At Large

The Times They Aren’t A’Changin’

At least not on confected Page One. Elsewhere the paper remains committed to providing happy news from Sausalito.

By 10.11.02

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Say what you will about the New York Times, but you must admit this: It is open and transparent, and it has no hidden agenda. You know what it thinks, and what it wants you to think, too. The Republicans are hopeless, and Bush is a moron, but if we all pull together we can elect liberal Democrats. The Times is hardly ever subtle about this, and sometimes it practically shouts. Consider a story that not only made page one in the Times this week when it didn't belong there; it actually led the paper.

The story, based on a Times-CBS News poll of only 686 people, began this way: "A majority of Americans say that the nation's economy is in its worst shape in nearly a decade…" It went on: "The number of Americans who said they believe the economy is worse than it was just two years ago has increased markedly since the summer," and "the number of Americans who approved of the way Mr. Bush has handled the economy -- 41 percent -- was the lowest it has been in his presidency."

Then the story said that "despite the emphasis by Mr. Bush since Labor Day on the need to move against Saddam Hussein, support for such a policy has not changed appreciably for such a move since the summer," and even though most Americans backed Bush's policy on Iraq, they did so "with reservations and signs of apprehension."

In other words, Democrats should not lose heart. They can take back the House in November, and the presidency in two years. After all, the economy is tanking, and voters are blaming Bush. They also have "reservations" over Iraq.

Not until the sixteenth paragraph, however, way back on page A16, did the Times report that according to the poll, 67 percent of Americans supported the use of force against Iraq. Five paragraphs later it reported that "7 in 10 respondents" thought war was "inevitable," and that "more than half" thought Iraq was a greater threat now than it was two years ago.

So Bush, in fact, has abundant backing; the voters are on his side. Meanwhile it should be noted that while the Times said a "majority" of Americans thought the economy was lousy, and that the number who thought so was growing, it offered no statistics to support this. According to a graph on A16, however, only 39 percent of Americans thought the economy was getting worse; 13 percent said it was getting better, while 46 percent thought it was staying the same.

So, was the Times fiddling with the facts in order to make its anti-Bush, pro-Democratic case? Yes, of course, it was. On the other hand, so what? The Times is the Times, and when you read it you pick and choose. Some things are worth reading, while many others are not. Meanwhile any number of readers had been speculating about when the Sunday Weddings/Celebrations page would announce its first gay female ceremony. Male gays had made the page a month ago.

Last Sunday, however, the speculation ended. The page had two gay female couples. Like the male gays, they were all highly educated professionals, and the Times apparently put a lot of effort into choosing them. One happy couple -- a doctor and a social worker -- affirmed their partnership at a commitment ceremony led by a minister from the Universal Life Church at an arts center in Sausalito, California.

The other couple -- a PR woman in Manhattan and the host of two interview programs on Connecticut Public Radio in New Haven -- had a commitment ceremony presided over by a retired minister from the United Church of Christ and a female cantor at a restaurant in Manhattan. But more important, like so many other couples who get featured on the page, they had met cute.

That happened last April at a business meeting. A mutual friend of both women had arranged the meeting with the "secret hope," one said, "that we would click." As she also told the Times, though, she did not think much of the idea.

"Yet seeing each other for the first time," the Times reported, "turned out to be a cupid moment. Ms. Berman said she silently 'gasped' when she laid eyes on Ms. Middleton; Ms. Middleton described herself as 'thunderstruck.'"

And then one thing led to another, and there you are. Be cynical now if you must, but you may find out more about life in America today on the Weddings/Celebrations page than you ever will on page one.

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About the Author

John Corry is a former New York Times media critic and reporter.