Times, confronted Raines with Krauthammer's
column. While the professor read Krauthammer's first paragraph
aloud, Raines shifted nervously in his seat; the audience anxiously
awaited his reply.
Without missing a beat, Raines made Ann Coulter's case for her.
Rather than intelligently replying to the criticism, he grabbed a
figurative grade A egg and threw it at Krauthammer:
I can't explain why Charles took leave of his senses. He'd be the
best witness on that.
The ad hominem attack was poignant in the way it alluded to
Krauthammer's former profession: he was a psychiatrist—a slap
that many of Krauthammer's friends and associates would not miss.
Clearly not happy with that response, the journalism professor
How do you stop from over-compensating, as it were, when you get
that kind of criticism? That is, the Krauthammer quote was just the
tip of the iceberg. It was a great stir, and that the perception
has persisted that the Times is conducting a campaign against the
war at least in conservative circles. Indeed, you can sit here and
say here's Arthur Sulzberger, he eats lunch every week with the
editorial page editor, and they're against the war, and here is
Howell Raines, and he was editorial editor an eye-blink ago, and
they're publishing these leaks in the paper, and so and so. How do
you stop the conservative criticism from hitting some way what
Raines was getting visibly uncomfortable. The suggestion that he
was employing his news division to conduct an editorial campaign
was apparently getting under his skin. But Raines knew the drill
well and prudently stuck to his strategy by grabbing hold of
several more eggs and tossing them, albeit indiscriminately, in the
hope they would somehow strike the right target:
One, you put any kind of criticism in an intellectual framework.
The latter connections that you just ran through is from a Weekly
Standard editorial. . . . The Weekly Standard is a publication that
was founded to promote Rupert Murdoch's political ideology in the
United States. So, when one hears that vein of criticism one
considers the source, and I don't mean that as an insult.
The first problem with this is, while Krauthammer does write for
the Weekly Standard, the article he wrote criticizing the Times was
actually published by the Washington Post. Raines might have
been a little more careful about where he aimed his eggs.
As to Raines' misdirected remark about Murdoch, if the Weekly
Standard, a magazine that consists almost entirely of editorial
content—which positions nothing its editors or any of its
writers profess as objective news—can be dismissed as merely
a means of promoting its owner's ideology, what, using the same
logic, can be said about the New York Times?
The thought may not have occurred to Raines that the New York
Times has been strictly controlled and operated to promote the
political ideology of the Ochs/Sulzberger family. The "newspaper of
record" remains very much a mouthpiece for the Sulzberger family.
That family, for generations, has maintained the contractual right
to elect nine out of thirteen members of the board of directors of
the New York Times Company, which assures them the right to
appoint the company's chairman and CEO and the publisher of the
New York Times newspaper. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who is the
chairman of the company and the current publisher of the Times, is
one of eight Ochs/Sulzberger family members who get to select those
nine board members. The family holds this right for as long as they
desire to maintain it.
Later on in the Berkeley interview, Sulzberger reinforced how much
his family continues to influence the paper:
It wasn't until I got the job as publisher that I really began to
see how the Ochs/Sulzberger values are inculcated in the New
Slowly, but surely, both media watchers and common readers of the
Times began to notice something odd was happening. Since the 1960s,
the Times has been a stalwart promoter of the liberal agenda, but
now—with its blatant use of its news division to advocate
that agenda—it was becoming obvious to even casual readers
that the reputation of the Times as an accurate source of news was
in jeopardy. Had Sulzberger and Raines taken leave of their senses?
Worse was yet to come.
The Agenda Is Everything
In the midst of its campaign to oppose military action against
Iraq, the Times began to wage another crusade on its front pages.
This time, the New York Times had set its sights on a
300-member golf club. Beginning in July 2002, the Times published
over forty articles and editorials over a four-month period
criticizing the Augusta National Golf Club, host of the Masters
golf tournament, for not admitting women as members.
In an editorial entitled "America's All Male Golfing Society"
(November 18, 2002), the Times called upon Tiger Woods to boycott
the Masters tournament. When Tiger refused to submit, the Times
turned its turret toward CBS, who had the broadcast rights to the
But, instead of writing an editorial calling for CBS to boycott the
Masters, the Times reserved room on its front page to report to the
world what CBS had not done: "CBS Staying Silent in Debate on Women
Joining Augusta" (November 25, 2002). The next day, a coy Times
editorial staff responded to this "news" with an editorial entitled
"The Masters Business" (November 26, 2002), which called on CBS to
boycott the 2003 Masters tournament.
