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Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2004 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan5765

John Leo

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The news thatís fit to print

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Many of us at this justifiably famous newspaper are sorely vexed by assertions that we are somehow guilty of tilting the news to fit our editorial views. We can assure you that here at the New York Liberal Cocoon, admittedly the finest paper in the world, we don't operate that way. It is simply untrue that we recently ran a story under the headline "Hurricanes Increase Under Bush Regime." Yes, severe tropical storms were more rare during the Carter and Clinton years, but evidence conclusively linking Bush and Cheney to disastrous hurricane activity and Mount St. Helens eruptions has not yet turned up. We do, however, have several reporters working on it.


Our editors also feel severely chafed by the accusation that many of our front-page articles are not really news at all but rather illustrations of our editorial-page arguments. Yes, we have run many articles showing that Americans are poorer, stouter, more psychotic, less well dressed, and more prone to hangnails and paper cuts since Bush took office. But these reports are legitimate news. For example, our report last week, "Sure, Country is Divided, but Bush Country, Too?" conveyed our wonderment that even in Crawford, Texas, Bush's hometown, some folks intend to vote for Kerry. This was news. If we discover that several people in Boston intend to vote for Bush, I'm sure we will run that story on our front page, too.


To the casual reader, many of our front-page articles may look a bit like editorials. Last week, one article took a stern look at President Bush's foreign policy, and another more or less said that Republicans feared that Mr. Bush looked like a loser in the debates. We call this interpretive journalism, and if our reporters interpret things the way the owner and editors of this paper do, well, that's just a coincidence. For instance, in his front-page analysis after the third presidential debate, the Cocoon reporter said the debates were "a rough passage for Mr. Bush," who "occasionally seemed agitated," whereas, Mr. Kerry "delivered a consistent set of assertive, collected performances." Some readers believe the headline should have said "Reporter is Voting For Kerry" instead of "A Crucial Test, But Not Final."


Unfortunately, our own public editor, or ombudsman, may have contributed to anti-Cocoon sentiment when he recently wrote that on social issues, if you think that our newspaper "plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed." This is not our view. While we welcome and respect disagreement, we will deal with this so-called public editor soon.

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Often people accuse us of burying news articles way in the back because they fail to illustrate our editorial views. They say we buried the results of the Australian election inside because the winner was John Howard, who supports America's effort in Iraq. The implication was that if the election had gone to his opponent, who promised to remove Australian troops quickly from Iraq, we would have put the story on Page 1 because it would have made Bush look bad. Can anyone really believe big-time journalism works this way?


We have taken criticism on our handling of polls, too. In June, for instance, a Cocoon/CBS poll ran under the headline, "Bush's Rating Falls to its Lowest Point, New Survey Finds." Mickey Kaus, the blogger at Kausfiles.com, who believes that our polls are regularly screwed up to make Democrats look good, made fun of this report because the survey showed that Kerry had dropped seven points in a month while Bush was actually ahead by a point. But here at the Cocoon we set great store by what reporters feel about their material. They are not, after all, stenographers. If our reporters truly felt that a seven-point drop by Kerry and a one-point lead for Bush were bad news for Bush, who can judge better than they?


We are quite tired of charges that we don't pursue stories that might embarrass our political allies. They say we instantly dropped the story of Sandy Berger — the Clinton security adviser who walked out of the National Archives with top-secret documents stuffed into his socks. Or they say, why don't you wake up a Cocoon reporter or two and have them try to figure out who forged the Dan Rather documents?


Frankly, we are much too busy for this kind of stuff. As for the oil-for-food scandal, yes, the story broke in January and nothing much appeared in the Cocoon until October. But remember, this scandal implicated the United Nations and the French government, both of which deserve our utmost respect.


Besides, our conservative columnist William Safire wrote regularly on the scandal, so perhaps our missing reportage wasn't too noticeable.


Part of our job here at the Cocoon is explaining how good and fair we are. Yes, it's a great burden, but we believe we are more than up to the task.

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