The New York Times
They made hypocrite judgements after the fact
But the name of the game is be hit and hit back
So hurry home early, hurry on home
Boom-Boom Mancini’s fighting Bobby Chacon
Historian and novelist Gore Vidal wrote several decades ago,
“The late Murray Kempton once noted that although the New York Times likes to pose as being above the battle, this position has never stopped the Times, once the battle's fought, from sneaking onto the field and shooting the wounded.”
Key to this statement is “likes to pose.” The Times has always been neckdeep in political fights and as Mr. Kempton poked, more than happy to mop up afterwards. It's not in anyway wrong for the Times to advocate political positions. Since before the republic's founding, the American press has been both politically essential and invaluable. However, it's very different matter when an institution such as the Times, reaching a great level of influence, deliberately and continually misleads their readers and the larger public.
Newspapers are political entities. Growing up in my house, my mother received two newspapers a day, one morning, one afternoon. She rarely bought the Chicago Tribune, “That's a Republican paper.” All newspapers provided some information value, you just needed to keep in mind their perspectives and agendas on specific issues.
However in the 20th century, for several reasons, this understanding of press subjectivity changed. One important reason was the rise of broadcast media. By the 1920s, as radio broadcasts proliferated, the government stepped in to regulate a limited broadcast spectrum. A few years later, the same model was applied to television. National ownership of broadcast media became concentrated in three corporations, a big difference from the preceding century’s massively distributed printing presses. This half-century of three corporations' domination of broadcast media is truly one of the great centrally controlled information regimes in history, though today's technology has the potential to be much worse.
With the ascension of broadcast media grew the idea of objective journalism, also pushed at that time by new journalism schools. Centralized control required the notion monopoly broadcasters were providing “both-sides” of a given issue, leaving aside the question of whether any issue can be broken down to only two-sides, it fit well with the United States' established political duopoly.
The worst thinking of the whole system was the idea the Federal Government could regulate the fairness of political speech, in fact there was even something called the Fairness Doctrine, which the corporations eventually jettisoned. This idea government can or could fairly regulate political speech is antithetical to any notion of democracy.
The third change resulted from the first two and was the most destructive. Americans became less politically sophisticated, first and foremost a growing inability to critically edit much of the information they received. This cut across all demographics. Ironically enough, in many ways, the most schooled are often the most informationally incapacitated, but then it was always less difficult to teach the truly ignorant than the badly educated.
Which brings us back to the NYT. The Times likes to hide behind the notion of objective journalism, they are anything but. In reality, there's only two types of journalism, correct or incorrect. The perspective from which it is written or trying to convey is mostly secondary and largely up to the reader to discern.
The greater problem is the outright falsehoods the Times attempts to pass as objective, egregious deceptions, overwhelmingly harmful to the commonweal. This became especially harmful with the unfortunate position the Times gained as the “paper of record” for DC's political class. I learned of this hallowed position four-decades ago at a very impressionable age. Working on my first campaign ,was taught if you wanted to participate in big-time American presidential politics, reading the Times was essential.
Afterwards, I spent three years at school in Boston, where the Times was easily had, for a certain segment of the population, Boston's second paper. For many years, I enjoyed spending a couple hours on Sunday morning perusing the Sunday edition. Later in the decade, making it out to the West Coast, the Times was still available. I stayed a regular reader, but grew increasingly annoyed facts conveyed by the Times could simply be incorrect, especially regarding American foreign affairs, not just a matter of perspective.
In 1992, I personally experienced what a low lot the Times could be when confronted in direct opposition. Over the previous decade, I was successfully running campaigns and making a living. This was right when the money really began to pour in and define the elections process. Little did I know the spigots were just being opened, but I wanted out.
At that point, I met the former Governor of California, Jerry Brown. We had come to a similar position about the growing dysfunction of the American political system. At the time, he was Chairman of California Democratic party and thinking of running for the Senate. When we first met, I said, “Why would you want to be in the Senate? You should run for president. Bush got his war over too quickly, the economy sucks, people are pissed, he's vulnerable.”
A few months later, he decided to run for president. I wrote and handed him a ten page memo with ideas on how the campaign should be organized and its message. A couple days later, Jodie Evans called and asked me to fax the memo, faxes were high-tech at that point kids, to Pat Caddell. So, I did. A few days later, I met Pat for a three-hour dinner at a 24-hour diner on Santa Monica Blvd. Twelve years before, when I was working for Ted Kennedy, Pat was President Carter's still very young pollster/adviser. At that point, Pat personified for me everything wrong. So it was more than bit ironic that at that dinner, Pat and I completely connected on the sad state of democracy in America and the glaring need for reform. Politics is funny.
So, the campaign was off and running. I volunteered to do the press, not that I wanted to, but it was an essential position needing immediate attention to be filled at that point by a skeletal staff. In regards to big-time presidential politics, the national press was greatly contributing to America's growing political dysfunction. This small contingent of unelected media had bestowed upon themselves the position of first presidential primary.
A campaign focused on reform needed in part to be reform. We decided to establish a few media ground rules including all print interviews were to be published in full Q&A form and no TV soundbites. At this point, soundbites, which clocked-in at under 10 seconds were television's standard coverage of any campaign and elected official. We asked for at least fifteen minutes, preferably a half-hour, for any television interview. A product and journeyman of the previous two decades media culture, the candidate was understandably not quite comfortable with this oppositional media stance, but to his credit was at times truly inspired.
My first day on the job was pushing out to the press a candidacy statement, an excellent indictment of the process. Then I received the response calls and presented our ground rules, which was entertaining, but I made few friends in the big-time national press corps.
