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

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. 


4) Anti-War Reporter Chris Hedges, Unplugged

Rockford College is a liberal arts school in Illinois, alma mater to Jane Addams, the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. So, when Times reporter Chris Hedges agreed to make a commencement speech in summer 2003, he must have thought pompous pacifism would be a safe subject.

He thought wrong. Carrie Watters of the Rockford Register Star reported “Times reporter Chris Hedges was booed off the stage Saturday at Rockford College’s graduation because he gave an antiwar speech.” In a follow-up, Watters wrote: “Hedges’ oration was trimmed to 18 minutes as the ceremony threatened to become out of control. The 20-year war correspondent said Tuesday he was disturbed by the emotional response to his speech. ‘I didn’t expect that. How can you expect to have anyone climb on stage and turn your mike off,’ Hedges said Tuesday during a telephone interview. ‘Watching it in my own country is heartbreaking.’” Watters quoted Hedges: “I find it always frightening when that happens in war time.”

Here’s the opening of Hedges’ address:

Thank you very much. I want to speak to you today about war and empire. The killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq, although blood will continue to spill, theirs and ours; be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that if history is any guide will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige and power and security. But this will come later, our empire expands and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment, and we are very isolated now. We have forfeited the good will, the empathy the world felt for us after 9-11, we have folded in on ourselves. We have severely weakened the delicate international coalitions and alliances that are vital in maintaining and promoting peace, and we are part now of a dubious troika in the war against terror with Vladimir Putin and Ariel Sharon, two leaders who do not shrink in Palestine or Chechnya from carrying out acts of gratuitous and senseless violence.

Not exactly “follow your dreams” stuff. Hedges droned on in a world of his own, oblivious to context or nuance, not acknowledging the hostile audience wondering what had become of their graduation ceremony:

The curfews, the armed clashes with angry crowds that leave scores of Iraqi dead. The military governor, the Christian evangelical groups who are being allowed to follow on the heels of our occupying troops, to try and teach Muslims about Jesus. The occupation of the oil fields, the notion that the Kurds and the Shiites will listen to the demands of the centralized government in Baghdad....This is a war of liberation in Iraq, but it is a war now of liberation of Iraqis from American occupation, and if you watch closely what is happening in Iraq, if you can see it through the abysmal coverage, you can see it in the lashing out of the terrorist death squads and the murder of Shiite leaders in mosques, the assassination of our young soldiers in the streets.

A few days beforehand, the Times saw fit to run a captioned photograph of graduates walking out in protest of Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s commencement address at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University. For some reason the Times did not consider Hedges’ hostile reception equally newsworthy.

Following his tirade Hedges went on the left-wing radio show Democracy Now! (a daily news program broadcast on far-left Pacifica radio and other outlets), and his comments to host Amy Goodman reflected his condescending contempt for the graduates. “You know, as I looked out on the crowd, that is exactly what my book is about. It is about the suspension of individual conscience, and probably consciousness, for the contagion of the crowd, for that euphoria that comes with patriotism. The tragedy is that – and I've seen it in conflict after conflict or society after society that plunges into war – with that kind of rabid nationalism comes racism and intolerance and a dehumanization of the other.” 


5) Smearing the Duke University Lacrosse Team as Rapists

Tossing aside the admirable liberal concept of innocent until proven guilty, the Times played prosecutor with a racially charged rape hoax in North Carolina. The paper notoriously slimed, in both news and columns, three innocent Duke lacrosse players, falsely accused in March 2006 by stripper Crystal Mangum of rape at a house party. The players were prosecuted by Michael Nifong, district attorney for Durham County in North Carolina. But Mangum's tale was plagued by inconsistencies, and two of the three players had bulletproof alibis. The allegations were soon shown to be completely false, and Nifong was later disbarred for fraud and misconduct.

Yet throughout the ordeal liberal Times reporters and columnist Selena Roberts, threw out the presumption of innocence and routinely slimed the players, assuming them guilty of at the very least the sin of white privilege.

On the news side, the most notorious story was Duff Wilson and co-author Jonathan Glater's 5,600-word front-page summary of the case on August 25, 2006, a story so slanted it was fricasseed by law-writer Stuart Taylor Jr. in Slate four days later. The subhead to Taylor's rebuttal reads "The New York Times Is Still Victimizing Innocent Dukies." Taylor argued: "The Wilson-Glater piece highlights every superficially incriminating piece of evidence in the case, selectively omits important exculpatory evidence, and reports hotly disputed statements by not-very-credible police officers and the mentally unstable accuser as if they were established facts. With comical credulity, it features as its centerpiece a leaked, transparently contrived, 33-page police sergeant's memo [the Gottlieb memo] that seeks to paper over some of the most obvious holes in the prosecution's evidence."