The Times' behavior on this occasion was loudly criticized. What
striking and different about this criticism, however, was that much
of it originated not from conservative critics, but from within the
Times' own staff of reporters.
An article published in Newsweek magazine entitled "The
Changing Times" by Seth Mnookin (December 9, 2002) broke the news
about the turmoil within the ranks of the New York Times.
Newsweek published the following remarkable statement by an
unnamed Times staffer in reference to the November 25 article on
That was shocking. It makes it hard for us to have credibility on
other issues. We don't run articles that just say so-and-so is
staying silent. We run articles when something important actually
The Newsweek article revealed a growing recognition,
especially among news reporters, that the Times was losing its
reputation by disguising its editorial positions in the form of
front-page news stories. Another Times staffer suggested to
Newsweek that the "chorus of complaints" among the Times
staffers was growing so loud that Raines was "in danger of losing
the building"—i.e., many Times reporters were apparently
ready to quit over the issue.
Then, a few days later, all hell broke loose when news surfaced
that the Times refused to print two pieces written by its sports
columnists—a column by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Dave
Anderson and a column by Times sportswriter Harvey
Araton—because they disagreed with the views expressed in the
Times' editorial pages on the Augusta National matter.
The online edition of Newsweek (December 4, 2002) reported
the story as follows:
Newspapers are supposed to foster healthy debate, raise conflicting
points of view and present all sides of a story. Aren't they? It's
a question employees at the New York Times are asking after
the New York Daily News' Paul Colford reported that Times editors
recently spiked two sports columns that disagreed with the paper's
editorial stance on Augusta National's ban on female members. The
paper's thinking seemed to run something like this: we're against
this horrible discrimination, and we're going to resort to
censorship to make our point.
The same day, Times managing editor, Gerald M. Boyd, circulated an
internal memorandum—which was immediately leaked by a Times
employee to the Internet—defending the paper's position on
both its coverage of the Augusta National question and its spiking
of the two sports columns. As to its 33-article crusade against the
golf club: "There is only one word for our vigor in pursuing a
story—whether in Afghanistan or Augusta. Call it journalism."
And the censorship of its sports columnists? "Recently we spiked
two sports columns that touched on the Augusta issue. We were not
concerned with which 'side' the writers were on. A well-reported,
well-reasoned column can come down on any side, with our
It's doubtful that the Times' own front-page articles on the
Augusta issue could have met that very test. What's more, the
Times' managing editor failed to adequately apply that test to the
two spiked columns. As to the first, it was rejected merely because
it disagreed with the Times' editorial page:
One of the columns focused centrally on disputing The Times'
editorials about Augusta. Part of our strict separation between the
news and editorial pages entails not attacking each other.
Intramural quarreling of that kind is unseemly and
As to the second, Boyd took a slap at his own columnist, asserting
that his logic did not meet the Times' "standard":
The other spiked column tried to draw a connection between the
Augusta issue and the elimination of women's softball from the
Olympics. The logic did not meet our standards; that would have
been true regardless of which "side" the writer had taken on
Boyd was "silent" on whether the writings of other regular Times'
columnists— such as Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, and Frank
Rich—have their logic scrutinized against the same
Criticism of the Times spread quickly. Slate columnist Jack Shafer
wrote (December 6, 2002):
Did New York Times Managing Editor Gerald Boyd read Richard
Nixon's memoir RN before penning his memo to the staff defending
his decision to spike sports columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey
Araton that dared to take issue with a Nov. 18 Times editorial? The
hubba-hubba self-congratulation and extreme defensiveness of the
memo sounds like something Nixon might have composed to blot out
the din of anti-war protesters chanting outside the White House
The same day, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists issued
the following statement:
While the Times may well be taking a principled stand on the issue
of whether women should be admitted to Augusta National Golf Club,
it should also recognize the important principle that a newspaper
informs its readers best when it provides a diversity of
An article published in the online edition of Editor &
Publisher magazine entitled "Editors Weigh In on 'NY Times' Augusta
Issue" (December 6, 2002) reported that "most editors at a
cross-section of major newspapers said they would not object to a
columnist who criticized the paper's editorial position, saying
columnists are hired specifically to tell readers what they think."
One editor stated, "Our columnists have such wide latitude it would
never be a consideration here. They can do what they want. It has
never been an issue for us."
