Jewish World Review April 28, 2004/ 7 Iyar 5764
IT'S NOT MY FAULT!: Howell Raines' delusions; Yanks' woes won't last long
I finally got around to reading Howell Raines' lengthy, and typically self-aggrandizing essay about his mercifully brief tenure as executive editor at The New York Times in the May Atlantic and, like most other readers didn't find much of interest. Sour-grapes articles, even if they number 20,000 words (I didn't count, that's Slate's Jack Shafer's number; National Review's Clay Waters says 21,000), rarely rise beyond fantastical spinning.
Two nuggets in Raines' rather premature blast at his longtime employer, however, stuck out. The first, a gratuitous slap at publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., was an anecdote about a meal the two former journalistic warriors (Raines claims the friendship endures, a doubtful claim) shared at Aquavit in early 2001, when the Alabaman was interviewing for the job he eventually received. Raines writes: "If memory serves, Arthur was working his way through his customary Grey Goose martini as we surveyed the landscape for change. I was sticking to white wine, wanting to be sharp for the moment when Arthur would be mellow enough to listen to something he might not want to hear."
Perhaps in Raines' inevitable book he'll get nastier and proclaim: "Let the great unwashed drink Grey Goose martinis!"
Before mentioning the single most offensive paragraph in the article, it ought to be noted that Raines did correctly indict the culture of the Times' newsroom, where he charges that an inordinate number of employees were (and are) content to coast on their jobs, knowing that people are rarely fired at the paper. Raines doesn't say so, but that seems to me as sound a rationale for busting any number of unions at the Times.
Anyway, get a load of this elitist cr-p, a passage that Waters also cites. "The Times' image as a bastion of quality had become even more important as tabloid television, Britain's declining newspaper values, and the unsourced ranting of Internet bloggers polluted the journalistic mainstream of the United States."
Give Raines credit for adding the word "blogger" to his vocabulary, but the anachronistic idea that the Times is a "bastion of quality" strongly suggests that the editor didn't even read his own newspaper. Raines doesn't define "tabloid television," although one assumes he includes everything on the tube, with the exception of PBS and Charlie Rose's dreadful talk show, but it is hard to argue against this point when NBC's Today Show, most of CNN's programming, Peter Jennings, Bill O'Reilly, Oprah, Dr. Phil and 60 Minutes actually do "pollute" the airwaves.
The phrase "Britain's declining newspaper values" is really code for an indictment of Rupert Murdoch, who owns London's Times and The Sun. I agree that the quality of the UK "upmarket" dailies has been uneven recently, especially in its coverage of the Iraq war, but at least, unlike the New York Times, every paper in England makes no pretense of its political bias. At the moment, I'm most concerned about what consortium will purchase Conrad Black's essential Daily Telegraph (in addition to the equally vital Jerusalem Post).
As for the bloggers, that's a defensive slam, since for the past five years or so any number of individuals, or institutional blogs, have made it part of their mission to catalog not only the daily errors in the Times, but also its gross distortions of the news and shameless shilling for Sen. John Kerry.
Quickly, take a look at the Times' content (most of which remains from the Raines days) and if you can honestly make a case that this newspaper doesn't "pollute" contemporary journalism then Jimmy Carter ought to FedEx his tainted Nobel Peace Prize to your address.
Some examples of Times "pollution":
1. In the April 25 "Book Review," virulent anti-Bush writer Ron Suskind (transcriber of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's gripes in The Price of Loyalty) was assigned to review Bush confidante Karen Hughes' Ten Minutes From Normal. Not surprisingly, Suskind pans the book, concluding: "So, everyone's happy. Except maybe the reader. George W. Bush remains an enigma who guides world events by letting actions speak. And Hughes, maybe the person who knows him best, has used our desire to know the president to plant carefully hewn tales of the goodness and integrity of her family-friendly boss in the public mind."
2. On the same day, one of the paper's op-ed pieces was written by Richard Clarke, author of the best-selling Against All Enemies and the man made famous by cravenly apologizing on behalf of the government (and himself) to the families of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Clarke, after a two-week flurry of celebrity that was finally tarnished by his obvious self-promotion, felt some rehabilitation was necessary and the Times was happy to comply. His essay, "The Wrong Debate on Terrorism," is a shopworn critique of the Bush administration's foreign policy, a call for the end of "character assassination" of critics, and, one assumes, mostly a means to jump-start a second wave of selling his book. Not to mention the upcoming film version of the wretched tome.
