Jewish World Review August 21, 2002/ 13 Elul 5762


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Raines melts down | It's only a slight stretch to state definitively that The New York Times is a corrupt institution. As a charitable fellow, I'm willing to wager that a significant percentage of Times employees don't kiss the ring of executive editor Howell Raines. The news/opinion division (you try to divine the distinction) of the paper is another matter: it would require the patience of Ozzie Nelson to find a Times reporter who doesn't display a disgusting air of arrogance and entitlement when interacting with the public.

Most people I know who've had the misfortune to be contacted by a Times "news-gatherer" have had similar reactions. Whether key or tangential to the author's predetermined thesis, citizens are subjected to imperious demands that they drop everything and waste their time for a story that invariably contains a number of mistakes, few of which are corrected in later editions.

Years ago, for example, a Times reporter called me for information on alternative weeklies, and I was naive enough to spend half an hour talking to him. This man, projecting the false impression of punctilious research, asked me to spell my last name twice-"Smith" is a tough one-and while that was correct in the subsequent story, five mistakes were made. This was a throwaway piece, so it wasn't important that my age, year of graduation, date of New York Press' founding, etc., were mangled, but it was an indication that despite a newsroom that's probably bigger than the military in Greece, the paper isn't a stickler for accuracy.

Before Ira Stoll launched The New York Sun with Seth Lipsky, his daily detailed not only the inexcusable number of errors by Times reporters, but also its blatant bias and distortion of national and world events. It's no skin off my nose that the Times, under the leadership of Raines and a weak publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., actually believes that its station in America's hierarchy is every bit the equal of Congress' or the White House's. That's simple hubris, no different from Barry Bonds' belief that baseball fans will never abandon ballparks if the World Series is canceled this fall.

But, as I've written before, the Times refuses to acknowledge its partisanship, pretending that its front page is inviolate and completely separate from the editorial section. This fiction is why the Times is slowly losing its preeminent position in the print media: The Washington Post, although it's not a national newspaper, is certainly now the "paper of record," simply because it's more balanced in its coverage.

Reading the Times today is not akin to perusing The Nation, for instance, mostly because the latter, while posing as a "populist" weekly, hasn't practiced affirmative action in its hiring, and so is dominated by affluent, white and mostly male writers. A more apt comparison, given the Times' relentless campaign against an invasion of Iraq, constant condescension toward Secretary of State Colin Powell (the "good" Bush cabinet member; what, is Powell black?) and one-sided view of "corporate greed," is more like London's left-wing Guardian.

The difference, of course, is that The Guardian, like its competing broadsheets such as The Times, Telegraph and Independent, makes no pretenses about its politics. I don't agree with nearly a word The Guardian prints, but at least the daily is honest.


Last Friday, Aug. 16, The New York Times published an "A-1" article by Todd S. Purdum and Patrick E. Tyler, headlined "Top Republicans Break with Bush on Iraq Strategy," that may be historically noted as a landmark in the paper's waning influence. The reporters wrote: "Leading Republicans from Congress, the State Department and past administrations have begun to break ranks with President Bush over his administration's high-profile planning for war with Iraq, saying the administration has neither adequately prepared for military action nor made the case that it is needed.

"These senior Republicans include former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, the first President Bush's national security adviser. All say they favor the eventual removal of Saddam Hussein, but some say they are concerned that Mr. Bush is proceeding in a way that risks alienating allies, creating greater instability in the Middle East, and harming long-term American interests. They add that the administration has not shown that Iraq poses an urgent threat to the United States."

This lead story, which both exaggerated the GOP "break" with President Bush's plans to invade Iraq and also implied that it was an organized effort to thwart such a strategy, elicited immediate response from conservative editorial pages and columnists, particularly concerning Purdum and Tyler's distortion of Kissinger's "dissent," which was taken out of context from an op-ed piece he wrote for The Washington Post on Aug. 12.

The Times, because of its utter disdain for Bush, has never understood the current Commander-in-Chief. Of course the President would take counsel from family friend Scowcroft: given his foreign policy experience and close association with former President Bush, it would be disrespectful to ignore him. It's not all that different from John F. Kennedy consulting fighting-the-last-war generals and Eisenhower officials during the '62 Cuban Missile Crisis, and then setting his own agenda.

More importantly, global politics today are not at all similar to the conditions that led to Bush's father's assembling a worldwide coalition to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein in 1991. The threats to American interests are far more dire: Critics, particularly the European elite (which isn't at all keen about the President's alliance with Russia's Vladimir Putin) and the editorial board at the Times, deride Bush for being a unilateralist. While it's true that the current administration won't cobble together the vast alliance of '91, once the United States takes action against Hussein, other countries will follow. Even France doesn't want to be on the losing side.

As for the argument that an Iraqi invasion will cause further violence in the Mideast, you tell me how the situation there can get any worse. Liberals clamor for a "national debate" about deposing Hussein-a countrywide "town meeting" is probably their preferred idea-and it's certain that Bush will address the nation, most likely next month, and Congress will be asked to vote on a war resolution. Because it's an election year the measure will undoubtedly pass by an overwhelming margin-by both parties.

Additionally, despite the strong bond between Bush and his father, they have different foreign policy views. The former, for example, is far more loyal to Israel than the latter; and while the elder Bush was known for working his rolodex of foreign leaders, seeking consensus, his son is less political in that regard, relying on his own sense of morality.

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

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© 2002, Russ Smith