This last statement was from Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor
of the Washington Post, the newspaper that the Times
considers to be one of its main rivals. Perhaps this quote, or the
overwhelming negative accumulation of editorial opinion, was the
proverbial straw; within hours, the Times backed down and agreed to
run the two spiked columns in the following Sunday edition of the
Times. Apparently, the "logic" of the columns now met the Times'
The Times' use of its news division to crusade for its editorial
causes continued unabated. In April 2003, the Times stepped up its
war against Augusta National, even as U.S. troops were advancing on
Baghdad. Not only was the Times quick to criticize CBS for daring
to cover the 2003 Masters tournament, the Times did not hesitate to
ridicule CBS for how they covered it ("CBS Is Planning to Stress
Golf, Not Protests," April 7, 2003). Meanwhile, the Times never
called upon its own sportswriters to boycott coverage of the 2003
Masters tournament. On the contrary, Times sports columnists began
writing pieces aligned with the Times' editorial views, criticizing
the Augusta National Golf Club for maintaining its policy against
One Times Sports page staffer told Sridhar Pappu of the New York
Observer in "Off the Record" (May 11, 2003), "Howell [Raines] and
Gerald [Boyd] are running our department right now, it's pretty
As much as the Times had been keen to celebrate those who resigned
as members of Augusta National in protest of the club's membership
policies ("Former Top Executive at CBS Resigns from Augusta,"
December 3, 2002), it has been reluctant to criticize, at least
publicly, John F. Akers (former CEO of IBM), a member of Augusta
National and also, since 1985, a member of the board of directors
of the New York Times Company.
The Low Point
On Sunday, May 11, 2003, the New York Times used the real
estate of a lead front-page article to announce a stunning
admission that would cast a long shadow over the trustworthiness of
the once venerable institution:
Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception
A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent
acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events
in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found.
The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound
betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the
The four-page, 14,420-word article was billed as an accounting of
the dozens of known journalistic deceptions perpetrated by
27-year-old Times reporter Jayson Blair, who had worked for the
paper for nearly four years. Blair had resigned just ten days
earlier, shortly after he was first confronted with evidence that
he had plagiarized the work of another journalist. The article laid
out in excruciating detail how, in at least thirty-six fabricated
stories and possibly hundreds more, Blair made up quotes, copied
material written by other journalists, and wrote stories under the
pretense of being on the scenes of the events when he was really in
his apartment in Brooklyn.
The article primarily addressed what happened, but to many it fell
short by failing to address the question on everyone's mind: how
could it have happened? Even an "Editor's Note" accompanying the
story failed to provide an adequate explanation. Written presumably
by Howell Raines, the short note simply explained why the Times was
running the cover story and closed with a terse apology to the
Since the Blair scandal broke, highly respected journalists and
commentators, with no apparent axe to grind, had become
increasingly critical of the Times. Typical of the criticism was
the following comment published in the Newsday article "Report
Details Reporter's Fraud" (May 11, 2003):
"This is the worse thing that can happen to a newspaper," said Paul
Levinson, chairman of the communication and media studies
department at Fordham University. "Howell Raines should have been
keeping a more careful eye on these things." After reviewing the
Times report, Levinson described it as "self-serving" and failing
to disclose "that the Times did something wrong. . . . They need to
do a lot more."
Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at The Poynter
Institute, a journalism school, told the New York Post
("Times Trickster Falls Sick," May 12, 2003), "I am very
disappointed that the New York Times' checks and balances
system didn't work."
Andrew Sullivan formulated perhaps the most ironic and damning
analogy of all (AndrewSullivan.com, May 12, 2003):
How does a reporter whose former editor had written a memo
demanding that he be removed from writing for the Times altogether
get reassigned without his subsequent editor being informed of his
record? Forget the affirmative action dimension. This is just
recklessly bad management. It reminds me of the Catholic Church
reassigning priests to new parishes without telling the
parishioners of the priests' past. It smacks of a newsroom in which
everyone is running scared of the big guy's favorite new hire, and
so no one is able to stop a disaster from happening until it's too
late. . . .
The New York Times' reputation is not the responsibility of
new hires in their twenties. It's the responsibility of the
editors, just as the responsibility for bad priests lies ultimately
with the cardinals and bishops who hire them. In this instance,
Raines is the Times' Cardinal Law. His imperial meddling, diversity
obsessions, and mercurial management style all made Blair
Raines was losing respect from all quarters, but most important, he
was losing the respect of his staff and perhaps all hope of ever
regaining that respect. As the New York Daily News reported in
"Staff Trust Eluding Raines" (May 16, 2003):
[I]t is clear that the everyday behavior of Raines—widely
viewed as arrogant and aloof, even by those who admired his work as
a reporter and editorial page editor—has supplanted Blair as
the hot topic inside and outside the Times.
