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September 14, 2004
Pinch Decries Debate Tone While Going Hyperbolic

The New York Times' publisher, Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, whined to a Kansas State University audience about the tone of public debate yesterday, saying that news organizations attempting to provide objective coverage face unprecedented cynicism:

The publisher of The New York Times complained Monday about what he called a cheapening of the public debate but said he thinks news organizations can improve the situation.

Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., speaking at Kansas State University, said newspapers and broadcast stations that try to give unbiased information face increased skepticism and even cynicism from the public.

Cynicism? You don't say! Sulzberger mentions the Jayson Blair scandal, in which a favored reporter took advantage of a lack of leadership in the newsroom to file a string of fictional reports despite numerous indications of his fraudulent behavior. But Pinch must be suffering from massive self-delusion if he thinks that Jayson Blair is the root of the public's mistrust of the Gray Lady. Anyone can get fleeced by a skilled con man -- it's the routine editorial positions at the Times that has reduced its credibility to near-CBS levels.

For instance, when Ambassador Joe Wilson accused the Bush administration of lying about Iraqi efforts to purchase uranium in Niger, the New York Times couldn't give Wilson enough coverage. In a study by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, the Times published 70 articles about him, his claims, and the supposed martyrdom of him and his wife, who was outed by Robert Novak as a CIA agent in explanation of how an anti-Bush partisan landed the job to check out Niger in the first place. As I noted in July, after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded that Iraq had indeed attempted to buy uranium from Niger, based in part on Wilson's own report of testimony from the Nigerian Prime Minister, and that Wilson' wife had indeed played a role in getting him the job, the Times coincidentally lost interest in Joe Wilson. Pinch's "paper of record" published only three -- three -- stories on Wilson's collapse. Considering that Wilson had been stumping for John Kerry at the time, the veracity of his foreign-affairs team should have been of great interest to an "objective" news outlet.

70-3, Pinch. That, by the way, was the best score that Kurtz could find in the mainstream news media. Even Kurtz's own paper scored a pathetic 96-2. CBS, by the way, tossed a shutout on Joe Wilson, 30-0, and have yet to cover the fact that Wilson lied about Niger and about his wife's influence in getting him that assignment. That, and not Howell Raines' naivete, is why the public has become deeply cynical of the New York Times and the rest of the mainstream media.

But that's not all Pinch had to say. He doesn't like the tone of the current political debate, either:

Sulzberger, publisher of The Times since 1992 and chairman of The New York Times Co. since 1997, expressed concern about what he said was the growing shrillness of political debate. ...

Some, he said, view news as little more than another form of reality programming. He criticized talk radio for too often having a "trial by insult format," television programs that provide little more than "barroom chatter" and authors who increase book sales by becoming more shrill in their writing.

"We are starting to pay a high social price for this form of cheap entertainment," he said. "This results in younger generations being less interested in the news."

Let's not forget that this comes from the man who keeps Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert, and Paul Krugman gainfully employed as the shrill partisan hacks on his own editorial board. But even the unsigned, "house" editorials hardly add to a reasoned understanding. As an example, take a gander at this article on the Bush administration's request for review of an endangered-species designation for the marbled murrelet, and the strident and hysterical tone of the editorial:

The Bush administration has from time to time found it convenient to distort science to serve political ends. The result is a purposeful confusion of scientific protocols in which "sound science" becomes whatever the administration says it is. ... This administration seems to make no accommodation for anything besides humans' economic desires. Any creature in the way may find itself legislated, litigated or regulated out of existence.

Regular readers of the Times recognize this as the predominant tone of the newspaper's editorial section, which comes directly under the authority of the publisher and his managing editor. Complaining to students in Manhattan, Kansas about the tone that his own newspaper helps to set, both directly and with the columnists it continues to employ, provides an example of hypocrisy and whining that ill befits someone who holds themselves out as an example of the "unbiased" media. Newspaperman, cover thyself -- and then perhaps we'll take you more seriously.

UPDATE: Manhattan, KS, not Kansas City, is the home of KSU. My apologies to the Little Apple!

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 14, 2004 4:44 AM

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