Jewish World Review April 7, 2005/ 27 Adar II 5765


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Times For a Name Change: Honesty's the Best Policy | It'd be an overdue act of integrity if the country's most influential liberal daily newspaper altered its name to The New York Times-Democrat. Any number of editorial employees might actually applaud the liberating move, but the "branding" implications would kill the idea in the business and marketing departments. Likewise, the elimination of the anachronistic and grand motto (and the Times sneers about George W. Bush's "hubris"!) "All the News That's Fit to Print" won't happen on a Sulzberger watch, even if the company's extensive tax breaks from the city aren't considered "news."

So the paper's p.r. hacks, and editors, continue the charade that the Times is impartial in its news coverage and offers readers a wide array of views on its opinion pages. Executive editor Bill Keller is probably heartened by the claims of extreme left-wing media critics (often found rustling about the Neverland of college campuses) that in reality the Times is getting redder month by month. And not the "good" kind of red, but rather the color that television broadcasters decided five years ago represented states that voted for Bush rather than Al Gore.

Todd Gitlin, a journalism professor at Columbia—if aspiring reporters need one more reason to skip this expensive and wasteful master's degree, a trip to Gitlin's class might be just the eye-opener—unleashes his dismay about the imaginary GOP hijacking of the Times in April's American Prospect, an essay so insular you'd swear he lives and socializes exclusively with people who supported John Kerry.

Oh wait, he does.

Gitlin writes: "The mere notion that Times editors are… fretting aloud about how to live down their reputation as a blue-state paper, is worrying. It suggests an unseemly readiness to cave in before force majeure whenever some rampaging bloggers (or just plain readers) get mad." He goes on to say that since the Times is published in an overwhelmingly Democratic city, and presumably pleases its audience, management ought not worry about appearing completely objective. He concludes with a flourish: "Once you start imposing political tests on people whose business it is to see and smell what they haven't already seen and smelled, there'll be nothing left for American newspapers to do but die."

I've no idea what the heck Gitlin means, but recent Times editorials, op-ed columns and news articles smell pretty rank.

Last Sunday, an edit headlined "Moralists at the Pharmacy" was really an argument in favor of abortion, but along the way I agreed that pharmacists whose religious or moral strictures have led them to refuse filling prescriptions for legal contraceptives "should find another line of work." The writer expands on this legitimate point to score partisan shots by saying the number of renegade pharmacists is "likely to grow now that religious conservatives are flexing their muscles in many spheres of life."

Of course, the Times is selective in its moral outrage. A March 4 editorial, "Fatties on the Football Field," suggested the National Football League ought to dictate dietary rules to players. "If [the athletes aren't] smart enough to pursue healthier lifestyles, the league should monitor and protect the well-being of its present and former players lest they suffer weight-related ailments."

What's the difference between a woman who wants to purchase morning-after birth control pills and a football player (or any American, for that matter) who legally sups at McDonald's or has a dozen eggs and a slab of bacon for breakfast? It's individual choice, one would think, but the Times is apparently pro-abortion and anti-obesity. Obviously it's not wise to ignore one's girth—or tobacco, alcohol and legal or illegal drugs—but since when is it the responsibility of football franchise owners to dictate the diet of former players?

The paper's antipathy—more shrill than the mere condescension of a decade ago—towards any creature that "smells" Republican, is aptly typified by Sheryl Gay Stolberg's homage to 87-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, in the news section on April 3. The reporter's affection for the showboating Byrd is so pronounced that, again, in an honest world, the article would've been slugged at the top, "A Times editorial." The ostensible reason for the piece is the upcoming Congressional battle, with Byrd as lead gladiator, over the GOP's attempt to torpedo the filibuster so that Bush's judicial nominees are subject to a majority Senate vote rather than the 60-vote supermajority that thwarted some of them in the President's first administration.

Stolberg taps away, presumably not chuckling at the keyboard, "Christian conservatives and right-wing bloggers are unearthing [Byrd's] past as a one-time member of the Ku Klux Klan," as if that obituary-leading blot on the West Virginia legislator's record hasn't been well-reported by mainstream media outlets for years now. She goes on to describe the left-wing ATM group's infatuation with Byrd, claiming that at a recent rally the "crowd swooned like schoolgirls catching their first glimpse of the Beatles," when the man who has compared the Bush administration's tactics to those of the Third Reich gave a speech. And, in an interview with Byrd at his office last week, Stolberg swoons herself, saying "Mr. Byrd seemed energized, casting thunderbolts like Zeus from the mountaintop."

This is the very first time I'd ever considered that Zeus was an assh***.

Also on April 3, the Times' Adam Nagourney celebrates the exaggerated dissension in the Republican party, making his first citation a London Times article by Andrew Sullivan—a onetime conservative who flipped to John Kerry because of Bush's opposition to gay marriage—predicting the "Great Conservative Crack-Up." Nagourney tends toward the wishy-washy, not unlike op-ed columnist David Brooks, so he covers himself by noting that Republicans do, in fact, have a majority position in the government that Democrats envy.

But still, trouble lurks ahead. Nagourney: "Gone are the days when the Republican Party could easily (if simplistically) be divided into social conservatives versus fiscal conservatives. There are libertarian Republicans, Christian conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans, Wall Street Republicans, balanced-budget Republicans, tax-cutting Republicans, cut-the-size-of-government Republicans, neoconservative Republicans supporting global intervention and isolationist Republicans who would like to stay at home."

If that's bad news, I'm sure the Democratic leadership, which remembers their control of Congress a little more than a decade ago, desires similar misfortunes. Seems to me that Nagourney has defined the concept of a political party with a "big tent." In contrast, Democrats today are divided between activists who idolize Teddy Kennedy, Sean Penn and Bruce Springsteen, and "moderates" like The New Republic's Marty Peretz, the Al Gore mentor who now chastises members of his party for refusing to give Bush even one iota of credit for his promotion of democracy in the Mideast.

Elisabeth Bumiller's April 4 "White House Letter" was one more example of how the elite media believes it belongs to a higher caste than "ordinary" Americans. The subject, which almost no reader could possibly care about, was the slovenly condition of the White House briefing room. She complains: "In the neatnik Bush administration, mice have been spotted on the lower level, where an ailing bathroom has been shut down and its toilet removed." Aside from the daft notion that a bathroom could be "ailing," I'd lay odds that thousands of journalists would gladly endure mice in their working quarters to report from the White House.

Perhaps a guest shift at any big city restaurant, where rats roam at will near the dumpsters outside, would cure Bumiller of her regal pretensions.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- was the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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