Anger at Raines in the newsroom had been festering for over a year.
"From the moment Howell Raines was appointed executive editor of
The New York Times, there was tension in the newsroom," Seth
Mnookin reported in Newsweek ("Times Bomb," May 26, 2003).
One of the first to publicly write about Raines' management style
was columnist John Ellis. Nearly a year before the Blair scandal
broke, Ellis described on his web-log (JohnEllis.Blogspot.com, May
11, 2002) what he called the "Raines regime":
The Rainesian management model resembles a kind of anti-network; in
which an ever-smaller number of people are engaged in the guidance
and definition of the enterprise. As the network narrows, the
center (Raines and his management team) grows in importance. At its
worst, this kind of management leads to the Sun God management
system, in which The Great Leader is surrounded by adoring
sycophants. Raines is a prime candidate to fall into this trap,
since his ego needs greatly exceed his management skills.
According to Mnookin:
Newsroom staffers also felt as if Raines led the staff on crusades,
obsessing about stories—like the ban on women at the Augusta
National Golf Club, host to the Masters—in a way that caused
the paper to make news instead of break it. (Sources at the paper
say Raines nominated the paper's Augusta coverage for a 2002
Pulitzer—which shocked some Times staffers, because the paper
had come under fire for spiking two sports columns that took issue
with the paper's editorial stance on the subject.)
The institutional penchant for putting ideological passion above
journalistic integrity can be traced right up to the paper's
publisher and CEO. Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the man who "saw the
editorial page editor and the executive editor as partners in the
Timesý future," was quoted some years ago as having said,
"Diversity is the most important issue facing our paper." As the
Blair scandal has painfully demonstrated, Sulzberger lost sight of
the priorities of his stewardship: The most important issue facing
the New York Times must, at all times and under all
circumstances, be the truth. The Times' obsession with
race—along with its other obsessions, like those against the
death penalty, against the membeÅship requirements of a
300-member golf club, and against the policies, any policies it
seems, of the Bush administration—have supplanted the paper's
dedication to integrity in its news reporting.
An Opportunity for Change
On June 5, 2003, the Times announced that Howell Raines and Gerald
Boyd had resigned. Though their resignations provide a ray of hope
for a new era of responsible news reporting, it remains to be seen
whether the tyranny of political ideology over the Times' newsroom
will really end with the Raines regime. We know that, even during
the extraordinary aftermath of the Blair revelations, when
Sulzberger, Raines, and Boyd were expressing contrition and asking
forgiveness—from their staff, their readers, and the gods of
journalism—the paper continued its quixotic war against an
For example, on Tuesday, May 14, 2003, the day Raines stood before
his reporters and accepted blame for journalistic fraud, the Times'
front page carried a "news" article—"Bush's Support Strong
Despite Tax Cut Doubts"—that was a masterpiece of distortion.
While reporting that the public was having "persistent
reservations" about the president's tax cut proposal, the results
of the poll actually showed that over twice as many people believed
a tax cut would be good for the economy as those who believed it
would be bad. None of the questions asked in the poll concerned
whether the public had any "doubts" or "reservations" about the
president's tax cut proposal.
Later in the week, in "Keepers of Bush Image Lift Stagecraft to New
Heights" (May 16, 2003), the Times used its front page to
essentially accuse President Bush of wasting taxpayer money on
public appearances and suggest that the president's policies have
more form than substance.
The publisher's contrition over the Blair scandal seems entirely
focused on the ethics of its reporters' news gathering activities,
with not even a scant recognition of its broader credibility
problem: the plunge in the reliability of the paper's news pages
stemming from its zeal for advocacy journalism. We may now be sure
of the whereabouts of the Times' reporters when they file their
stories, but can we really trust we are getting fair and balanced
reports? What has been practiced with impunity for years by the
New York Times—the persistent publication of liberal
views disguised as objective news—is still practiced with
impunity, and there are no signs that any of the repercussions
arising from the Blair scandal will result in a change in the
behavior of the news reporters and their editors, at least insofar
as objective reporting is concerned. Sadly, fairness and accuracy
in reporting no longer seem a part of the Times' DNA.
