NYT, Republican Opposition Rag

Clark Hoyt has a really curious final column summarizing his three years as the NYT’s public editor. A lot of it is self-congratulation to the NYT for even having a public editor. But I’m most fascinated by Hoyt’s rebuttal of reader claims that NYT is a “liberal rag.”

For all of my three years, I heard versions of Kevin Keller’s accusation: The Times is a “liberal rag,” pursuing a partisan agenda in its news columns.

[snip]

But if The Times were really the Fox News of the left, how could you explain the investigative reporting that brought down Eliot Spitzer, New York’s Democratic governor;derailed the election campaign of his Democratic successor, David Paterson; got Charles Rangel, the Harlem Democrat who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in ethics trouble; and exposed the falsehoods that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another Democrat, was telling about his service record in the Vietnam era?

Hoyt names the Spitzer scandal, certain Paterson allegations, coverage of the Rangel scandal, and its recent Blumenthal attack as proof that the NYT is not a liberal rag.

With the exception of the Rangel coverage, these are all stories for which the source of the story is as much the issue as the story itself. Hoyt must hope we forget, for example, that Linda McMahon (Blumenthal’s opponent) boasted she fed the Blumenthal story to the NYT. Their denials that she had done so became even more unconvincing when the AP reported that the NYT hadn’t posted the full video, which undermined the NYT story.

I have no idea where the Rangel story came from (and in this case, I don’t care, because it’s clearly an important story about real abuse of power).

Then there’s Paterson. With this story, too, there’s a dispute about the NYT’s sources. Paterson says he was the NYT’s original source (they deny that too, and it’s true that this one is more likely to have been a Cuomo hit job). In any case, the NYT story fell far short of the bombshell that was promised for weeks leading up to it. Another political hit job that maybe wasn’t the story it was made out to be.

Which brings us to Eliot Spitzer. There are a number of possible sources the NYT might have relied on, starting with right wing ratfucker Roger Stone, who has bragged about being involved in that take-down. But they all, almost by definition, come down to leaks from inside a politicized DOJ. And those leaks focused not on any of the other elite Johns involved, not on the prostitution ring itself (which was, after all, exceptional only for its price tag), but on Spitzer. While I agree that Spitzer’s hypocrisy invited such a take-down, there wasn’t much legal news there, no matter how hard the press tried to invent it to justify the coverage.

But the list doesn’t end there. Elsewhere in Hoyt’s goodbye, he mentions his biggest regret–the Vicki Iseman story.

But throughout my tenure, Keller was gracious and supportive. When we had what was certainly our disagreement of greatest consequence — over the Times article suggesting that John McCain had had an extramarital affair with a young female lobbyist — Keller showed great equanimity. I said The Times had been off base. Though the story gave ammunition to critics who said the paper was biased, and it was no help to have the public editor joining thousands of readers questioning his judgment about it, Keller said mildly that we would just have to disagree on this one.

Say what you will about whether this was a worthwhile story, one with the wrong emphasis, or inappropriate scandal-mongering, it is pretty clear the Iseman part of the story came from disgruntled former Republican aides to McCain, probably in the neighborhood of John Weaver. Thus, it fits into this larger list of stories that serve not so much as proof of NYT fair-mindedness, but of its willingness to regurgitate oppo research in the service of powerful–often Republican–political opponents.

Then, finally, there’s the story that Hoyt doesn’t mention, to his significant discredit–the ACORN Pimp Hoax. As BradBlog has relentlessly documented, the NYT not only reported James O’Keefe’s doctored lies as fact, but Clark Hoyt himself scolded the paper for not being more responsive to such tripe. It took six months for the NYT to actually fact check the work of a transparent political propagandist and acknowledge that that propaganda presented a false picture–and they did so with little remorse at the damage they did in the interim.

Clark Hoyt’s valedictory defense of the NYT’s political balance ends up reading like a laundry list of the number of times the paper has served as a willing mouthpiece for largely GOP oppo research. Given the NYT’s history with Judy Miller, this is not a shock. But it is a pity that a once-respectable journalist like Hoyt now clings to NYT’s credulous recycling of political hit jobs as proof of the paper’s balance.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

28 replies
  1. Teddy Partridge says:

    I do give credit to Hoyt for actually walking away when his term is up, unlike Deb Howell — who got at least a years’ extension, about the least honest thing any ombudsman can do. “Nice job, lady, can you stick around another year?” seems to me the antithesis of ombudsing. Reporters and editors should all be carrying you out the door on your shield, right?

