The NYT buckles.

A mostly political Weblog.
Dec. 6 2002 4:03 PM

The NYT Buckles

Plus: Kausfiles floods the zone!

Daniel Drezner has posted a sophisticated exegesis of Paul Krugman. ...It's not unsympathetic -- Krugman was an adviser for Drezner's Ph.D. dissertation. ... Drezner's second point is one I've been meaning to make for some time, but he beat me to it. ... 8:54 P.M.

Friday, December 6, 2002

Always announce humiliating news on Friday: Howell Raines & Co. have apparently backed down and agreed to publish the two previously-spiked sports columns that dared to question the paper's crusading position on the Augusta National Golf Club controversy.  Mnookin has the story in Mnoosweek.. ... Question: Is Raines 1) the sort who will learn a lesson (e.g.: the paper is not an extension of him) or 2) the sort who will get revenge on his in-house critics tomorrow for humbling him today? My guess is 2. ...   3:53 P.M.

Thursday, December 5, 2002

Flood the Zone V -- "Howell's autocratic nature": Gabriel Snyder, who covered the New York media for the New York Observer, sends kf a long email that includes this:


  Paul Colford's [Daily News] story ... about Raines killing two sports columnist's dissenting views on  Augusta is simply astounding. Not the bit about the columns getting killed, mind you. But the way Raines handled the news. It is yet another episode that absolutely would not have happened if Joe Lelyveld was still running the Times.

  (Honestly, I doubt Lelyveld would have spiked columns that went against the paper's current crusade. Not that Lelyveld really had any crusades. But that's all another matter.)

  ... [U]under Lelyveld, the corporate communications office at the Times was still irrelevant and out of the loop. But, there were always high level editors -- almost never Lelyveld, though -- who would get on the phone to give on the record or anonymous quotes defending the paper. On Colford's story, for instance, there would have been someone who would have told him, "The Times values diversity among our columnist's viewpoints. These stories weren't spiked because they contradicted the editorial page." Or even, if honesty reigned, "Look, the Augusta story is near and dear to Howell's heart, and so he took a look at the columns before they went in the paper, which is, by the way,  his  right as executive editor at The Times. He didn't think they added anything new to the debate and thought it'd be a waste of space to print them." ...

  Howell tried this approach for a few months when he started his job. It was an abysmal failure. ...The signature of how The Times communicates with the world under Raines has been to stonewall. ...

  This meta-media criticism matters for a couple reasons: first, I think it explains why Howell is getting so much flak about the Times changing - not necessarily because he's editing the paper badly, because certainly complaints about the Times predate Howell's leadership -- but because it is so one-sided. ... No one is defending Howell, including himself. Second, the critics are wrong about the Times: there is something new, but it isn't Raines shift to the left, willingness to go on crusades, those are all symptomatic of the biggest shift: Howell's autocratic nature and the ways he is turning [the paper] into a one-way, subjective, idiosyncratic reflection of himself.

4:14 P.M.

Flood the Zone IV: Alert kf reader P.M. notices yet another revealing Gerald Boyd sentence, this time from his interview with WaPo's Howie Kurtz:

We're writing about discrimination at one of the nation's most prestigious golf clubs and involving one of the world's most prominent tournaments. It's an important story, economically, socially, politically, gender-wise, racially. I don't know what it means to write too much about it.

Racially? Why "racially"? What does race have to do with it, other than that the preeminent golfer, Tiger Woods, is part-black? The controversy is about sex discrimination. Boyd's list seems to reinforce the theory -- #2, below -- that he thinks Woods has some sort of special obligation to fight the Augusta National Golf Club's single-sex membership policy because he's black. But it also raises another possibility: Maybe the Augusta overcoverage it's Boyd's crusade as much as it is Raines'. Maybe somehow Boyd, as a high-achieving African-American himself, somehow feels a weird ability to call on Woods to join him in a new crusade for equality. I'm not equipped to get to the bottom of this psychoanalysis. But there seems to be something going on there -- something "racially," that is. ...P.S. If it's Boyd's crusade, that increases the likelihood that Raines will duck his own responsibility for the Augusta mess by pinning the blame on his underling. ... 4:03 P.M.

