It's Time for Regime Change at the New York Times

What the New York Times needs is regime change.

While at least half of this nation is demanding regime change for America in 2004, liberals who can't start a Sunday until they hear the thud of the New York Times hitting the ground should wake up.

Regime change in the media should begin with the New York Times.

Yes, the New York Times editorial board has maintained its traditional liberal stances, for the most part. We'll grant you that, particularly in comparison to the generally pro-Bush Washington Post editorial board (with some indignation finally starting to show up there over the Iraqi war crimes issue).

But even the New York Times editorial board supported the war in Iraq, and it has, until just a few weeks ago, been generally devoid of a sense of outrage over the dishonest, lying, treasonous, inept, and corrupt Bush Administration. So, we're not about to let America's "paper of record" off the hook.

Even so, if the New York Times editorial policies, have been, in general, somewhat liberal, its news section has often been an insidious vehicle for Republican spin since at least the early 90s.

Make no mistake about it, the current NYT admission that it might have abandoned some basic journalistic principles in its reporting of fiction as fact in regards to the Iraq War -- most noticeably in the blatantly uncorroborated confections of Judith Miller -- is as disingenuous as the articles that they want us to believe they are admitting should not have been posted in the first place.

First of all, the NYT posted an editor's note acknowledging the highly flawed reporting only after the White House, for reasons still not fully clear, decided to brand Chalabi, their erstwhile puppet, as a man who betrayed them. Whether this charge is true or not -- or whether it is just a way that the Bush Cartel is setting Chalabi up to appear not to be a puppet of the White House or whether it is all just Neo-Con/CIA infighting -- is irrelevant as far as the NYT admission of "flawed" journalistic standards.

What is important to remember, for the moment, is that the NYT was forced to acknowledge as fundamentally flawed articles that the infamous Judith Miller and other staff members wrote, because when the Bush Cartel discredited Chalabi, the NYT, in essence, was caught with its pants pulled down. On May 20, the Bush Cartel (or the CIA in defiance of the Defense Department Neo-Cons) had Chalabi's offices raided and then started leaking like a sieve accusations of possible Chalabi/Iranian cooperation. So, six days after the Chalabi raid, the NYT ran an admission of journalistic failings on May 26.

If the NYT, as it claims, found belated fault with the Bush Cartel "spin" articles, why did it wait until after the Chalabi "outing" to run a mea culpa? And why did it bury the acknowledgement -- as its own public editor observes -- on the inside pages, instead of on the front page where it ran most of the breathlessly reported ("It's Judith Miller time") Bush administration pro-Iraq war propaganda stories?

Good questions indeed. But it doesn't stop there. The NYT served as an essential Bush administration tool in persuading the American public that the Iraq war was necessary. Judith Miller, for instance, would print a "thinly" sourced Saddam WMD article and then Cheney and others would refer to it. This implied that even the NYT had documentation of WMDs, when it was actually the Bush Cartel surrogate, Chalabi -- his cohorts, and Bush administration officials -- who were feeding the lies to Judith Miller and other NYT reporters in the first place. And the NYT continued to run stories supporting Bush Cartel claims about Saddam and WMDs even after the war started.

Make no mistake about it; the NYT was to the Iraq War what Matt Drudge was to the Clinton impeachment. It's that simple.

As Editor & Publisher Magazine noted:

    Strikingly absent from the [NYT] editors' note is any flat-out admission that the Times as an institution allowed the line to become indistinct between the Bush Administration's claims and the newspaper's own reporting. There is no admission that the nation's leading print outlet bears some responsibility for the march to war.

    So this sentence does not exactly ring true: "It is past time we turned the same light on ourselves." For little light is provided on what actually happened. The New York Times became a "player" in a three-way echo chamber.

    The public aside, Times reporting influenced the executive and legislative branches of government, as well as the Administration using the newspaper to get its story out. Exile groups "gamed" both, with grave consequence.

And, like the Bush Administration to whom the NYT news section is so often tied at the hip, for the most part, there are, as we have noted, no consequences to the admission of responsibility. No one has been fired or reprimanded at the NYT. No personnel changes appear to be in the offing.

It would be easy to single out Judith Miller as the chief culprit -- and she was the most visible cheerleader for the Bush claims. But, as the NYT public editor noted in his May 30th analysis of the paper's Iraqi journalistic malfeasance, the problem represents an institutional failure. Miller should seek employment in the White House or Department of Defense press secretary offices, but others should also leave the NYT if its reputation is to be restored.

In more ways than one, the NYT mimics the "hold the team together whatever its incompetencies and failures" philosophy of George W. Bush. Remember how Bush visited the Pentagon, allegedly viewed photos of torture and abuse of Iraqis by American military personnel and contractors, and then emerged to announce that Rumsfeld was doing a "superb" job? Sounds a lot like the NYT dealing with journalistic malpractice.

Make no mistake about it; the NYT tries to continue to appear to be a liberal newspaper in its news coverage. It tends to take a secular perspective on choice, race and gender issues, for instance. But being "modern" and "urban" has not precluded the NYT from being, in general, insidiously pro-Republican and anti-Democratic Party in its presidential news coverage, whatever specific exceptions it can offer to the contrary.

The is the best chronicler of the outrageously sneering and biased news coverage the NYT (and Washington Post) have shown toward Democratic presidential candidates and Bill Clinton. But you don't need a daily scorecard. Just remember that it was the New York Times that kept alive a Whitewater story that was a non-story and blew on its embers until Kenneth Starr was able to find a sexual act to try and bring down Clinton. At that point, the NYT passed the baton to the Washington Post, which became a regular outlet for Starr's slimy leaks, although the NYT still continued to give disproportionate coverage to the trumped up impeachment efforts. It never fully acknowledged its errors in being led by the nose down the fruitless Whitewater and impeachment path by rabid Republican leakers who pedaled Richard Mellon Scaife-funded "research" to the NYT. If only the NYT had and would apply such passion and resources to exposing the real abuses of democracy undertaken daily by the Bush administration.

And let's not forget that in one its few investigative efforts over the past few years, the disastrous Wen Ho Lee attack job on the Clinton administration blew up in its face. Nor can we willingly accept how the NYT acted as if Bush were legitimately elected, instead of intensely investigating and analyzing the theft of a presidential election.

And the NYT played a key role in propagating the ridiculous caricature that Al Gore was a liar, while it did little to expose the truth about George W. Bush's disastrous and dissembling history as an individual and as governor of Texas. As the "paper of record," one of its most fundamental failures has been allowing a gaggle of its political reporters to go along with the Republican tactic of propagating caricatures of Democratic presidential candidates. When has a NYT political reporter written repeatedly about the chronic lying of the Bush administration? Where's the proportionality that marks good journalistic news judgment?

It's been a long, long time since you could look at the front page of the New York Times and believe that you were being provided with a balanced political perspective on the news, let alone issues like Republican corruption and deceit. Despite how many "liberals" love the "gray lady" for its cultural coverage, a smattering of liberal columnists, its extensive number of stories, and its traditionally liberal editorial section, its news coverage has been compromised again and again by a nod to the Republican Party "Lee Atwater" propaganda team. If the NYT is the epitome of the liberal media, as the right wing claims, we are in big, big trouble. But we know that, don't we?

Turning the NYT back into a "liberal" newspaper requires more than a commitment to "fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight."

Sloppy journalism that exceeds the error threshold of cub reporters isn't an accident. You can be sure of that.

Forced mea culpas are no longer sufficient from the NYT.

What the New York Times needs is regime change.

It needs a publisher and news editor whose first duties are to the democratic process in America -- and to political coverage based on truth, policies and competence, not on caricature and administration spin. It needs regime change that will re-institute the tradition of investigative reporting that uncovers the wrongs done by political figures who violate the public trust. It needs regime change to meet White House pronouncements with skepticism, instead of plastering them on the front page with several column headlines. It needs regime change to send reporters to the White House who can challenge WH babble that doesn't pass the smell test, instead of passing on the horse manure as news to the American public.

Why isn't there one reporter like Helen Thomas, a courageous elderly journalist who is persona non grata at the White House because she dares to challenge the official spin, covering the White House for the New York Times?

May the New York Times be reborn into a newspaper that, to paraphrase a famous muckraking journalist, afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.

May it return to its role, in its news section, as a voice for democracy, the engagement of public policy debate, uncoverer of corruption, investigative journalism and seeker after truth and justice.

But just as you can't clean up the stables of the Defense Department with Donald Rumsfeld in place, only regime change at the NYT will do the job.

Judith Miller should go, but so should all the individuals responsible for a "corporate culture" at the New York Times that has failed democracy.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.