Bill Keller's First Year as Editor-What Some Outside Experts Think - August 6, 2004 -

Times Watch for August 6, 2004

Bill Keller's First Year as Editor-What Some Outside Experts Think

Last week marked the first anniversary of Bill Keller's run as executive editor of the New York Times, replacing the high-caffeine liberal activism of Howell Raines. Times Watch asked a couple of Times critics if anything's changed at the paper under Keller's watch. Here's what they said: Donald Luskin (website: The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid): Under Howell Raines, the New York Times stood naked, and all the world could see its liberal agenda. Under Bill Keller's more careful and crafty leadership, the liberal agenda is still there-but it has been hidden behind a fig leaf. A key example is the hiring of "public editor" Dan Okrent in December 2003. Okrent's criticisms of the Times have been so careful, limited and elliptically worded that they can scarcely be called criticisms at all. When asked "Is the Times a liberal paper," he answers "Of course it is." But it turns out that it all depends what the meaning of "is" is. Okrent can't bring himself to speak the obvious truth that every news story on the presidency, politics, the war and the economy is slanted left. He has reserved his harshest criticisms for the Times' pre-war treatment of intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction-the one tiny example of the Times agreeing with the Bush administration. In other words, in that one case, the Times wasn't liberal enough. Robert Cox (website: The National Debate): It is perhaps telling that the most significant, positive changes at The Times during the "Keller Era" have nothing to do with Keller-the implementation of recommendations contained in the Siegal Commission report which includes the hiring of Dan Okrent, the paper's first-ever ombudsman. In my opinion, the problems at The New York Times are systemic, business strategy problems that have nothing to with Bill Keller and everything to do with publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. The paper has made a business decision to increase its "relevance" by being more aggressive and contentious in its reporting at the cost of a general decline in journalistic standards. That decline reached its current nadir several weeks ago when Keller put Elisabeth Bumiller's story about a rumor concerning Vice President Cheney being replaced on the GOP ticket on the front page, above the fold. I would like someone at The Times to explain how that is different than Matt Drudge running a story about an "intern problem" for John Kerry. So far my inquiries to The Times have gone unanswered.

Alessandra Stanley Messes With Texas

TV reporter Alessandra Stanley previews three Texas documentaries appearing on the Trio cable channel. "Let's mess with Texas," she says of the documentaries, and she does, or rather, she sniffs at it with condescension.

"Each documentary takes a shot at debunking the Texan myth. Yet most are European or American-European co-productions, and they are a bit seduced by Texas' vestigial cowboy image. Even the harshest, 'Business, Texas-Style,' a dark German look at the collusion of business and government in the president's home state, cannot shake a grudging Sergio Leone fascination with the state swagger. Only 'Fat City,' a deadpan look at obesity in Texas, has a firm grip on the sedentary, suburban nature of the Texas way of life. 'Texas: America Supersized' on Sunday is an introductory tour, sampling everything from high school football to rodeo, gun nuts and Border Patrol."

Note how Stanley casually drops in the phrase "gun nuts," as if it's second nature to her.

She actually finds "Texas: America Supersized" disturbing: "The most disturbing moment in the film is an interview with a Daughter of the Republic of Texas, an Alamo tour guide in a frontier bonnet and a calico dress. She cries as she describes the battle site as sacred ground to Texans and proudly recalls that on Sept. 11 her colleagues kept the shrine open, defiantly refusing to give in to the terrorists with the words 'The Alamo will not close.'"

She then lazily refers to the state's alleged obesity "epidemic," as if obesity actually were a contagious disease: "'Fat City,' also on Sunday, takes the fabled Texas of tall hats, rattlesnakes and assault rifles for granted. It zeroes in on the obesity epidemic, which may well have its center in Houston, a city that has been dubbed 'the fattest place on earth' by Men's Fitness magazine for the last three years. Two-thirds of Texans are overweight, the film says, and one-third are obese. Most interestingly, many have no interest in slimming down. Diane Roscoe, who weighs 625 pounds, cannot walk and gets around by wheelchair with the help of a home-care assistant. But she is militantly content with her size. 'I'm not going to change myself for society,' she says".There is still plenty to learn from these films. It's a small world, but Texas is a big state, and Trio tries to cut it down to size before the Republican Party puffs it up again for the president's convention celebrations."

While she faults one anti-Bush documentary, "Business, Texas Style," for a lack of balance, Stanley (who was born in Boston and has lived in D.C. and Europe) comes off as a bit European herself with her Texas-sized condescension.

For the rest of Stanley on the Texas documentaries, click here:

" George W. Bush | Campaign 2004

Europe Doesn't Believe Bush's Terror Warnings

The Times liked "Europe Takes New Alerts With Grain of Salt" (which first appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the NYT's international edition) so much they reprinted it, making sure American readers know how little Europe respects the Bush administration's terror warnings.

Katrin Bennhold's Friday story relays a German's suspicions on Bush's political timing: "In a measure of how little the latest alerts raised concern in Europe, the European Union's counterterrorism director, Gijs de Vries, remained on vacation. 'If there were a crisis, we would adapt our security situation, but for the moment that is not considered necessary,' said Isabel Schmitt-Falckenberg, a spokeswoman at the German Interior Ministry".Some European counterterrorism experts have said that a highly publicized threat three months ahead of the presidential elections on Nov. 2 needed special scrutiny. Rolf Tophoven, director of Germany's Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy, said: 'You shouldn't forget that there is an election campaign and that in times of crisis people tend to rally around the incumbent government. This is not a bad thing for Bush.' Mr. Tophoven criticized the 'inflation of terror warnings' in the United States, saying it risks desensitizing Americans at home and distracting the world from more imminent terrorist targets elsewhere. 'You have to ask how credible and serious this latest threat really is,' he said. 'The danger is that repeated warnings are counterproductive in terms of people's sensibility to terrorism. And the U.S. must watch out so as to not miss the real terror hot spot.'" For the rest of Bennhold's story, click here:

" George W. Bush | Terrorism

A "Polarizing" Disney Channel Movie

Anita Gates reviews the Disney Channel movie "Tiger Cruise." The premise: A Navy carrier is undertaking a tiger cruise, what Gates calls "the naval equivalent of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day." But this one sets sail on Sept. 9, 2001, and two days later the ship is on high alert. Gates finds some parts of the movie polarizing; specifically, the parts that remind her of Bush: "Speaking of weapons of mass destruction, it's sad that not quite three years after the terrorist attacks, 'Tiger Cruise' feels polarizing rather than patriotic. When Chuck says of the people who attacked the United States, 'I think we should go after them with everything we've got,' it takes a minute to remember that he means Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, not Saddam Hussein and Iraq. When, at the end, the children unfurl a giant American flag on deck, it should be a moment of pride. But it's hard not to think of another banner on an aircraft carrier, the one that said 'mission accomplished,' more than a year ago."

For the rest of Gates on "Tiger Cruise," click here:

" George W. Bush | Anita Gates | Iraq War | Television | Terrorism | "Tiger Cruise"

"Searing" Anti-Bush Scenes from "Fahrenheit 9/11"

David Halbfinger and Neela Banerjee conjure up Michael Moore for Friday's story from the campaign trail, "Kerry Pitches Energy Plan in Missouri."

"Mr. Kerry's railroad tour, which ends Monday in Kingman, Ariz., began after he detoured to Washington by airplane to address a national convention of minority journalists, where he was asked what would he have done had he been president on Sept. 11, 2001, if he was reading a story to a group of schoolchildren when an aide told him that the United States was under attack. 'I would have told those kids, very politely and nicely,' Mr. Kerry said, 'that the president of the United States had something that he needed to attend to.' This was no hypothetical, of course: one of the most searing scenes in Michael Moore's polemical film 'Fahrenheit 9/11' shows President Bush continuing to read a story to a class of Florida youngsters for seven minutes after his chief of staff informed him of the attacks."

For the rest from the Kerry stop, click here:

" Neela Banerjee | George W. Bush | Campaign 2004 | "Fahrenheit 9/11" | David Halbfinger | Sen. John Kerry | Michael Moore | Terrorism