It's been a bad month for the New York Times. The feeding frenzy it tried to stir up over Sarah Palin's e-mails left the sharks unfed. And the "investigative" story that was supposed to prove Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be an unethical scoundrel fell flat because its theory was unsupported by the facts.
To top it all off, the Times is -- for the third time in as many years -- in an open feud with New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan for what the gentleman correctly labels anti-Catholic reporting.
But none of that will change the Times' behavior. The Times is preparing itself for a huge push to re-elect President Obama and will leave no story unpublished that could possibly help Obama or hurt his opponent, regardless of who it is.
How did the New York Times -- the paper of Abe Rosenthal, R.W. "Johnny" Apple and Bill Safire -- become the paper of Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd? What changed it from the liberal paper that had been most fair to Ronald Reagan to the home of angry liberalism?
What happened? Pinch happened.
Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. -- known as "Pinch," a diminutive of his father's nickname, "Punch" -- became the paper's publisher in 1992 and has steadily transformed what was a newspaper into an ideological tool of the left. The final stage of that transformation will be completed in September, when Jill Abramson becomes the paper's executive editor.
"Pinch" Sulzberger, as he demonstrated in his May 2006 graduation speech at SUNY New Paltz, is committed to a 1960s-vintage liberal ideology. He told the students, "You weren't supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life; the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain. You weren't. But you are. And for that I'm sorry."
Sulzberger's dogged misrule of the Times was first characterized by his ejection of established newsmen who had built the Times brand since World War II in favor of more ideological writers. In 1999, he took former Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal's column away, forcing him to retire. Rosenthal was a real newsman who had built a corps of reporters with a fierce desire to seek out stories. That creed conflicted with Pinch's vision of the paper's future.
In 2003, Sulzberger was embarrassed into firing executive editor Howell Raines when fabulist Jayson Blair's contrived stories were exposed. By then, as Raines later wrote in the Atlantic, the Times newsroom was so union-dominated (the Newspaper Guild's members are so work-resistant and hard to fire) that the reporters didn't want to travel to get stories: they sit at their desks and "report" by searching the Internet.
Sulzberger replaced Raines with Bill Keller, an established newsman. "Pinch" chose Keller over investigative reporter and Washington editor Jill Abramson, who had been campaigning for the job. But, as sources close to the Times told me then, Keller wasn't sufficiently liberal so Sulzberger invested Abramson (elevated to managing editor) and her close friend Maureen Dowd with the power to go around Keller's decisions.
Under Keller -- really, under Pinch -- the Times published several stories that damaged national security. The biggest was James Risen's 2006 stories on the top-secret National Security Agency terrorist surveillance program. The Times held the NSA story for almost a year while Risen wrote a book about it, then published the same day the book was offered for sale. The story and the book were published despite personal appeals from President Bush. Another, about the secret cooperation of the Belgian "SWIFT" consortium in tracing terrorist financing, was equally damaging.
This was pure Pinch: eagerly publishing top-secret information not out of traitorous intent, but in willful blindness to the effects on national security just to damage George W. Bush.
Risen, who should be rotting in jail until he discloses his sources for the NSA story, is now being subpoenaed to testify in the trial of alleged leaker James Sterling. In a sworn affidavit filed last week in support of a motion to quash the subpoena, Risen testifies that his reporting of the NSA stories drew personal praise from Sulzberger.
Paragraph 8 of the affidavit says that in 2007 Risen received a personal letter from Sulzberger. It said, "Your investigative reporting has been an extraordinary asset to the paper since the day you joined us…But it has now become a central reason that our Washington report is admired by our readers -- not to mention leaders around the nation and the world." High praise for reporting that damaged national security and falsely accused the Bush administration of acting illegally.
Sulzberger wanted to take no chances in 2012. He has pushed Keller aside in favor of the even more liberal Abramson.
Abramson is as committed to liberal dogma as is Sulzberger. In 1999, she co-wrote a front page story buying into Hillary Clinton's "vast right wing conspiracy" theory with "proofs" of a "small secret clique of lawyers in their 30s who share a deep antipathy toward the President." She and her long-time friend Jane Mayer wrote the book Strange Justice about Clarence Thomas. That book became famous twice: once for its assault on Thomas, and later for the sheer number of factual errors and apparent fabrications in it. (Her record of faith to the liberal media culture is too long to recount here, but the Media Research Center's Clay Waters reported a few of her "greatest hits" here.)
Abramson is a fan of the über-liberal Huffington Post. According to the Nation, feminism "has always been an explicit part of Abramson's career." That accounts for both the book about Thomas and the recent failed ethics attack on the sitting justice. Feminism is part of Abramson's persona as well as that of her close friend and Times columnist Maureen Dowd (who, as she proved redundantly in her Sunday column, is evidently the leader of the Times' anti-Catholic binge).
Before Dowd, the Times' anti-Catholic crusader was Anna Quindlen. And there will be others. Pinch finds Catholic women who are anti-Catholic and promotes them.
Abramson's elevation and closeness to Dowd will complete Pinch's transformation of the Times. It will be a tool of the Obama campaign and its most reliable attack dog throughout the 2012 race.
And it will be Obama's tool regardless of the commercial consequences. Pinch has not only destroyed the Times' credibility by imposing his ideological brand: he's run the value of the company down. Last Friday, NYT shares closed at $8.10, down from a 2002 high of $53.80. It's almost as great a failure as Air America was, and for the same reasons.
Republicans should celebrate Abramson's promotion because if they look closely at it -- and at the growing effectiveness of conservative media -- they will see two freight trains running toward each other that will collide spectacularly next year right in front of the eyes of American voters.
The two first collided in a 2004 fender-bender that cost Dan Rather his job when conservative bloggers exposed the phony documents he used to attack George Bush's service in the Texas Air National Guard. The media learned from Rather's mistake and four years later reasserted themselves in the role of the gatekeepers of voters' knowledge. Throughout the Obama campaign stories which real reporters would have dug into deeply -- such as Obama's record in the Illinois legislature, his association with shady characters such as Tony Rezko, and his two decades of listening to radical preacher Jeremiah Wright -- were stories the gatekeeper media chose not to report. (The Times, of course, held the story on John McCain's alleged affair with a lobbyist until he had secured the nomination. The story was debunked before the ink dried on the Times' front page.)
The lavish coverage and daily praise the media poured on Obama pushed critical examination of him out of voters' consciousness. The pro-Obama narrative isn't the result of some dark conspiracy: it's the product of the media's culture. The media culture is so powerful and so common that reporters, editors and television news executives can no more resist it than Canada geese can resist the instinct to fly south in winter.
All of this is good news for Republicans because conservative media are more brash, more agile and more willing to report real news than the dinosaurs of the gatekeeper media. Talk radio has a larger and more politically-active audience than all the liberal newspapers, lib talkers and liberal TV programs combined. When they collide head-on with the New York Times and the rest of the gatekeeper media, the result will be a fire on which Republicans can roast every Democratic candidate from Obama on down.
Republicans should mount an anti-media campaign and their weapon of choice should be humor. They can tell the media that their secret is out: Americans know, they should say, that you're just a dysfunctional liberal family the likes of which isn't usually seen outside Hollywood.
A steady stream of RNC-sponsored television commercials poking fun at the NBC/MSNBC ranters, at the New York Times' and Washington Post's selective reporting and such would do two things. First, the commercials would make the media an issue that the Democrats will try to defend and can't. The targets of the campaign will spin themselves into a frenzy of defense, taking time away from their pro-Obama activities.
Second, they will win a lot of votes from the independent voters who trust the media even less than they trust Congress. Those commercials could be worth tens of thousands of independent votes because Americans are ready to revolt against the hyperliberal media.
Make Sulzberger, Soros, and the "suits" -- such as Phil Griffin -- who run MSNBC the issue, and it could be the seed from which a new Media Tea Party Movement will sprout. These guys are so ripe a target, only Republicans' timidity can protect them.