Jewish World Review March 2, 2004 /9 Adar, 5764

Terry Eastland

Eastland
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


What does a conservative beat mean for The New York Times?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | For more than a month, one of our national papers of record, The New York Times, has been examining "conservative forces in religion, politics, law, business and the media." No, that isn't made up. The quoted material comes from Times national editor Jim Roberts, announcing last month that David D. Kirkpatrick, the former media correspondent, would patrol the new beat.


As with any press release, it deserves a question or two, beginning with why The Times thinks it can cover all of those conservative forces with only one reporter. The task would seem to require a legion of correspondents, but somehow, with just one, The Times will manage.


The "job," Mr. Roberts said, "will take [Mr. Kirkpatrick] across the country and make him a frequent presence in Washington." It will thrust him into "the political campaigns," and yet "we expect that much of what he does will transcend the race itself and delve into the issues and personalities that drive - and sometimes divide - conservatives."


In fact, division turns out to be the dominant narrative of the journalism so far. Consider the headlines of the first three stories: "Bush's push for marriage falls short for conservatives," "Conservative groups differ on Bush words on marriage," and "A concerned bloc of Republicans wonders whether Bush is conservative enough."


Moreover, those and other "conservative" stories have proved more than a little strained. The words "conservative" and "conservatives" are used to excess - 24 times in one story - as though to assure readers that The Times is on the conservative beat. And people otherwise not known to be important conservatives turn out to be major, on-the-record sources, no doubt delighted that The Times has reached them. Was the point of actually announcing a "conservative beat" to interest conservatives in becoming sources?

Donate to JWR


Earlier this month, Sridhar Pappu, the enterprising media reporter for The New York Observer, interviewed Times executive editor Bill Keller about his paper's unusual undertaking. "I winced a little when I read that job announcement," he said, "because it was a little like The New York Times discovers this strange, alien species called conservatives, and that's not what this is about."


Mr. Keller offered two explanations of "what this is about." The first is that the paper wants to get beyond "the shorthand you use for any interest group" and instead try "to figure out why people believe what they do, how big their constituency is, where it comes from."


Mr. Keller surely knows that his own newsroom often is perceived as liberal and that a more intense effort to report on conservatives might rid his staff of any misconception that conservatives are all, well, strange or alien. In any case, good journalism should attempt to get beyond convenient but distorting labels. And give The Times credit: Mr. Kirkpatrick's latest piece - headlined "Southern Baptists bring New York their gospel" - does a decent job of telling readers why Southern Baptists, who certainly qualify as a "conservative force" in religion, have organized evangelistic efforts in New York ZIP codes full of Times readers.


As for Mr. Keller's other explanation of "what this is about," he told The Observer that the Bush administration "is not the most accessible in the history of the Beltway" and that its "reasoning and ... strategies are often clouded in secrecy and spin." Here, Mr. Keller may have said more than he wished. Or maybe not. Was he merely saying that to understand what the administration is doing you need to consult conservatives on the outside? Or did he mean to telegraph that The Times is preparing to use its news pages to challenge a presidency that its top editor regards as uniquely inaccessible and given to spin?


It bears noting that The Times hasn't assigned anyone to cover "liberal forces in religion, law, politics, religion and the media." Given our equally divided electorate, you would think that a liberal beat might be warranted and that The Times might favor its readers with pieces on, say, the liberal groups working to block Bush judicial nominees or the liberal groups strategizing to litigate same-sex marriage into states outside of Massachusetts.


But, no, Mr. Keller told The Observer, liberals aren't equally situated, for they are completely out of power, holding neither elective branch. Conservatives have all of the power, so they alone qualify for special journalistic treatment.


By Election Day, we will know what that treatment has meant for conservatives featured in the pages of one of the nation's most influential papers - and, not least, for George W. Bush.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.




JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

12/31/03: America is right to press for religious freedom worldwide
10/22/03: Case involving pledge should be easy for justices to decide
10/15/03: Dean places political considerations ahead of national security
08/28/03: Colleges creating policies that discourage intellectual exchange
08/14/03: Progressive reform could end up limiting government
07/30/03: Congressman, please consult Miss Manners
07/23/03:Words reveal much about Bush: Maybe there is a reason he won't retract sentence
07/08/03: Justices also said affirmative action must end
06/25/03: Court's law school ruling isn't persuasive
06/24/03: Whatever the Lynch story, everyone wants it
06/18/03: A judge shows he can set aside his strong views
06/04/03: Boston church becomes politically important again
05/28/03: YWCA names culture warrior as its new head
05/23/03: Washington steps in to help teach history
05/13/03: It may take another election to change filibuster rules
05/07/03: Paige works to improve education from inside out
04/30/03: Iraqis have choice to make regarding religious freedom
04/16/03: Is it acceptable for an education secretary to state a personal preference for religious schooling?
04/08/03: University officials must put academics ahead of athletics
04/02/03: Support for our soldiers means support for their orders
03/27/03: 'Free Iraqi Forces' underscore Bush's sincerity
03/18/03: Dems misunderstand judge's job
03/13/03: Justices show right restraint in ruling on anti-crime measures
03/05/03: America's imperial intentions
02/25/03: The weakness of Dems' stated reason for their filibuster makes you wonder whether it is the real reason
02/19/03: Administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education
02/12/03: France and Germany need to be reminded of the necessity of a strong, even predominant America
02/06/03: Judiciary's 'balance' -- or lack of it -- is our doing
01/29/03: The child who almost wasn't
01/21/03: President decides to punt on affirmative action case
01/14/03: Bush's faith has influenced his conduct in public office
01/07/03: Dems need ideas, not more microphones
12/17/02: Gray Lady should learn that times have changed
12/10/02: Will High Court be guilty of activism?
12/03/02: The missing facts in news accounts of Saudi Princess Haifa's putative 'charity'
11/26/02: Americans don't have to be worried about Big Brother
11/19/02: Texas' reputation for flamboyance may be revised
11/11/02: Bush now can repair confirmation system
11/05/02: Dems shouldn't believe too strongly in history
10/30/02: Snipers had lots of motives
10/23/02: No one should be shut out of marketplace of ideas
10/15/02: Open hearings that could imperil the nation
10/08/02: Debating the clear and present danger
10/01/02: A great awakening in China?
09/25/02: Abortion, again? The settled but still unsettling law of Roe v. Wade
09/18/02: A relevant presidency--and irrelevant U.N?
09/10/02: Ashcroft's obtuse judicial statement
09/04/02: The Education Gadfly stings again
08/28/02: So then let the president declare war
08/21/02: Will Bush finally 'fix' affirmative action once and for all?
08/06/02: President must take up cause of Egyptian democracy warrior
07/31/02: With each war, civil liberties are curtailed less

© 2003, Terry Eastland