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One great call I specifically remember six weeks later was with the producer of the Today Show. All three network morning shows wanted us for the morning after the official announcement scheduled for Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The Today Show producer called to schedule and I said, “We want a half-hour.”
He laughed, “That's not possible. You can have five minutes like everyone else.”
“No thanks. We want a half-hour.”
Instantly the temperature on the other end of the phone skyrocketed, then burst.
“That's fucking ridiculous! That will never happen. You have no fucking clue how television works!”
“No, honestly I do. How you guys cover politics is helping destroy the political system. We need to change it.”
Needless to say, the morning after the announcement, we weren't on the Today Show or either of the other two. We were the only candidate that year not to appear after their announcement.
As soon as I found someone competent, Ileana Wachtel, I quickly rid myself of the press job with, “Thanks Ileana, don't take any shit.” At this point, we had basically assured minimal traditional press coverage, so the focus needed to be developing an alternative communication strategy. We extensively used talk-radio and television, then expanding cable television — CNN, Larry King, C-Span — and the local access programming of the thousands of local cable operators — good thing we got rid of all them, right? This was still pre-Fox News, MSNBC et al..
We also did extensive “satellite tours” to local television broadcasts, which allowed us to go around the national network feeds directly to the local affiliates, who were happy to eschew the soundbites and give us more time. Funnily enough, an example of how change comes about, in the fall, the three candidates, Bush, Perot, and Clinton were all given an hour on the morning shows.
This was an ad hoc communication strategy, developed literally on the run, using all media available at that point as it was then configured. This was a year before the internet began its ascent. Twelve years later, walking into a campaign office in Burlington Vermont for the first time since 1992, Trippi wanted me to go on the road with his then front-running candidate. “No thanks Joe, I want to go sit in the middle of this internet operation you've created.” And I did. I'd been waiting for something like that for ten years. Man, now there was a beautiful campaign deserving of a much, much better candidate.
There's no reason to do an election, especially a presidential election, for any other reason than winning. Despite in traditional terms, competing with basically one arm tied behind our back, including accepting no contribution over $100, the '92 Brown campaign was successful enough to have a shot by the middle of spring. Indeed by March, using longer format media and an 800-number, we were raising more money than any other candidate. However, the organization we had managed to string together to get us there imploded with the New York primary, sort of appropriately all things considered.
In the 70s, the New York Times was never the biggest fan of the young California Governor and they certainly weren't excited about his insurgent message of reform in '92. The New York Times' reporter covering the campaign was Gwen Ifill, who later went on to fame with a whole other bad journalism kettle of fish – PBS. Ifill was also assigned to cover two or three other candidates besides us.
The silence on the Brown candidacy in the pages of the New York Times was deafening. I called Gwen a couple times asking, “Gwen, does the New York Times know the former two-term Governor of California is running for president?” The greatest censoring tool of America's media has long been simply ignoring. It wouldn't be until after the official announcement, almost two months in, that I'd hear from the paper of record.
By this point, the Times had already had enough of the Brown candidacy and thought they were going to hang a head on the wall. I was in the Santa Monica office and got a call, not from Gwen, but queerly enough from one of the editors, this to say the least was unusual. They had caught in the announcement speech passages from Richard Goodwin. If you don't know who Dick Goodwin was, you should. He died a few years ago, one of those people whose passing represents the end of an era to which there is no return. Goodwin had been a speech writer for President John Kennedy and then his brother Robert. He also wrote for President Lyndon Johnson and was responsible in 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, for getting Johnson to say live on national television, “We shall overcome.”
Unbeknownst to the Times, Goodwin had signed off on the announcement speech. The Times still published the piece and if you go back an look at their coverage, it was the first and maybe only they did with an exclusive focus on the Brown campaign.
I last ran into Gwen in the early spring at an event right before the Colorado primary. It must have been a debate, otherwise it was very unlikely she'd have been there. We had won a couple and were beginning to gain momentum. It was clear we'd win Colorado. I will always remember the dumbfounded look of disbelief she gave me when I told her we were going to win Colorado. That's my lasting political impression of Gwen Ifill, New York Times' campaign reporter.
So, that was my first direct political fight with the Times. Again, it’s entirely the Times' right to take any political stance they want, promote candidates, and work for their success. But they should be honest and forward with their stances, particularly with their readers. More importantly, their readers should demand it. It's a whole other matter for the Times to knowingly push misleading and false information, especially in regards to matters of war and peace, and in the last two decades the Times' actions have been increasingly atrocious and detrimental to the nation.
The two biggest, and by no means only transgressions, was first, the Times continually pushing on their front page the Bush administration's false claims of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, helping promote the foolish and bloody American invasion and occupation. Neither the Times or the Bush administration were ever held accountable for this deception. These unaccountable actions led directly to the second and most recent fiasco. This time with the culpability of the Democratic establishment and the National Security State, the Times helped fabricate the “Russiagate” conspiracy, leading to a trumped-up impeachment of a duly elected president and just as importantly, poisoning, especially in the minds of many Americans, our already unnecessarily toxic and increasingly destructive relations with the Russians.
Unfortunately with our broken politics and the inability for partisans of any side to accept information countering accepted fictional and/or fantastical beliefs, the Columbia Journalism Review's essential and devastating look at the press', specifically the Times' putrid role in pushing the Russiagate idiocy has received little or no attention, most especially in the pages of the New York Times.
The CJR piece should be read by every American, an indictment of just how reprehensible the Times can be. Simultaneously covering the same events, all the information discrediting the conspiracy used by the exemplary and honorable journalist Aaron Mate at The Nation was readily available to Maggie Haberman and the New York Times. Such a sad state this republic has reached, not accidentally, but brought about by the deliberate and increasingly detrimental actions of America's political class, the Times right at the criminally culpable top.