Zero Class: New York Times Bashes Sen. Jim Bunning as ‘Cantankerous’ in Obituary Headline

May 29th, 2017 9:55 AM

If you can’t say something tradition, newspaper obituaries hold back criticism in the name of respect for the deceased and their grieving admirers, with even political figures granted reverence. But often conservatives are the exception, and outlets like the New York Times give themselves free reign to criticize. Sunday obit of Hall of Fame pitcher and conservative Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, written by Richard Goldstein, shows the differing standards by which liberal and conservative politicians are held, even in death.

It started with the headline, from the paper's Memorial Day edition: “Jim Bunning, Hall of Fame Pitcher Turned Cantankerous Senator, Dies at 85.

The Times got its money's worth out of that word:

Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher who threw a perfect game and later forged a second career as a fervently conservative and often cantankerous Republican representative and senator from Kentucky, died on Friday in the Fort Thomas, Ky., area. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by his son David, a Federal District Court judge in Kentucky. Mr. Bunning had a stroke in October.

Pitching for 17 seasons, mostly with the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies, Mr. Bunning, a right-hander, dominated batters with his sidearm deliveries.

He was the second pitcher, after Cy Young, to win at least 100 games, record at least 1,000 strikeouts and throw no-hitters in both the American and National Leagues. When he retired after the 1971 season, his 2,855 strikeouts were second only to Walter Johnson’s 3,509.

Mr. Bunning threw fastballs, curveballs and sliders out of a 6-foot-3-inch frame, seeking to intimidate batters with a gruffness that would be a hallmark of his time in Congress.


His perfect game was the first in the National League in 84 years and the first in the major leagues since the Yankees’ Don Larsen threw one against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Mr. Bunning set down all 27 Mets batters at Shea Stadium on June 21, 1964, in the first game of a Father’s Day doubleheader, striking out John Stephenson, a pinch-hitter, for the final out.


After serving as majority leader in the Kentucky State Senate, Mr. Bunning was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1986. He served six terms in the House and then was elected to the Senate in 1998 and re-elected in 2004. He spoke out against spending and taxes and showed a contrarian streak in the Senate while receiving national attention for some strange remarks.


While discussing the need for conservative judges at a dinner in Kentucky in February 2009, Mr. Bunning noted that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a member of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing, had undergone surgery for pancreatic cancer a few weeks earlier. “Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live” with the disease, he said.

He apologized for his remarks about Dr. Mongiardo and Justice Ginsburg.

Given the violent garbage that media types say about conservative politicians without the Times noticing, was it absolutely necessary to include some unfortunate side remarks in a man’s obituary?

Goldstein dwelled on the lowlights of Bunning’s career.

He was a staunch opponent of President Barack Obama’s health care legislation, but he was the only senator to miss the final roll call on the bill, which passed by 60-39 on a party-line vote. A spokesman said the senator had family commitments.

Mr. Bunning registered procedural objections to a bill extending unemployment benefits in early 2010 while demanding that it be financed from the economic stimulus program, and he single-handedly delayed its passage. During the debate, he complained about missing a Kentucky-South Carolina basketball game.


Asked by The New York Times in March 2009 whether he felt betrayed by some Republican colleagues, Mr. Bunning replied, “When you’ve dealt with Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra and Stan Musial, the people I’m dealing with are kind of down the scale.”

The NYT showed its hostility toward Bunning in a March 2009 profile by Mark Leibovich, suggesting the senator was "a bit of a screwball" (because he was once a pitcher, ha ha) and "questions about his mental fitness.”

If Bunning was ushered into history in a Times headline as “cantankerous,” one can imagine what word a hostile headline writer could have penned for an obituary to liberal Democrat and known philanderer Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died in 2009. Instead, it was respectful of the deceased and his family and admirers: “Edward Kennedy, Senate Stalwart, Dies." Contrasting the snarling tone of the first paragraph on Bunning to this one written for Kennedy:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, a son of one of the most storied families in American politics, a man who knew triumph and tragedy in near-equal measure and who will be remembered as one of the most effective lawmakers in the history of the Senate, died late Tuesday night. He was 77.