3. Editorial page editor Gail Collins, one of the worst Times hires in years (quite a feat), is quoted in the April 18 Hartford Courant rhapsodizing about the popularity of the paper's columnists, mush-mouth Thomas Friedman in particular. Reporter Roselyn Tantraphol writes: "Collins said that when she took a trip to Israel with columnist Thomas L. Friedman, they would get stopped all the time, 'Thomas Friedman! Thomas Friedman!' people would say. 'It was like Britney Spears at a shopping mall,' Collins said." Never mind that Friedman's columns flirt with anti-Semitism (although not as aggressively as Times editorials) and his illusion of being an American ambassador to the world-at-large would be merely comical if the elite media didn't drool over his every word.
4. Obviously, any column by Paul Krugman, the alleged economic expert who also receives blood money from Princeton University, whose twice-weekly paranoid diatribes against Bush make the Nation's own nutty editorials appear reasonable. Krugman's sad-sack colleague Maureen Dowd, is taken less seriously, but nonetheless pollutes the Times puddle of opinion with as much vigor. Her April 25 column is a gem: "It's their reality. We just live and die in it. [I hadn't read Maureen's obit in the Times, but perhaps that's forthcoming.] In Bushworld, we can win over Falluja by bulldozing it… In Bushworld, they struggle to keep church and state separate in Iraq, even as they increasingly merge the two in America… In Bushworld, it makes sense to press for transparency in Mr. and Mrs. Rival while cultivating your own opacity… In Bushworld, you can reign as the antiterror president even after hearing an intelligence report about Al Qaeda's plans to attack America and then stepping outside to clear brush… In Bushworld, there's no irony that so many who did so much to avoid the Vietnam draft have now strained the military so much that lawmakers are talking about bringing back the draft. [Meaning Rep. Charles Rangel and Sen. Chuck Hagel, not exactly a groundswell.]"
5. Reporter Michael Gordon, writing in the April 23 Times, concluded an article about Donald Rumsfeld with one of the most absurd ideas floated during this campaign year. Gordon: "The old way has been to decide on the [Cabinet] jobs after the election. But figuring out the new lineup should not just be a matter for the pundits and political gossip mongers. American voters, and the world, would know more about the stakes in the November election, the future course of U.S. policies and the prospect for coherent U.S. diplomacy and military strategies if Bush and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee, would identify their future team now."
This proposal is so naïve, to be charitable, that even the sloppy Times editors should've blinked upon reading it. Obviously, Gordon is prodding Kerry to announce that media teddy bear John McCain would be Secretary of State in his administration, in the hopes that would catapult the tongue-twisted Senator to victory. Just as transparent is Gordon's desire that Bush will tell the world that Colin Powell won't serve in a second term, which would be a colossal blunder for the President's reelection chances.
Yanks' Woes Won't Last Long
Like all Red Sox fans, I was elated at the team's sweep of the Yanks in New York last weekend, but it's an illusion to think that Joe Torre's team won't soon emerge from its funk. Bernie Williams is indeed showing his age, but any lineup that's packed with Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi, Sheffield, Posada and Matsui is too powerful to keep at bay for long. I love the Yanks' shortage of reliable starters, and awful defense, and one can only hope that Mike Mussina will wind up this season with a losing record, but does anyone doubt that reinforcements are on the way?
And it's not as if the Bosox are hitting with much more authority than their rivals. If not for Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, in addition to a suddenly superb bullpen, the Sox wouldn't be in first place right now. I doubt Trot Nixon and Nomar Garciaparra will return before June 1, and when a couple of pitchers get hurt the Sox will go through their own miseries. Not that Theo Epstein couldn't make a proactive move right now and trade for two productive sluggers, but hey, when you've got Gabe Kapler, Cesar Crespo and Mark Bellhorn in your lineup, why bother to pry Maglio Ordonez from the White Sox?
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith