Top 10 for the 10th Anniversary of Times Watch: Presenting the Absolute Worst From the New York Times

March 31st, 2013 11:24 AM

This week marks 10 years of Times Watch, the Media Research Center's project monitoring the liberal bias of the New York Times, America's most influential newspaper. Over the course of roughly 3,500 posts since March 2003, we have followed the Times through events historic (wars in Afghanistan and Iraq), pathetic (Jayson Blair, Howell Raines) and dangerous (the paper scuttling two separate anti-terror programs.) 

Here in rough chronological order are the Top Ten highlights of the New York Times' 10-year investigation into the bias of the New York Times.

1) Maureen Dowd's Dishonest Deletion 

2) Times Brought Low By Reporter Jayson Blair's Plagiarism 

3) Raines of Error: Howell Raines’ 21-Month Times Editorialship 

4) Anti-War Reporter Chris Hedges, Unplugged 

5) Smearing the Duke University Lacrosse Team as Rapists 

6) Publisher Sulzberger's Left-Wing Graduation Rant 

7) Scuttling Two of Bush's Anti-Terrorist Programs 

8) John McCain Affair Allegations Backfire 

9) Blaming Jared Loughner's Rampage on Conservatism 

10) Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street




1) Maureen Dowd's Dishonest Deletion

The first major story broken by Times Watch involved deception by columnist and former White House reporter Maureen Dowd, who left out vital words from her May 14, 2003 column, "Osama's Offspring," on President Bush's pursuit of the Taliban during the Afghanistan war. Dowd used an ellipsis to totally misrepresent a Bush statement from a May 5 speech in Arkansas to imply he said the Al Qaeda terrorist network is "not a problem anymore," changing Bush's meaning to make him look naive about the war on terror.

Busy chasing off Saddam, the president and vice president had told us that Al Qaeda was spent. "Al Qaeda is on the run," President Bush said last week. "That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. . . . They're not a problem anymore."

But those quotes were taken wildly out of context. Here's what Bush actually said (the part Dowd left out is in italics): "Al Qaeda is on the run. That group of terrorists who attacked our country is slowly but surely being decimated. Right now, about half of all the top Al Qaeda operatives are either jailed or dead. In either case, they're not a problem anymore."

A Times spokesman insisted that Dowd's "intention was not to distort the meaning of the quote," and several newspapers who used the distorted quote issued corrections. Dowd returned to the subject in a later column that included the full quote, but without issuing an actual correction. 


2) Times Brought Low By Reporter Jayson Blair's Plagiarism

Times Watch continued a busy first year in 2003 with coverage of a plagiarism scandal involving reporter Jayson Blair, whose mass plagiarism and deception led to one of the low points in the history of the paper and the downfall of both executive editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd.

In April 2003, a reporter for a San Antonio newspaper noticed a story in the New York Times was almost identical to one she had written the week before.

An exhaustive internal investigation uncovered dozens of instances of plagiarism or deception on the work by that same reporter, Jayson Blair, guilty of stealing copy from other newspapers as his own, putting quotes in the mouths of people, and filing fraudulent datelines from his apartment in Brooklyn – even using the Times photo bank to create the illusion of verisimilitude.

The paper printed a 7,239-word front-page investigation on May 11, 2003: "Times Reporter Who Resigned  Leaves Long Trail of Deception." The report "uncovered problems in at least 36 of the 73 articles Mr. Blair wrote since he started getting national reporting assignments" in October 22. The investigation showed how warning signs went unheeded, like this one from editor Jonathan Landman: "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times. Right now."

Times publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger argued that only one person was responsible, and it sure as heck wasn't him: "The person who did this is Jayson Blair. Let's not begin to demonize our executives -- either the desk editors, or the executive editor or, dare I say, the publisher."

In his atrociously-selling 2004 memoir, "Burning Down My Master's House," Blair made excuses so hypocritical and self-serving you almost felt sympathetic toward the Times and its arrogant executive editor Howell Raines: "I wasn't going to fight for a job at a newspaper that had disappointed my idealism, for a newspaper that I had allowed to take something very precious from me."  The mea culpas scattered throughout the book were invariably equipped with trapdoors -- addictions, work pressure, depression, and discrimination are to blame as well as Jayson himself.

Which brings us to....


3) Raines of Error: Howell Raines’ 21-Month Times Editorialship

Another consequence of Jayson Blair's plagiarism was the downfall of Howell Raines, who hired Blair and served as executive editor of the New York Times from September 2001 to June 5, 2003. In that brief span the crusading liberal activist managed to alienate virtually everyone he worked with through his unpleasantly driven personality.

Noting Raines had served for years as editor of the Times editorial page, Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson asked a prophetic question: "Does anyone believe that, in his new job, Raines will instantly purge himself of these and other views?" Raines’ management of the Times over the next 21 months gave Samuelson and other skeptics an affirmative No.

One sign something was awry came on Nov. 18, 2002, in an editorial suggesting three-time Masters’ golf tournament winner Tiger Woods boycott Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, for its refusal to admit women as members. The paper's anti-Augusta crusade eventually got the attention of Newsweek, which noted that the Times had run a whopping 32 stories on whether the Augusta National Golf Club would admit women.

Raines’ Augusta jihad soon caused the paper even more grief. New York Daily News columnist Paul Colford revealed on Dec 4, 2002 that the Times had spiked columns by two sports columnists who had written columns disagreeing with the editorial board's stand on Woods. (After outcry, the columns eventually appeared in revised form.)

Bloodied but unbowed, Raines continued to deny liberal bias in 2003, accusing his critics of a “disinformation” effort “of alarming proportions” to “convince our readers that we are ideologues” while accepting a National Press Foundation award. Raines worried “those of us who work for fair-minded publications and broadcasters have been too passive in pointing out the agendas of those who want to use journalism as a political tool,” meaning conservatives.

The beginning of the end for Raines came in April 2003, when a reporter for a San Antonio newspaper noticed that a Times story by reporter Jayson Blair was almost identical to one she had written the week before. Accused of plagiarism, Blair eventually resigned, causing a firestorm and involving the paper in more negative press.

The scandal encapsulated what many considered Raines’ autocratic refusal to listen to his staff, and his propensity for playing favorites. At a Times staff meeting, he admitted that as a “white man from Alabama,” he may have given Jayson Blair “one chance too many” because Blair was black, an admission that did little to invite confidence. In fact, Raines had specifically boasted of Blair’s hiring in front of the National Association of Black Journalists in 2001, saying: “This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.”

Raines reviewed his tenure as Executive Editor in a self-serving 21,000-word piece in the May 2004 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, which contained this shocking sentence demonstrating Raines' beef with the paper – it wasn't liberal enough! "Another disturbing development, for which I was unprepared, was that a small enclave of neo-conservative editors was making accusations of political correctness in order to block stories or slant them against minorities and traditional social welfare programs."

Raines' 2006 autobiography The One That Got Away demonstrated how those who accused him of liberal slant were right all along, attacking his perceived ideological enemies at Fox News:

Fox, by its mere existence, undercuts the argument that the public is starved for 'fair' news, and not just because Fox shills for the Republican Party and panders to the latest of America's periodic religious manias. The key to understanding Fox News is to grasp the anomalous fact that its consumers know its 'news' is made up....Fox Television showed us the future - outright lies and paranoid opinions packaged as news under the oversight of Rupert [Murdoch], a flagrant pirate, and Roger Ailes, an unprincipled Nixon thug who had assumed a journalistic disguise in much the same way that the intergalactic insect in Men in Black shrugged into the borrowed skin of a hapless hillbilly. 

You can read the other seven entries at Times Watch.