Presenting the Top 10 Lowlights of the New York Times in 2005

Once again in 2005, the New York Times provided a bounty of material to choose from, whether it was a pattern of biased coverage -- Hurricane Katrina, Cindy Sheehan -- or a single bizarrely biased story, like one from Sarah Boxer on a pro-U.S. blog in Iraq.

Here are some samples fromTimesWatch's top 3 examples of the worst from the liberally slanted year of coverage.

#3 Relaying Reckless Leftist Charges Against Pro-U.S. Bloggers in Iraq

Reporter Sarah Boxer achieved instant notoriety in blogging circles for an irresponsibly speculative piece January 18 on a pro-U.S. blog run by Iraqi brothers. Boxer began in a breathless style that probably helped her story garner the top slot of the Arts front page: "When I telephoned a man named Ali Fadhil in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A C.I.A. operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet. The mystery began last month when I went online to see what Iraqis think about the war and the Jan. 30 national election. I stumbled into an ideological snake pit." But her story was rooted entirely in the speculative postings from a far-left group blog called Martini Republic.

She explains: "Out of a list of 28 Iraqi blogs in English at a site called Iraqi Bloggers Central, I clicked on Iraq the Model because it promised three blogging brothers in one, Omar, Mohammed and Ali. It delivered more than that. The blog, which is quite upbeat about the American presence in Iraq, had provoked a deluge of intrigue and vitriol. People posting messages on an American Web site called Martini Republic accused the three bloggers of working for the C.I.A., of being American puppets, of not being Iraqis and even of not existing at all."

A left-wing commenter's accusation of "fraud" set Boxer up for another round of loaded hypotheticals from a paranoid left-wing P.O.V. "What kind of frauds? One reader suggested that the brothers were real Iraqis but were being coached on what to write. Another, in support of that theory, noted the brothers' suspiciously fluent English. A third person observed that coaching wasn't necessary. All the C.I.A. would need to do to influence American opinion was find one pro-war blog and get a paper like USA Today to write about it. Martini Republic pointed out that the pro-war blog was getting lots of attention from papers like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today while antiwar bloggers like Riverbend, who writes Baghdad Burning, had gone unsung. Surely Iraq the Model did not represent the mainstream of Iraqi thinking?"

#2 Loving Cindy Sheehan

Anti-war Bush-hater Cindy Sheehan's caused a summer squall of anti-war protest that the Times, along with the rest of the media, tried to goad into an actual movement. They did so by trumpeting her status as a passionate, grieving anti-war mother and ignoring her increasingly bizarre anti-Bush and anti-American rantings, as well as the far-left nature of her entourage.

Reporter Richard Stevenson wrote on August 8 of Sheehan: "She is also articulate, aggressive in delivering her message and has information that most White House reporters have not heard before: how Mr. Bush handles himself when he meets behind closed doors with the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. The White House has released few details of such sessions, which Mr. Bush holds regularly as he travels the country, but generally portrays them as emotional and an opportunity for the president to share the grief of the families. In Ms. Sheehan's telling, though, Mr. Bush did not know her son's name when she and her family met with him in June 2004 at Fort Lewis. Mr. Bush, she said, acted as if he were at a party and behaved disrespectfully toward her by referring to her as 'Mom' throughout the meeting."

But according to a June 2004 edition of the Vacaville (Ca.) Reporter newspaper, Sheehan said: "I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis….I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith….That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together."

The Times' generous coverage of Sheehan addressed that point obliquely, when it was brought up at all. The Times also ignored Sheehan's many inflammatory comments about Bush, like this one, as posted on the website Gold Star Families for Peace: "The evidence is overwhelming, compelling, and alarming that George and his indecent bandits traitorously had intelligence fabricated to fit their goal of invading Iraq. The criminals foisted a Lie of Historic Proportions on the world."

Anne Kornblut instead called Sheehan "soft-spoken" on August 12: "Ms. Sheehan's constant presence and her soft-spoken, articulate presentation has presented a thorny issue for a White House that prides itself on its strong alliance with active and retired members of the military."

The Sheehan saga came full circle on December 1. In the middle of a "news analysis" by Bumiller on Bush's speech to the Naval Academy came this eye-roller: "In the view of some of Mr. Bush's advisers, the president lost a connection with the American people in August, when Ms. Sheehan commanded the stage and Mr. Bush spent much of the month out of sight." But it was only through the auspices of the Times and other media outlets that Sheehan managed to command a national audience in the first place.

1# All Wet on Katrina

As the massive natural disaster (if not as massive as first assumed by the media) of Hurricane Katrina unfolded on the Gulf Coast in early September, the Times knew just where to lay the blame for the havoc and destruction. Despite ample evidence of congressional, state, and local failures, the Times never suggested blame lay anywhere but with President George W. Bush.

In a column for the Los Angeles Times, former Times Executive Editor Howell  Raines joined the left wing in using the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to bash Bush. His September 1 column ended with words any extreme Democratic partisan would have been proud to pen: "The populism of Huey Long was financially corrupt, but when it came to the welfare of people, it was caring. The churchgoing cultural populism of George Bush has given the United States an administration that worries about the House of Saud and the welfare of oil companies while the poor drown in their attics and their sons and daughters die in foreign deserts."

The most cynical anti-Bush story to appear in the Times came on September 5 from Adam Nagourney and Anne Kornblut, "White House Enacts a Plan To Ease Political Damage." The Times made a pre-emptive strike, as if warning away anyone who would suggest that state and local officials had anything to do with the errors that engulfed New Orleans: "In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is also working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats. 'The way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials,' Mr. Chertoff said in his television interview. 'The federal government comes in and supports those officials.' That line of argument was echoed throughout the day, in harsher language, by Republicans reflecting the White House line."

A September 9 "news analysis" by Richard Stevenson, "The President From 9/11 Has Yet to Reappear," implied Bush was a conservative hypocrite: "…as someone who regularly cites the virtues of limited government, he has been somewhat out of character in unleashing rather than reining in the kinds of social welfare programs he urged the storm's victims to sign up for on Thursday….But most of the rest of his speech was a guide to government assistance programs, including Medicaid, assistance for needy families, food stamps, housing and job training, many of which he has tried to trim in the name of leaner government."

Twice in a September 16 story, "Amid the Ruins, a President Tries to Reconstruct His Image, Too," Stevenson cited as fact Bush's "faltering response" to Katrina, while ignoring state and local (that is, Democratic) culpability. "The violence of Hurricane Katrina and his faltering response to it have left to Mr. Bush the task not just of physically rebuilding a swath of the United States, but also of addressing issues like poverty and racial inequality that were exposed in such raw form by the storm. The challenge would be immense for any president, but is especially so for Mr. Bush. He is scrambling to assure a shaken, angry nation not only that is he up to the task but also that he understands how much it disturbed Americans to see their fellow citizens suffering and their government responding so ineffectually."

Stevenson found Bush too lackadaisical in pushing liberalism: "When it came to the issues hardest to address and most in need of sustained commitment, new ideas and risk-taking leadership -- the gap between rich and poor, its causes and consequences, its racial components -- he was less effective."

For more on these biased stories, and the full list of Top Ten Lowlights of the New York Times in 2005, visit TimesWatch.

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