By the time readers of the New York Times met Van Jones, the Obama administration's so-called green-jobs czar, he had become the Obama administration's former so-called green-jobs czar. Jones's departure came over Labor Day weekend, in the wee hours of Sunday morning. The Times managed to squeeze into Sunday's paper 71 words of an Associated Press dispatch about Jones's resignation. The next day, the Times published a full story on his rise and fall:
Jones...signed a petition in 2004 questioning whether the Bush administration had allowed the terrorist attacks of September 2001 to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East.
He also used a vulgarity to refer to Republicans just before being appointed to his White House post early this year, and he has publicly supported Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is on death row for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer....
Chief among those keeping the story alive was Glenn Beck, the conservative host of a Fox News Channel program. Mr. Beck began criticizing Mr. Jones in July, first in segments on his syndicated talk radio show and then, on July 23, on his Fox News program.
The Times was rather coy in describing Jones's offenses. It would have been more precise to say the petition he signed supported the notion that the Bush administration had "allowed the terrorist attacks to occur." As for that "vulgarity," it is unprintable here as well, but it was an eight-letter plural noun wittily defined by the news site Lucianne.com as meaning "proctological apertures."
Later that week, the Times website published a "Talk to the Times" feature in which the paper's managing editor, Jill Abramson, answered questions from readers. At least six of them asked, as one put it, "Why did it take so long to find a story about the Van Jones controversy in the NY Times?" Abramson answered:
The Caucus, our popular politics blog, first mentioned the Van Jones controversy on Saturday, Sept. 5. It was the second item on the blog....
The blog item itself referred to criticisim [sic] of the mainstream media for ignoring the story, which had been discussed on talk radio, Fox News and other venues.
The Times was, in fact, a beat behind on this story.
Why? One reason was that our Washington bureau was somewhat short-staffed during the height of the pre-Labor Day vacation period. This is not an excuse. Another is that despite being a so-called "czar," Mr. Jones was not a high-ranking official. Nevertheless, we should have been paying closer attention.
We did cover Mr. Jones's resignation on Page One on Sept. 7.
Abramson seemed to be saying that if you want to get the news ahead of the Times, you're better off watching Fox News Channel. At the end of the week, Fox delivered on Abramson's promise by scooping the Times again. In the early evening of Friday, September 11, the network sent an e-mail alert: "Census Bureau severs all ties with ACORN after hidden-camera videos expose 4 of group's workers advising ‘pimp,' ‘prostitute' on subverting the law." The Obama administration had signed ACORN up to "partner" with the bureau as "advocates for census cooperation and participation."
Again, readers of the next day's Times got only a short (225-word) report from the AP, which began: "The Census Bureau on Friday severed its ties with ACORN, a community organization that Republicans have accused of voter-registration fraud." It made no mention of the hidden-camera sting. This time there was no follow-up story the next day.
The original AP dispatch, filed contemporaneously with the Fox alert, was twice as long. Among the material the Times cut was this:
ACORN fired two employees who were seen on hidden-camera video giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman who pretended to be a prostitute. Fox News Channel broadcast excerpts from the video on Thursday. On the video, a man and woman visiting ACORN's Baltimore office asked about buying a house and how to account on tax forms for the woman's income. An ACORN employee advised the woman to list her occupation as "performance artist."
Those two employees had worked in Baltimore (the other two were in Washington, and the investigators later released videos from other cities), and the Baltimore Sun's September 11 edition reported that the investigators purportedly planned to traffic in child sex slaves:
The video depicts a man and a scantily dressed female partner visiting the Charles Village office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, where they appear to ask two employees about how to shield their work from state and federal tax requirements. The supposed pimp also appears to ask the employees how to conceal underage girls from El Salvador brought into the country illegally to work for him.
"If they don't have Social Security numbers, you don't have to worry about them," the employee says.
The Sun noted that the exposé, by 20-year-old Hannah Giles and 25-year-old James O'Keefe, was published on BigGovernment.com, a conservative website run by Andrew Breitbart, before being aired on Glenn Beck's Fox program. The New York Times finally got around to informing its readers of the scandal on Wednesday, September 16 -- after videos from four different ACORN offices had aired on Fox and two days after the Senate voted 83-7 to ban the group from receiving federal housing money.
It was a busy week for Beck and Breitbart. On September 11 they claimed another victory when the National Endowment for the Arts announced that it was "reassigning" Yosi Sergant, its communications director. The previous week, Beck had aired portions of a tape from an August conference call with artists, in which Sergant exhorted them to push the administration's agenda. The call was first reported on Big Hollywood, another Breitbart site, by a participant, Patrick Courrielche, who provided Beck the tape on which Sergant said this:
I would encourage you to pick something, whether it's health care, education, the environment. There's four key areas that the corporation has identified as the areas of service. Then my task would be to apply your artistic, creativity community's utilities and bring them to the table.
Sergant also told the artists: "We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government, what that looks like legally....We are participating in history as it's being made. So bear with us as we learn the language so that we can speak to each other safely and we can really work together [to] move the needle and to get stuff done."
At this writing, the New York Times has published not a word about it. It's difficult to imagine that a Republican administration could employ an exponent of a crackpot conspiracy theory, "partner" with an apparently corrupt organization, or attempt to politicize an agency like the NEA without the mainstream media treating it as a major scandal. But with Obama in the White House? A quote attributed to the fired Washington ACORN employees sums things up nicely. The AP reported that they had advised Giles and O'Keefe that they "must be low-key about the business, or people could ‘call Fox' " -- not the New York Times, or CBS or NBC, or "the media," but Fox.
To be sure, Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart are advocacy journalists with distinct points of view. But the supposedly impartial mainstream media also claim to have an "adversary" relationship with the government. That they have left this field to a few upstarts suggests that they have a point of view too -- one that is, in the age of Obama, far more compliant than adversarial.
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