The fibbing problem at the New York Times extends even to its firing of Howell Raines. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger couldn’t even report that event honestly and accurately. He led the public to believe Raines fell on his sword. Raines told Charlie Rose that he wanted to keep wielding it. Will the Times run a correction? An honest correction would read: “Our publisher did not passively accept Howell Raines’s resignation, as he previously suggested when he said, ‘With great sadness, I agreed with [Raines’s] decision.’ Sulzberger demanded it, as Howell Raines made clear in an interview with Charlie Rose.”
Raines’s gaseous interview with Rose was at least useful in exposing this Sulzberger deception. If you cut through his convoluted, passive-aggressive babble, Raines basically said that his rattled and spineless boss showed him the door. Sulzberger couldn’t “calm” the newsroom down unless the great visionary, so threatening to the slackers and mediocrities in the office, departed. Raines amusingly alternated between praising his “talented” staff and implying they were losers unable to recognize his genius. A genius, one part W. B. Yeats, one part Dale Carnegie, was in their midst and these hacks didn’t even realize it. Had he stayed, the Times’s circulation might have topped off at 80 million. Oh well, now Raines says he can apply himself to literary late-blooming, and with his fondness for phrases like “competitive metabolism” and “management systems” who can deny him this dream?
It was fun to watch Raines bully Charlie Rose while discussing his problem with bullying. Rose abased himself very nicely. Rose didn’t even trouble himself to ask Raines about the obvious racial favoritism that led to the indulgence of his pet hoaxer. Not to mention Jayson Blair and affirmative action in a one-hour interview is quite a feat for a journalist. Raines did refer to Blair as a “land mine,” a passive metaphor that basically absolves him of all responsibility. That Raines planted this land mine himself of course didn’t come up. Raines had previously said that his Alabama-bred white guilt contributed to the slack given Blair. But in the interview with Rose he made it sound like the problem was due to creaky “management systems,” too deep and mysterious for Raines to explain in a mere hour.
It will take a blue-ribbon commission to find out why New York Times editors can’t hit the send button on their e-mail. Raines had no idea of Blair’s “accuracy problem.” Sure, the information was an e-mail away, but the Times’s inscrutable bureaucracy hid it from Raines’s eager eyes, you understand
What a dogged newsman and investigator. Too bad Raines couldn’t “rush to meet the news” in his own newsroom.
Obviously Raines’s problem was not bureaucracy but bias. He didn’t care to hear information inimical to his liberal plans for the paper. Blinding bias remains the basic cause of the crisis. But Sulzberger, showing that he has learned nothing from the Blair/Raines fiasco, has selected another unfair and unbalanced liberal to edit the paper. Bill Keller — author of such objective statements as “Like the Communist Party circa Leonid Brezhnev, the Vatican exists first and foremost to preserve its own power” — will get to select the stories on the front page. Eric Alterman must not have been available.
Since Sulzberger is determined to turn the Times into a daily Democratic Party press release, Keller should do just fine. His contempt for conservatives and Catholics may even surpass Raines’s. Keller has allowed himself a few swings at Pope John Paul II’s “reactionary” career: “he has replicated something very like the old Communist Party in his church…The Catholic Church has not, over the centuries, been a stronghold of small-c catholic values, which my dictionary defines as ‘broad in sympathies, tastes, or understanding; liberal’…Probably no institution run by a fraternity of aging celibates was going to reconcile easily with a movement that embraced the equality of women, abortion on demand and gay rights.”
Sulzberger’s next deception will be to tell his readers that Keller was the most evenhanded newsman he could find.
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