Here's the most misleading paragraph from Wilson and Glater's piece: "By disclosing pieces of evidence favorable to the defendants, the defense has created an image of a case heading for the rocks. But an examination of the entire 1,850 pages of evidence gathered by the prosecution in the four months after the accusation yields a more ambiguous picture. It shows that while there are big weaknesses in Mr. Nifong's case, there is also a body of evidence to support his decision to take the matter to a jury."

Taylor describes that paragraph this way: "A sly formulation. Whoever thought it up chose to focus on the legalistic question of whether Nifong can avoid having his case being thrown out before trial, while glossing over the more important question as to whether any reasonable prosecutor could believe the three defendants to be guilty and force them through the risk, expense, and trauma of a trial."

Taylor concluded: "The Times piece mentioned most of this exculpatory evidence but understated its cumulative weight and gave unwarranted credence to contrary evidence of dubious credibility, such as the Gottlieb memo. This fits the Times's long-standing treatment of the case as a fable of evil, rich white men running amok and abusing poor black women."

A 2007 book "Until Proven Innocent - Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case," by Taylor & KC Johnson, ripped apart the Times' shoddy coverage of the case, taking particular aim at Wilson and Roberts and noted, infuriatingly, that Times sports reporter Joe Drape could have been an early hero for the truth. But when Drape began to divert from the favored storyline of Times editors, he was replaced by another reporter, Duff Wilson, who hewed more closely to the pro-prosecution slant preferred by the liberal editors at the Times. "The word among people at Duke and defense supporters, including one who later ran into Drape at a race track, was that the editors wanted a more pro-prosecution line. They also wanted to stress the race-sex-class angle without dwelling on evidence of innocence."


6) Publisher Sulzberger's Left-Wing Graduation Rant

New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "apologized" to graduates at the State University of New York at New Paltz in a May 2006 commencement speech for the failure of his generation to stop the Iraq War and to sufficiently promote "fundamental human rights" like abortion, immigration, and gay marriage.

Kingston's Daily Freeman quoted Sulzberger's address, which began with a facetious "apology" to the class for being part of the generation that let them down due to insufficient liberal activism.

"'I will start with an apology,' Sulzberger told the graduates, who wore black gowns and hats with yellow tassels. 'When I graduated in 1974, my fellow students and I ended the Vietnam War and ousted President Nixon. OK. OK. That's not quite true. Maybe there were larger forces at play.'"

He went on to lament that his generation "had seen the horror and futility of war and smelled the stench of government corruption. Our children, we vowed, would never know that. So, well, I am sorry."

Some more from Sulzberger: "It wasn't supposed to be this way. You weren't supposed to be graduating in an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life, the right of gays to marry or the rights of women to choose."

Kirby reported: "Sulzberger added the graduates weren't supposed to be let into a world 'where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain. You weren't. But you are and I am sorry for that.'" 


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

During the Bush administration, the Times proudly helped to scuttle not one but two successful anti-terrorist programs, one involving wiretaps by the National Security Agency, the other the monitoring of terror-related international bank transactions. But the Times developed a more nuanced attitude on national secrecy during the Obama administration.

Here are just some of the national security low-lights and double standards Times Watch has documented over the years.

*** In December 2005, Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau exposed the National Security Agency's monitoring of communications between people in America and terror suspects overseas, which many say hurt the anti-terrorist program – a program the Times constantly, misleadingly referring to as "domestic eavesdropping."

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas accused the paper of (as the Associated Press put it), "endangering American security to sell a book by waiting until the day of the terror-fighting Patriot Act reauthorization to report that the government has eavesdropped on people without court-approved warrants." Cornyn was referring to the then-unreleased book by James Risen, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush administration." The Times didn't mention the book deal.

*** Even more controversially, in June 2006 the paper exposed another classified surveillance program, involving the surveillance of international bank transfers to spot terrorists. "Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror," read the headline over the story by Eric Lichtblau and James Risen --the same tag team that wrecked the previous anti-terror program.

The Times ignored personal pleas from the White House (how Times have changed): "Under a secret Bush administration program initiated weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, counter-terrorism officials have gained access to financial records from a vast international database and examined banking transactions involving thousands of Americans and others in the United States, according to government and industry officials."

