Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Confession of a New York Times Junkie


It's true. I am, or I was. As quickly as I'll turn my nose up at cilantro, I'll readily reach for yesterday's edition of the New York Times. Some of that may be a result of hometown chauvinism, some of it may be because I secretly longed to be Cary Grant's Rosalind Russell in His Gal Friday (or was it that I wanted to be Cary Grant? probably both...), but mostly it's because IMO, there's no other paper that tops it in terms of content, variety and writing. I read it everyday, stay in bed with it on Sunday mornings, and have been known to pay three times the newstand price when I stray from NYC. I've stuck by it through Jayson Blair, its format changes, its lack of comics, the addition of color, even TimesSelect, and Lord knows I have gone to the mat for it singlehandedly on the pages of Heigh Ho.

But last week's discussion picked at one of its dirty little secrets that I thought I had forgotten but I remember now that I haven't: My revered paper, that herald of First Amendment rights, that bastion of all the news that's fit to print, sat on a "breaking news" story for a whole year--and most probably during a Presidential election-- before it decided to publish it. I realize this is not new news and, regretably, there are many more pressing and critical news stories looming but it still galls me. I still find this decision by my "paper of choice" down right stupefying, if not, unconscionable. Would Edward Murrow or Fred Friendly have allowed that to happen? Ben Bradlee? Jimmy Olson's Perry White? I dare say no.

I might be willing to give more credence to the paper's claims that it needed more time to fact check the story if in the same paragraph I had not read that it held off on publishing the story because the WH told the editors with whom it met that there was nothing to worry about: "a year ago," officials "assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions." So the paper "agreed not to publish at that time" and continued reporting. But in the months that followed, Mr. Keller said, "we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program" and "it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood."

Yeah, that's how I like my news served up: over easy with a side of "whatever you say, boss." Besides the outright hypocrisy of it all, and the fact that we all know now that it ran with the story because it was going to be scooped by one of its own reporters, I find it all the more disturbing when members of the 4th estate begin to sound like the Administration officials they are choosing to expose:

"There is really no way to have a full discussion of the back story without talking about when and how we knew what we knew, and we can't do that."

Thank you, Mr. Keller. Aren't you the same Bill Keller who sat on the Judy Miller/Chalabi Pas de Deux while she pimped the war? Yeah, I thought so.

Byron Calame, the New York Times' Public Editor, who rightly took his editors to task for the paper's stonewalling put 28 questions to his editor(s). I'll offer up one more: Does Karl Rove have pictures of you with either a live boy or a dead girl?

For sale: One partially-used subscription to TimesSelect. Cheap, in fact, its yours for the asking.

(Posted by Portia)

6 comments:

KJ said...

I would take that TimesSelect, but I'm afraid of things that I don't understand.

spd rdr said...

I promise I'll read this as soon as I can!

spd rdr said...

Okay, I read it.

I don't understand why you're getting yourself all worked up about this, Portia. The Times is not some sort of lofty social institution, it's a newspaper! And in the best tradition of all newspapers from the Flintstones' "Daily Slab" right up through "The Village Voice" and "Slate," it's out to sell advertising and generate revenue like a good little capitalist.

Sure the NYT's got an "agenda;" all newspapers do. That's how we can differentiate one from the other, and choose the messenger according to our tastes. If the Yanks beat the Red Sox 4-3 in 11 innings, that fact is the same no matter whether it appears in the Daily News, The Globe, or the Times. It's all in the delivery "Yanx Fux Red Sux," v. "Yankees Pull One Out In Final Moments." (hee hee).

And when it comes to politics, let's all remember the granddaddy of national circulation, Randolph Hearst: "You supply the pictures, I'll supply the war." Yeah, baby. Newspapers is all about in-te-gri-tee! Uh, huh!

Most telling is the fact that the Times didn't disclose the information until it was about to be scooped. Well, hell. If the damned program was such a mortal danger to the nation, why didn't the Times print it earlier? Lack of proof? The fear of losing important "inside sources" during the presidential campaign? The Times overarching distrust in John Kerry as being to lead anything beyond a clay pigeon?

Anyway, I think that you'll still be save if you stay with in the confines of the dining, arts and science sections, do the crosswords, and scrub yourself vigorously after reading Frank Rich. It's still a great paper, but I don't go there for "news" any more.

And that's a lie.

portia said...

Rest assured spd, I usually read the Times before showering. TMI? Perhaps, but no more than what I expect when I read articles above the fold.

BTW, the Times is reporting that the Red Sox have been unable to knock the Yankees out of first place. Heh, yellow journalism be damned:)

KJ, I'll take that as a "no," yes?

Bidding for TimesSelect is still open, folks

camojack said...

Fish wrap...at best.

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