    Wish I knew who got all suicide-y histrionic in Clark’s office, though. There’s a story there, and one he is clearly holding over the head of the reporter and the NYT:

    A writer shaken by a conclusion I was reaching told me, if you say that, I’ll have to kill myself. I said, no, you won’t. Well, the writer said, I’ll have to go in the hospital. I wrote what I intended, with no ill consequences for anyone’s health.

    • emptywheel says:

      I actually think he would have left a successful public editor if he had left after 18 months or even two years. It’s just in the last year he has really drunk the koolaid.

      • Teddy Partridge says:

        Two-year terms appear to be best for this role, although Debbie had successfully ingratiated herself well enough to be invited back for a third. Perhaps there is also value in appointing three people to the role, and ask them to rotate the responsibilities.

        Regulatory capture appears to be the issue. Or at least Ombudsory capture, since “regulatory” is too strong a word for these collegial discussions with Keller (and the mocking introduction of Punch).

  2. Teddy Partridge says:

    Hoyt’s co-ombudser at WaPo today rails against anonymous sources.
    Editors and reporters seem to have agreed they’ll do nothing about this concern.

    • Teddy Partridge says:

      Yes, it’s nice to see bloggers make it big with Legacy Media, but I do wonder what co-option happens. Nate got an in-editorial link this past week from the NYT, but how much NYT link-love will his polls get if they show Blumenthal still with a commanding lead?

      And will Nate use his new platform/ relationship to come after anyone in the oddly rabid way he went after FDL?

  3. cregan says:

    Hoyt thinks he is a public editor, but really is not.

    If you want a real example of such, check David Shaw’s work at the Los Angeles Times back a few years ago. He investigated journalists at the Times, and occasionally other outlets, with the same vigor journalists investigate politicians.

    Hoyt writes like he is a journalism teacher doing a critique. Shaw wrote like a journalist diving deep in a story. That made journalists as uncomfortable as the people they normally cover.

    Hoyt wrote like an insider. Shaw wrote like an outsider–even though critiquing his bosses and fellow writers at the Times.

  4. Teddy Partridge says:

    I wonder if the position of Public Editor, or Ombudsman, is obsolete now that we are all media critics. I mean, in an era when Howie Kurtz tweets, do we really need our Legacy Media providing real estate for yet another in-house critic?

    • cregan says:

      The public editor is not supposed to be a media critic. He is supposed to check into aspects of the coverage of the paper as if he were a real journalist doing a real story on anyone else.

      Hoyt was too worried he’d step on the toes of his fellow workers.

      Same with Kurtz. Both are like journalism teachers doing an inside job as opposed to reporters getting to the f’ing bottom of the story on the coverage–when whatever coverage needs looking into.

  5. eCAHNomics says:

    Was there ever a public editor who didn’t nearly break his/her arm patting him/herself on the back for doing such a great job? Yet another useless position, meant to whitewash corp media blowjobs on the PTB.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        So full of themselves that everything they say must be regarded in that light, and not as though there is any content at all.

  6. arcadesproject says:

    I’m trying to get my mind around the part about ‘opposition’, as in ‘Republican Opposition Rag’. When the Democrats serve zealously the same corporate interests as do the Republicans, do we really have an ‘oppostion’?

  7. RodL2 says:

    Clark Hoyt must have imagined himself reciting his essay before TV cameras and coming off as a journalist of integrity, like Jimmy Breslin.
    What a self-serving dolt.

  8. Bluetoe2 says:

    Over the years “The Old Gray Lady” has morphed into the “Old Gray Hag.” That it has any credibility left at all is an indictment on the state of “journalism” today.

  9. temptingfate says:

    While it is hard to speak to the goals of people like Hoyt and their ability to congratulate themselves for a job well done without being a bit contrary, the defensive position of Hoyt and the NYT that they are not a liberal rag is fairly obvious. True liberalism cannot be defended by the same people that defend the supremacy of corporations. Where Hoyt misses that mark is in attempting contrast the NYT with the Murdoch empire, which he proposes is exemplified by FOXNews. This is just obfuscation. The difference between the corporate interests of Murdoch and the NYT that is seated in the nation’s corporate financial capital are very subtle. The NYT proposes the voice of neoliberals be heard along with corporate needs. FOX believes that neocon interests be heard along with the need of corporations. The conflict is between the neocon and the neoliberal values which is represented by a difference in kind but not in value. They both accept the overwhelming importance of corporations and corporate power.

  10. PPDCUS says:

    The days of Katherine Graham’s WAPO during Watergate and the NYT publishing the Pentagon Papers are abberations — standing up for what the public needs to know in a free society under representative government.

    Murdoch has resurrected Hearst’s & McCormick’s power of the press to start wars, decide elections, direct national priorities, hide or expose corruption to their own advantage, and consolidate power in the hands of the few.

    Mission accomplished, Clark.

    • eblair says:

      We probably still don’t know what Watergate was really about. When it comes to enemies and payback, any kind of left/right dichotomy is irrelevant. Especially when almost all the dramatis personae are scum. I say “almost” because Carl Bernstein strikes me as a possible exception.

  11. eblair says:

    Neither the Democrats nor the NYT is liberal. Nobody with a brain subscribes to the NYT. NYT is much closer to FOX than either of them is to the truth. It exists to spread lies. Anybody who still takes the time seriously is a complete and utter moron.

    “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
    — Mark Twain

    • 300SDL says:

      “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
      — Mark Twain

      Perfect!

  12. spencerh says:

    Incoherent. There’s no conflict between being liberal and outing fraud or turning in criminals, regardless of who the doer is.

  13. bayofarizona says:

    I never liked how the whole Spitzer thing went down. Wasn’t it right after he accused AIG of fraud? Isn’t there a law that says you can’t go fishing on one particular person?

    A trust fund brat is moving money around – that never happens! And somehow Madoff and Stanford and all the rest got away with all that.

  14. textynn says:

    I am writing to request that FDL continue to cover the health care situation. People are still dying, going bankrupt and being shoved around by the same health care industry we were denied emancipation from. These companies are still making enormous profits and all the crimes and indifference by the bought off government reps is still going on. The new policies are starting to show up on the fringes for people looking for help. They have done nothing but cut off more people and are installing a program that is much less than regular health care costs but covers so little that it is useless and pocket draining at the same time.


    Dr. Flowers, part of the Single Payer movement, spoke in front of the White House today. On Sunday morning, June 13, 2010, Dr. Margaret Flowers was one of the speakers at a rally “to prevent the corporate takeover of America.” It was held in Lafayette Park, opposite the White House. She is associated with Physicians for a National Health Program, check out for more information: http://www.pnhp.org/ Dr. Flowers champions a Single Payer, Medicare for All Health care system. She underscored: “Health care is a fundamental right!” The event was sponsored by the Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP). Dr. Flowers was introduced by Rabbi Michael Lerner.

    It through the complete and utter complicity of the media that terrible bills like the health care get no coverage after signed. The media completely goes along with the taught policy of no longer covering topics that the powers that be have decided to show no attention to. The White House may call the bill done, but this is a non bill and a sham. People will not be saved and the American public will be strung along for another few decades while millions die and suffer.

    We must continue to demand that America gets real health care and show this sham bill for what it is. Everywhere people are dying just like before and the bill as it is will cover little. I know that Wa state’s version includes monthly premiums, $500 deductible, high copays. and covers the second two thirds of hospital visits and major tests. This will cost the poor thousands and thousands a year that they don’t have and effectively keep people from seeking help because of the deductibles and high co pays. It is the devil’s work in my opinion. We need to expose this bill and the current practice of doing very little for many many years for what it is. A big stall and blow off and a bail out to the health care industry.

    FDL may not have figured it out yet but this health care bill will force people to pay while everything is put into place to make people have to avoid care. It is so corrupt that I would leave this county in a second if I could. We have no real health care reform and HP has quit covering the tragedies and the people working for real change still.

  15. tanbark says:

    Well, the Obama administration also seems to think that the NYTimes is a liberal rag, for reporting the truth about Karzai and the Afghan “government” expressing their doubts about a happy ending for Operation Enduring Clusterfuck:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/13/white-house-attacks-new-y_n_610425.html

    This bushian hammering-on-the-messenger should help to clear up any doubts about the big differences between Obama’s policies and those of his predecessor…

    There aren’t any.

  16. jaango says:

    In response to Teddy Partridge @6.

    In your post, you refer to Nate Silver and his attempted take down of FDL.

    Can you share some the thoughts, or perhaps, you can provide a link or two?

    Obviously and at the time, I must of consumed a bottle or two of too much of the old-fashioned Ripple, and missed Silver’s overt efforts.

    Jaango

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