Reaction was fiercely negative from all sides. Executive Editor Bill Keller went on the sympathetic liberal talk show circuit to make his case. Talking as if he was executive of a nation, not a newspaper, he explained to CBS's Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation how he judges whether a national security secret is worth exposing. Separately, reporter Eric Lichtlbau ludicrously suggested that the program was not in fact a secret. (So why did the headline read "Bank Data Is Sifted by U.S. in Secret to Block Terror"?)

*** In June 2008, the Times' Scott Shane identified by name the CIA interrogator who extracted valuable information from 9-11 terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, marring his lead story, "Inside the Interrogation Of a 9/11 Mastermind." Shane's main subject was Deuce Martinez, the C.I.A. interrogator who extracted valuable information from KSM in a secret C.I.A. prison in Poland. Shane talked to current and former intelligence officials about the long road that led to KSM's capture, but not to the interrogator himself, who declined to be interviewed and asked in vain that the Times not release his name.

*** In 2010 and 2011 the Times (among other papers) ran with Wikileaks data stolen from the U.S. government. Executive Editor Bill Keller's 8,000-word New York Times Magazine cover story in February 2011 on WikiLeaks founder and anti-social anti-American Julian Assange was a guide to the events leading up to the Times' publishing over several months of batches from the archive of secret government data hoarded by Wikileaks. Keller proudly defended his paper's participation in Assange's attempt to undermine confidence in the United States. And Keller clearly preferred working with Obama over the Bush White House:

I have vivid memories of sitting in the Oval Office as President George W. Bush tried to persuade me and the paper's publisher to withhold the eavesdropping story, saying that if we published it, we should share the blame for the next terrorist attack. We were unconvinced by his argument and published the story, and the reaction from the government - and conservative commentators in particular - was vociferous.

This time around, the Obama administration's reaction was different. It was, for the most part, sober and professional. The Obama White House, while strongly condemning WikiLeaks for making the documents public, did not seek an injunction to halt publication. There was no Oval Office lecture.... 


8) John McCain Affair Allegations Backfire

In February 2008, soon after Sen. John McCain claimed the Republican nomination for president, the Times revealed a supposed bombshell story it had been sitting on for two months. A Times investigative team assembled a 3,000-word front-page piece on McCain and his relationship with a telecommunications lobbyist named Vicki Iseman. The paper unloaded the story on the February 21, 2008 front-page – where it promptly fizzled out among conservatives and liberals alike, who dismissed the story as a strained mix of sex innuendo and old news (The Keating Five?). Some of the anonymous innuendo:

Early in Senator John McCain's first run for the White House eight years ago, waves of anxiety swept through his small circle of advisers.

A female lobbyist had been turning up with him at fund-raisers, visiting his offices and accompanying him on a client's corporate jet. Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself - instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him, several people involved in the campaign said on the condition of anonymity.

When news organizations reported that Mr. McCain had written letters to government regulators on behalf of the lobbyist's client, the former campaign associates said, some aides feared for a time that attention would fall on her involvement.

Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity.

The paper relied on two anonymous former staffers who admit "they had become disillusioned with the senator."

Response to the "expose" from both left and right was overwhelmingly negative. The paper didn't seem eager to put up a fight, while even the network news broadcasts questioned the paper's journalistic standards.

In February 2009, as part of a settlement with Iseman, the Times printed a "Note to Readers" stating the paper had not intended to allege any affair. 


9) Blaming Jared Loughner's Rampage on Conservatism

Jared Lee Loughner tried to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat representing Tucson, at a neighborhood meeting on January 8, 2011, and murdered six others, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. The shooter's web pages were filled with crazed syllogisms, dominated by thoughts of mind control. Yet Times opinion writers and reporters alike, without a shred of evidence, suggested conservatism politicians and policies were somehow to blame.

The disgustingly opportunistic blame game started early, with columnist Paul Krugman ranting in a blog post just two hours after Giffords was shot: "We don't have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She's been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she's a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that 'the whole Tea Party' was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin's infamous 'crosshairs' list.

(Krugman was referring to an innocuous campaign "target map" from March 2010 that included Giffords' district.)

The Times front-page story the day after, "Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics," suggested Loughner was inspired by "violent right-wing rhetoric." Palin's "target map" was again blamed.

During last spring's health care votes, the language used against some lawmakers was ratcheted up again, with protesters outside the House hurling insults and slurs. The offices of some Democrats, including Ms. Giffords's in Tucson, were vandalized.

Ms. Giffords was also among a group of Democratic House candidates featured on the Web site of Sarah Palin's political action committee with cross hairs over their districts, a fact that disturbed Ms. Giffords at the time.

"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Ms. Giffords said last March. "But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that."

The image is no longer on the Web site, and Ms. Palin posted a statement saying "my sincere condolences are offered to the family of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona. On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice." (Late Saturday, the map was still on Ms. Palin's Facebook page.)

Loughner had no known political affiliations – there's no evidence he even knew of Palin's map – and the available evidence suggested all the signs of paranoid schizophrenia. Yet the Times harped on Palin's garden-variety political rhetoric of "targeting" members of Congress (done by both sides, including the Democratic Leadership Council in 2004 ).

Times media reporter Brian Stelter egged the media to go after Palin's campaign map on his Twitter account, throwing out red meat: "For the record, there has been no mention of Sarah Palin's target map on any cable news channel." He didn't have to wait long.

That was only the beginning of the Times' blame game, as these quotes show.

"Some people who study right-wing militia groups and those who align themselves with the so-called Patriot movement said Mr. Loughner's comments on subjects like the American currency and the Constitution, which he posted online in various video clips, were strikingly similar in language and tone to the voices of the Internet's more paranoid, extremist corners....The position, for instance, that currency not backed by a gold or silver standard is worthless is a hallmark of the far right and the militia movement, said Mark Potok, who directs research on hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center....Law enforcement officials said they suspected that Mr. Loughner might also have been influenced by things like American Renaissance, a conservative magazine that describes itself as "America's premiere publication of racial-realist thought." -- From a January 10, 2011 front-page story by Kirk Johnson, Serge Kovaleski, Dan Frosch, and Eric Lipton.

"[Loughner] became an echo chamber for stray ideas, amplifying, for example, certain grandiose tenets of a number of extremist right-wing groups - including the need for a new money system and the government's mind-manipulation of the masses through language....A few days later, during a meeting with a school administrator, Mr. Loughner said that he had paid for his courses illegally because, 'I did not pay with gold and silver' - a standard position among right-wing extremist groups." -- Front-page story by Dan Barry, January 16, 2011 


10) Tea Party vs Occupy Wall Street

The Times was late to the Tea Party in 2009 and arrived with a surly attitude. But the paper's mood brightened considerably in 2011, when the paper discovered that left-wingers had set up a squatters camp in downtown Manhattan known as Occupy Wall Street.

One striking example encapsulates the difference in the paper's attitudes toward the Tea Party and related conservative protests against Obama-care. Michael Kimmelman's piece on Occupy Wall Street was accompanied by flattering historical photos, including one of the famous man in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square in 1989. But when the Times reached back for an analog in a previous story on the Tea Party it found...the domestic terrorist group Weather Underground, as shown in a photo caption:

"VARYING DEGREES OF RAGE The Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, second from right, during the Days of Rage in 1969, and anti-health reform protesters in Washington on Sunday."

When editorial writer Lawrence Downes finally took the plunge and covered a "tea party" protest in a Long Island hamlet on April 7, 2009, it was clear he considered the movement a patchwork of right-wing kooks. He snottily caricatured the protesters as silly, lazy, and greedy ("mostly, it was about tax cuts"). The text box read: "Long Island patriots strike a blow against tyranny and whatever."

When the Times did finally deign to find the protests newsworthy, its treatment was snide and dismissive. Reporter Liz Robbins included these lines in the first filing of her April 16, 2009 story (the lines didn't make the print edition): "All of these tax day parties seemed less about revolution and more about group therapy. At least with the more widely known protest against government spending, people attending the rallies were dressed patriotically and held signs expressing their anger, but offering no solutions."

As if your garden variety left-wing protest, with its papier-mâché puppets, inflatable rats, and every interest group under the sun, is some kind of organically conceived masterpiece of coherence.

The threat of Obama-care loomed as the next big target of mass conservative opposition, and when conservatives raised their voices at congressional town halls over the August recess, the Times suddenly wasn't as fond of community organizing as it had been during the 2008 presidential campaign. From Ian Urbina's front-page story of August 8, 2009:

The bitter divisions over an overhaul of the health care system have exploded at town-hall-style meetings over the last few days as members of Congress have been shouted down, hanged in effigy and taunted by crowds. In several cities, noisy demonstrations have led to fistfights, arrests and hospitalizations. Democrats have said the protesters are being organized by conservative lobbying groups like FreedomWorks. Republicans respond that the protests are an organic response to the Obama administration's health care restructuring proposals. There is no dispute, however, that most of the shouting and mocking is from opponents of those plans. Many of those opponents have been encouraged to attend by conservative commentators and Web sites.