Focus on Technique
Three hundred sixty-five days a year—day in and day out, year
after year—not only on the editorial pages, but disguised as
objective news, the Times has accumulated such a work of
"propaganda," as Coulter calls it, that the editors of the Soviet
Pravda must have marveled at not only the chutzpa of the editors of
America's "newspaper of record" but also the technique those
editors have employed to exert its influence.
This book is largely about that technique. We will not attempt to
merely restate the evidence that Coulter so painstakingly compiled.
Nor do we have any insider evidence of bias that made Goldberg's
book so credible and riveting. I am just an ordinary consumer who
reads the Times¸carefully every day. Using evidence derived
primarily from within the four corners of the newspaper, we take
here a slightly different tack on how the media can, and
specifically the New York Times does, distort the
We make little reference to the editorials written by the Times or
to any of the propaganda pieces gracing its op-ed pages (i.e., the
page opposite the Times' editorial page, containing opinion
articles by columnists and others). We have no issue with editorial
opinion when it is labeled as such. The public knows these pieces
are biased and can give them the authority they may merit. They may
be slanderous, but they are not fraudulent.
Nor do we take issue with the Times' articles identified as "News
Analysis," even though they often appear on the front pages of the
Times and are formatted like objective news stories. Some of these
"News Analysis" pieces are labeled "Economic Analysis" or "Military
Analysis," providing them with a false air of objectivity. When
they appear on the Internet or on wireless devices, it is often
impossible to distinguish them from straight news stories. (The
nytimes.com website includes the phrase "News Analysis," but it
appears above the headline rather than in the story, and it is in
light grey, barely noticeable. When they appear on many other
websites such as Yahoo! News or on wireless devices, the "News
Analysis" label is completely missing.) Though having the
appearance of straight news stories, these "News Analysis" pieces
(whether they are labeled "News Analysis," "Economic Analysis," or
"Military Analysis") are nothing more than thinly disguised
editorial opinions of the Times' reporters and editors.
To briefly illustrate the political nature of these "News Analysis"
pieces, consider the opening sentence of the "News Analysis"
published in the Times ("Testing of a President; Uncertainty at
Next Step," December 13, 1998) days before the congressional vote
to impeach President Clinton, an outcome the Times was marshalling
all of its influential resources to defeat:
WASHINGTON, Dec. 12—A touch of dignity and a heavy dose of
uncertainty surround the capital today, as what seems to be the
only city in America that takes impeachment seriously looks toward
a House vote on articles calling for President Clinton to be
removed from office.
This "news analysis" of the country's reaction to the impeachment
charges—i.e., that no one outside of Washington was taking
the charges seriously— apparently failed to take into account
a "straight" news story appearing in the Times just two days
earlier under the headline "Citizens Left and Right Battle at the
Grass Roots" (December 10, 1998), which suggested exactly the
opposite in its first paragraph:
On one level, the battle over the impeachment of William Jefferson
Clinton is being played out in the House Judiciary Committee
hearing room and in other Washington power alleys. But it is also
being fought at a grass-roots level all over the country, with both
those who fervently want the President impeached and those who just
as fervently want him left alone trying to find ways to give weight
to their wishes.
Some of these people are egged on by conservative and liberal
lobbying groups, but a great deal of the outcry is arising
Whether they contain informed analysis or not, their appearance and
placement on the front pages of the Times make it unlikely that the
public recognizes these "News Analysis" stories for what they
really are: a clever way to sneak editorial opinions onto the front
page where they can be easily mistaken for straight news.
Nevertheless, they are labeled in such a way that makes it
clear—to informed readers—they do not represent
"objective news." For this reason, we have no more concern with
these "News Analysis" pieces than we do opinions properly labeled
as editorials. These pieces may be biased and intentionally
misleading, but the public knows, or should know, that they do not
constitute objective news.
The Power of Passing Off Opinion as News
Sneaking editorial opinions onto the front page by identifying them
as "news analysis" is, to be sure, one way to couch editorial
opinion as straight news, but the deception on which this book
zeros in—one far more pervasive and pernicious than the
antics of Jayson Blair—is the direct manipulation of the
"straight" news story. We will examine precisely how the Times
passes off editorial opinion as straight news—parsing the
fraud to get an insight into the variety and nature of the
techniques employed by the Times. We will also arrive at a better
understanding of the power these techniques have over public
The particular power this passing off has on influencing readers is
founded upon the following principle: The lacing of editorial
opinion into what has the appearance of a straight news story lends
a level of credibility to the opinion that is normally reserved for
The enhanced credibility afforded the editorial opinion when it is
disguised as objective news makes the use of this deception a much
more effective means of influencing the public than the mere
expression of opinion in editorials and op-ed pieces.
