FOUR weeks ago, I criticized The New York Times for overplaying an article on an investment made by Ann Romney’s blind trust. The article was but one installment of the intense campaign coverage scrutinizing Mitt Romney as he bids for the Republican presidential nomination. During this period, we haven’t heard as much from The Times about President Obama’s re-election effort. There is precedent for the disparity. The Republican primary fight is a prelude to the general election season. Eight years ago, The Times offered comparably scant campaign coverage of the incumbent, George W. Bush, even as it blanketed readers with articles about Senator John Kerry and others competing for the Democratic nomination. Now, though, the general election season is on, and The Times needs to offer an aggressive look at the president’s record, policy promises and campaign operation to answer the question: Who is the real Barack Obama?There follows the punchlines or rather the lede, which for once is not buried when the Times' integrity is questioned. Although the ombudsman's contributions often end up at the bottom of page 18.
Many critics view The Times as constitutionally unable to address the election in an unbiased fashion. Like a lot of America, it basked a bit in the warm glow of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. The company published a book about the country’s first African-American president, “Obama: The Historic Journey.” The Times also published a lengthy portrait of him in its Times Topics section on NYTimes.com, yet there’s nothing of the kind about George W. Bush or his father. According to a study by the media scholars Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Times’s coverage of the president’s first year in office was significantly more favorable than its first-year coverage of three predecessors who also brought a new party to power in the White House: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. Writing for the periodical Politics & Policy, the authors were so struck by the findings that they wondered, “Did The Times, perhaps in response to the aggressive efforts by Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal to seize market share, decide to tilt more to the left than it had in the past?” I strongly doubt that. Based on conversations with Times reporters and editors who cover the campaign and Washington, I think they see themselves as aggressive journalists who don’t play favorites.[a total crock of BS] Still, a strong current of skepticism holds that the paper skews left. Unfortunately, this is exacerbated by collateral factors — for example, political views that creep into nonpolitical coverage. To illustrate, Faye Farrington, a reader from Hollis, N.H., wrote me earlier this year in exasperation over a Sunday magazine article about “Downton Abbey,” the public television series, in which the writer slipped in a veiled complaint about Mitt Romney’s exploitation of the American tax code. “The constant insertion of liberal politics into even the most politically irrelevant articles has already caused us to cancel our daily subscription,” Ms. Farrington wrote, “leaving only the Sunday delivery as I confess to an addiction to the Sunday crossword.” The warm afterglow of Mr. Obama’s election, the collateral effects of liberal-minded feature writers — these can be overcome by hard-nosed, unbiased political reporting now. Mr. Farnsworth, the media scholar, who is a professor at the University of Mary Washington, suggested to me that “more vigilance” is what The Times needed to keep out bias. He advocated a “wider range of sources and greater openness to perspectives that may not be the way the reporter thought of the story at the outset.” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, is a co-author of “The Obama Victory: How Media, Money, and Message Shaped the 2008 Election.” I asked her what she thought The Times should do to wring out bias in its 2012 coverage. Among other things, she said, “Don’t play a sex scandal out when you don’t have any evidence,” a reference to The Times’s controversial 2008 article on John McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist.When the NYT put out a story on McCain on how he was wooing an innocent bimbo named Victoria Iseman, it was a sure indication to all the pilot fish presses and newsies who look to the Times like Stalinist newsies looked to Pravda back in the day that the book could be thrown at the hapless McCain with impunity. And the vilification of Sarah Palin was and remains an enduring stain on the hard left, which is guided by the Times. Sarah had more qualifications to be POTUS than the three senators who had never had a civilian job in their lives. Sarah had led the difficult negotiations with several big oil pipeline operators---more than SecState had ever successfully negotiated in her professional career.
Going forward, she said, The Times should examine Mr. Obama’s record and campaign promises; monitor campaign messaging for deception; emphasize substantive policy matters over petty rhetorical combat; scrutinize the newly powerful “super-PAC” groups, and take care not to let polls overdetermine the coverage. These are the right priorities. To date, The Times has delivered some clear-eyed coverage of the administration’s mixed record on the housing crisis, banks, the economy, Afghanistan and other issues. Now is the time to shift to a campaign coverage paradigm that compares promises with execution, sheds light on campaign operations and assesses the president’s promises for a second term. I asked Richard Stevenson, the political editor overseeing campaign coverage, about these matters, and he offered a detailed e-mail response, noting that “we take very seriously our responsibility to report without favoritism.” He added, “We remind ourselves every day of the need to provide readers — voters — with as much news, information and context as possible about the candidates, their records, their characters, their positions and the influences on them, including their campaign donors.” On covering Mr. Obama’s record, he cited as an example a Feb. 27 article about the president’s decision not to pursue recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission on debt reduction — a move the article said had contributed to undercutting “a central promise of his 2008 campaign, to rise above the rancor.” Mr. Stevenson promised that the Obama campaign’s use of his powers of incumbency, along with his “political style, character and learning curve,” will all be targets of Times coverage.What a complete hoax! I haven't heard a bleat from the Times when Obama flies across the country on Air Force One claiming that he's attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies or church breakfasts for official reasons. James Taranto daily points out absurd pompous pronunciamentos about the NYT, including his always hilarious "Two newspapers in One!" reports. And this piety by Brisbane is followed by another howler:
On the question of campaign finance, Mr. Stevenson cited several articles that The Times has already done: one on the Obama campaign’s acceptance of money from a questionable source, another on the link between campaign contributions and White House access, and a third on Mr. Obama’s decision to use super-PACs to support his campaign, reversing an early policy. On the campaign operations side, he pointed to a March 8 article about the “largely secret” operation in Chicago where data specialists are cooking up ways to rebuild the vaunted support base of four years ago. I applaud The Times’s stated commitment to doing these kinds of stories. Readers deserve to know: Who is the real Barack Obama? And The Times needs to show that it can address the question in a hard-nosed, unbiased way.The aggressive Murdoch has boosted the Wall Street Journal's paid circ to more than 2 million while the NYT continues to hemorrhage readers by the thousands. Now the real Times paid circ is around 800,000, although they claim the new revenue stream from readers paying to get beyond the new internet block has reached very high numbers. Given the Times' legendary dishonesty, I strongly doubt they will be around in 10-15 years given the way their paid circ has plunged in the last two decades.