As the protests continued it was clear that dissent against a president's policies was no longer cool at the Times. An August 12, 2009 front-page story by Urbina and Katharine Seelye found protesters against Obama-care to be "angry," "irritable" crowds of whites taking marching orders from conservative talk radio and web sites: "....Ms. Abram described herself as a stay-at-home mother from Lebanon, and in many ways she was representative of the almost entirely white and irritable crowd, most of whom were from the area....It was the angriest people who got in line first."

Reporter David Herszenhorn posted at November 5, 2009 from an anti-Obama-care rally on Capitol Hill, and made sure his readers knew the protesters were conservatives parroting Fox News:

It's a generally older crowd, many in their 50s and 60s, predominantly, white, and many self-identified as Christians. They are fiercely conservative and deeply skeptical of the government, many of them adamantly opposed to abortion rights....Mr. Hershberger, like many of the demonstrators, repeated some of the most common conservative and Republican talking points heard repeatedly on Fox News.

As the Tea Party movement spread in 2010, Tea Party protesters, though invariably non-violent, were nonetheless smeared as racist, terrorist know-nothings by both Times reporters and columnists, as the blow quotes demonstrate.

"Still, [Rick Shenkman] and others argue that race and age are the biggest factors in shaping the mindset of Tea Party supporters. They tend to be white and male, with a disproportionate number above 45, and above 65. Their memories are of a different time, when the country was less diverse." -- Reporter Kate Zernike in the April 18, 2010 Week in Review.

"To talk about states' rights in the way some Tea Partiers did was to pretend that the twentieth century and the latter half of the nineteenth century had never happened, that the country had not rejected this doctrine over and over. It was little wonder that people heard the echo of the slave era and decided that the movement had to be motivated by racism." -- From Zernike's 2010 book "Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America."

"The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation's honor." –- 'Conservative' Times columnist David Brooks on July 5, 2010, in 'The Mother of All No-Brainers.'

"You know what they say: Never negotiate with terrorists. It only encourages them. These last few months, much of the country has watched in horror as the Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people. Their intransigent demands for deep spending cuts, coupled with their almost gleeful willingness to destroy one of America's most invaluable assets, its full faith and credit, were incredibly irresponsible. But they didn't care. Their goal, they believed, was worth blowing up the country for, if that's what it took....For now, the Tea Party Republicans can put aside their suicide vests." –- Columnist Joe Nocera, August 2, 2010. Nocera later apologized.

Compare the seething hostility for the Tea Party to the gushing praise the paper offered for a (very) rough left-wing equivalent that surfaced in September 2011: The Occupy Wall Street movement, which centered on Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan. After virtually ignoring the Tea Party movement for months, the Times was much quicker to leap on the Occupy bandwagon.

Former Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, criticizing the paper's liberal slant, faulted the paper's Occupy coverage for sharing too closely the "political and cultural progressivism...worldview" of its staff: "As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects."

Showing how effectively the lefty sit-in had embedded itself into the liberal psyche of reporters, Occupy Wall Street showed up even in unrelated reporters, referenced in not one but two stories on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Though the camp itself in lower Manhattan was plagued with criminal behavior and extremist politics, the Times portrayed it as a diverse crowd fighting corporate lawlessness.

"But I think the explosion of this movement really suggests that there were an awful lot of people who were just waiting for somebody to say it, and here we are, and it's a wonderful thing." – Columnist Paul Krugman discussing Occupy Wall Street on PBS's Charlie Rose, October 12, 2010.

"The protesters, clustered together in a kind of ad hoc Athenian democracy in the canyons of Lower Manhattan, firmly deny that their demonstrations against corporate greed and the political power of banks exhibit antagonism that singles out Jews." – Reporter Joseph Berger, October 22, 2010

"Malka Lubelski marched for economic justice last Sunday dressed as Minnie Mouse....And so it goes in the second month of Occupy Wall Street, where children are becoming an increasing presence as parents try to seize a 'teachable moment' to enlighten them on matters ranging from income inequality to the right to protest." – From an October 27, 2010 story on Occupy Wall Street by Helaine Owen, headlined 'For Children's Sake, Taking to the Streets.'