However, the effectiveness of the deception (i.e., its usefulness
as a means of influencing people) is limited by the extent to which
people believe that the news, as reported by the Times, is
impartial. In other words, the ability of the Times to leverage its
news pages for the purpose of conveying an editorial agenda is a
function of the paper's reputation for impartial reporting. The
greater the reputation the paper has for impartial reporting, the
more effective will be the slanting of that news as a means of
influencing public opinion.
Until recently, the Times' reputation for impartial reporting
"without fear or favor" had been legendary. Since at least as early
as the 1960s, criticism of the Times as an arm of the Democratic
party was largely limited to conservatives and conservative media
watch groups. More recently, however, even the average Joe has
noticed the left-wing editorial crusades masquerading as news on
the front pages of the New York Times.
Opinion polls consistently confirm the public's conviction that the
news is slanted (even 57 percent of Democrats believe so, according
to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, which also reported
that 56 percent of Independents and 69 percent of Republicans are
convinced the press is biased). Bernard Goldberg's Bias and Ann
Coulter's Slander, both of which, ironically, reached No. 1 on the
New York Times bestseller list, have blown the lid off any
remaining notion that the press is objective.
The Times is beginning to lose its reputation overseas as well.
Andrew Sullivan, in his column for the Sunday Times of
London (November 17, 2002) made this observation about media
bias in the U.S.:
The classic American examples are National Public Radio and the
New York Times. Virtually no Republicans work in either
organization. The news stories reflect, in the case of NPR, a
benevolent, well-meaning but thoroughly liberal view of the world.
In the case of the New York Times, the news stories do
exactly what they do in the [London] Guardian: they are designed,
edited, and written to promote a political agenda.
The Times' ability to leverage its news division will continue to
fade as the paper's reputation for objectivity continues to
decline. Should the Times choose to continue using its news
division to influence public opinion, it will have to adopt a more
subtle means of deception.
Style Guide for Liberal Bias
Reporters for the New York Times, it seems, are expected not
only to convey the liberal viewpoint on all political issues
reported but also to impede the expression of the conservative
viewpoint. This message was finally and formally revealed publicly
when a Times op-ed page writer, when listing the reasons for the
political losses suffered by the Democratic party in the 2002
midterm elections, admitted the following (Paul Krugman, November
Talk radio and Fox News let the hard right get its message out to
Being appalled at how other news outlets would "let" conservative
messages be conveyed to the public, the Times editors are evidently
committed to not "let" the same happen in their news
Reporters for the Times should find the techniques detailed in this
book particularly useful in currying the favor of their editors. In
fact, viewed perversely, this book provides step-by-step
instructions on how to disguise liberal opinions as objective news,
a practice that has been raised to an art form by the New York
Times and one that reporters can effectively learn by carefully
studying their example.
A style guide for liberal bias, this book might also serve as a
textbook at the Columbia School of Journalism if the professors
there would not find it redundant. At worst, recent graduates may
find it a useful reference in their daily search for the truth and
for a means of twisting it to meet the political demands of their
We also expect lay readers, even those who have already come to
appreciate the works of Bernard Goldberg and Ann Coulter, will use
this book as a tool for better understanding what they read in the
New York Times.
Conservatives, for example, might replace their quality time with
the Times' crossword puzzle with a new kind of daily game: exposing
the fraud themselves by parsing the "straight" news stories on the
front page and identifying each clever technique employed that day
to influence public opinion. The bias is sometimes so laughably
obvious that readers may often find this game more entertaining
(and certainly easier) than completing the crossword puzzle.
If readers merely acquire a greater understanding of how the Times
uses the news to influence public opinion, this book has served a
valuable purpose. The Times has raised the practice of slanting the
news to an art form, a brand of fraud having a subtlety the likes
of which even a Jayson Blair might respect and a technique of
propaganda that only a Soviet apologist could fully appreciate. It
deserves to be studied, and studied carefully.
Excerpted from JOURNALISTIC FRAUD: How the New York Times
Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted ©
Copyright 2003 by Bob Kohn. Reprinted with permission by WND Books.
All rights reserved.