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Jewish World Review August 27, 2002 / 19 Elul, 5762

Barbara Amiel

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How Kissinger the hawk was twisted into a fake dove: Lessons in liberal journalistic integrity


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | What is going on at the New York Times? In a front-page news story on August 16, the Times managed to change Henry Kissinger into a dove on the issue of military action against Saddam Hussein instead of the hawk he actually is.

The two reporters who wrote the story took an op-ed piece written by Kissinger for the Washington Post four days earlier - in which he argued that the reasons for war against Iraq were strong enough to justify "an imperative for pre-emptive action" - and twisted this into a caution against such action. Not easy.

To justify running this story on page one for two consecutive days, the reporters linked it to an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal on August 15, written by Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser to George Bush Senior. Scowcroft is a legitimate member of the Republican anti-war faction.

Using his piece as a news-hook, the reporters cobbled together a story headlined "Top Republicans break with Bush on Iraq strategy." There was nothing newsworthy in the article except for the presence of Henry Kissinger as a break-away Republican.

The new-look Henry K was so blatant a piece of deception that, on August 19, the Wall Street Journal parted with its tradition of keeping quiet about its competitor's editorial policies and published a leader with a damning indictment of the "tendentious" claims of the New York Times, suggesting that the paper keep "its opinions on its editorial page".

More than 100 years ago, the New York Times, under owner Adolph Ochs, adopted the slogan: "All the news that's fit to print." Ochs and his descendants built up so formidable a franchise that by this century it looked like the paper might actually be able to fulfill that promise physically. But critics are now asking if the New York Times only prints news it considers ideologically fit.

Newspapers often have agendas - issues and values - they want to promote. Readers can decide if the agenda is legitimate - so long as they know what it is. Having an agenda is not wrong, but pretending you don't when you do is. Even worse is to falsify facts, report selectively, or take quotes out of context to serve your agenda.

For most of its 106 years under the stewardship of the Ochs-Sulzberger family, the Times had an agenda that was pretty obvious. It was a pro-Republican newspaper until the election of Franklin D Roosevelt. Though the paper criticized Roosevelt between elections, from that point on they switched to the Democratic Party and became a newspaper that pretty much reflected the liberal values that have long dominated New York City political elites.

By 1972, the paper had reached a position where it could endorse George McGovern in the presidential election. McGovern's platform had such highlights as the distribution of America's wealth to the population by giving $1,000 handouts to every citizen.

The paper became a staunch opponent of the war in Vietnam and of President Nixon. It supported what is generally conceded as the most inept American presidency in the past 80 years, that of Jimmy Carter. In a word, the New York Times cantered at full tilt to the Left.

This was reflected in its op-ed pages, columnists and staff choices. In recent years, two men, Abe Rosenthal and John Vinocur, were both ideally qualified to be editor of the Times but were considered ideologically unsuitable. The newspaper became increasingly politically correct even under the benign and commercially brilliant stewardship of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, grandson of Adolph Ochs.

In 1996, Arthur (known as "Punch" Sulzberger) resigned and his son, Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, took over. Staff held their breath. Would Pinch be as hands-off as Punch? The answer was pretty much yes, though Pinch was more modern or "sensitive" to gender and race issues than his old-fashioned liberal dad.

But Pinch had a very particular idea of where he wanted the New York Times to go: out went Abe Rosenthal and in came a new team headed by executive editor Howell Raines, a vehement Left-wing columnist from decades back.

Partisanship is not necessarily wrong for a newspaper. The tradition of parti pris papers is strong in Europe and well known in Britain. Raines kept the ideologically unpredictable columnist William Safire and the op-ed pages reflect a sprinkling of differing views.

What has been happening at the Times is far more ominous than just veering to the support of one party or one ideology. The tradition of the New York Times was to be the paper of record for its liberal readers. And in this voyage, the Times has mirrored the sad story of American liberalism, which is largely the story of liberalism derailed.

There is a type of liberalism, pioneered in America, which tries to be fairer than fair. But trying to be better than fair is like trying to bend over backwards to be straighter than vertical or defining "objective" as being neutral between good and evil. That path leads straight to moral equivalence.

In the 1980s, this pseudo "objectivity" and "fairness" expressed itself in an impartiality between totalitarian systems and the free world. Currently, it expresses itself in the notion that Palestinian actions against civilians have the same moral legitimacy as those of Israelis against the intifada.

Impartiality may be a virtue but, as columnist George Jonas wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, "to be impartial between tyranny and democracy the better to protect human rights is like being impartial between wood and copper the better to conduct electricity. In plain words, it's nonsense."

Super-liberalism has led the Times into a lot of nonsense. The Israeli government is routinely described in its news stories as following "hardline" policies while no such negative description is given to governments such as those of Saudi Arabia or the Palestinian Authority.

Indeed, the Saudis are routinely described as "moderates" in news stories or "pro-West" allies of America - even as they fund al-Qa'eda and their official newspapers spout virulent hatred of the West.

This double standard has long been evident in the pages of the New York Times, but it finally burst through to even the most undiscerning reader when, after a demonstration by several hundred thousand Jews in New York supporting Israel, the Times chose to illustrate its account with a front-page photograph of pro-Palestinian Arabs holding up a banner. The outcry following this (and the cancellation of some subscriptions) resulted in an apology - sort of - from the Times.

In domestic policy, the same standards apply. The New York Sun (in which my husband is a passive investor) began as a website, www.smartertimes.com, that noted daily the double standards of the New York Times.

It was the smartertimes site that pointed out the distortion of the then senator John Ashcroft's remarks on abortion. Ashcroft was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the American people and a majority of Congress "want to eliminate this gruesome procedure from our nation's hospitals and clinics".

In fact, he was not speaking about abortion in general as the Times said, but partial-life abortions. Once again, the New York Times had to correct the "error".

But though the paper occasionally gets caught out - when its distortions are truly egregious - similar instances occur daily on its news pages, which are increasingly dedicated to the implementation of a New Left agenda domestically and internationally.

Important stories from the Middle East are buried or played down. Dubious domestic sources are given legitimacy, such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, a demagogue whose criticisms of racial policies are printed without mention of his involvement in and support to this day of the false charges of rape brought by a black woman against fictional white aggressors.

Super-liberalism has sub-liberal consequences. Because super-liberalism has no reality behind it, the truth has to be distorted. The news has to be re-written or spun to suit the agenda if it involves topics the paper considers of vital ideological importance, such as the unseating of President George W Bush, the prevention of war against Iraq, the creation of a Palestinian state without regard to the security of Israel.

Ultimately, in such a wonderland, the super-liberals have to rise to the defense of suicide bombers. Day has to become night. Henry Kissinger must be made into an anti-Bush dove.

And that is what is wrong with the New York Times. It pretends that it has no agenda but distorts news stories to fulfil it. I don't think Adolph Ochs would recognise this New York Times as the legitimate standard bearer of "All the news that's fit to print".

But George Orwell would see what has been going on. Perhaps the slogan should be re-written: "All the Newspeak fit to print".



JWR contributor Barbara Amiel is a columnist with London's Daily Telegraph, where this column originated. Comment by clicking here.

05/15/02:Why protecting the peace will make a mockery of justice
05/01/02: Why has it taken Le Pen to ask the awkward questions?
04/17/02: Truth about Israeli casualties is being ignored in this war
02/18/02: America's war on terrorism is a fight for all democracies: What the European elite are clueless about
01/29/02: Pity the al-Qa'eda detainees? Why is liberal 'torture' kosher?
12/18/01: What those in the London salons don't -- or won't -- see
12/04/01: We are not risking world war so women can show their ankles
11/20/01:"Anti-terrorism" has become the Western world's equivalent of the Arabian Nights' "open sesame"
11/06/01: We must rediscover a war mentality that persists through vicissitudes
10/31/01: The West is fighting to rescue Islam, not destroy it

© 2001, Barbara Amiel