Flood the Zone III: For once, Howie Kurtz is late to a press zeitgeist story. But good Shafer, Jones ("appalling") quotes. ... 3:35 P.M.

Flood the Zone II: Will the New York Times, after righteously calling on CBS to drop the Masters, refuse to itself profit from the tournament by selling Masters-related advertisements?   Sneaking Suspicions is on the case. ...[Of course they'll sell ads. They believe in the "strict separation" of business and editorial --ed. Another one of those convenient ethical rules!] ... 3:09 P.M.

Flood the Zone I: Alert kf reader J.L. notices another revealing sentence in that wonderfully awful and defensive Boyd memo, a copy of which was recently requested by the Smithsonian Institution:

"Part of our strict separation between the news and editorial pages entails not attacking each other."

A real "strict separation," J.L. notes, would "require that either side be free to say whatever it likes about the other." .. How convenient that the Times' "strict" ethical rules always somehow work to prevent criticism of the Times itself!  But in this case the paper's internal ideology ("Call it journalism") is so strong it unthinkingly perverts the meaning of plain English words:

SEPARATION = SUPPRESSION

It's Orwellian, I tell you! 2:59 P.M.

Backfill: N.Y. Times managing editor Gerald Boyd has made disastrous attempts at damage control  before ... 3:17 A.M.

The weirdest and most telling part of NYT managing editor Gerald Boyd's damage-multiplying memo is this passage:

Augusta's restricted membership policies have been legitimate news for decades. With the ascendance of Tiger Woods and the campaign by the National Council of Women's Organizations, the club has become an inescapable story.

What does the "ascendance of Tiger Woods" have to do with making the story of the Augusta National Golf Club's men-only membership policy "inescapable"? Is Woods a woman? Is he the first champion to oppose the same-sex admission policy? .. Two possible rationales suggest themselves: 1) Woods dominates the sport, and opponents of the Augusta club's policy figured that if they could get him to boycott the Masters that would give them leverage they haven't had before; 2) Boyd feels it's somehow obvious that because Woods is part African-American he has an obligation to lead the fight against sex discrimination. ... But reason #1 means that any time a left-wing interest group thinks it might get a big celebrity to go to bat for it the group's cause automatically becomes big news. Bill Gates is really powerful too. If I could somehow get Bill Gates to come out for a universal health care system -- and to promise to sell no more software until Congress agrees --- that would give the idea a big boost. But my wish doesn't make the health care story more "inescapable." ... #2 is the likeliest candidate. But there's something disturbing about putting a special moral obligation on Woods to fight single-sex membership policies simply because he could have been the victim of single-race membership policies. For one thing, that argument assumes what the debate is supposed to be all about -- it assumes that sex is the same as race for membership purposes, so if Woods is against one kind of discrimination he has to be adamantly against the other. Is there a clearer example of how Boyd's -- and the NYT's -- policy position is built into their very definition of "news"? ("Call it journalism.") ... It's also mildly offensive to expect Woods to carry a greater moral burden than anyone else just because he's black. Didn't America end race discrimination so people like Woods could be treated the same as everyone else? (NPR vs. NYT: A Scott Simon NPR commentary makes this point.) ... If Boyd's memo is an example of his idea of "logic," I really want to read the columns he killed because "the logic did not meet our standards." ...  2:06 A.M.

The NYT's idea of damage control: Don't apologize -- slime your writers! ... It's a surefire morale booster! ... "The logic did not meet our standards," says Times managing editor Gerald Boyd of one of the sports columns suppressed by the Times' editors. ... Boyd's idea of logic is to write that "A well-reported, well-reasoned column can come down on any side, with our welcome" -- but then say the column can't quarrel with the Times' editorial position because "[i]ntramural quarreling of that kind is unseemly and self-absorbed." ...Does anyone believe Boyd's explanation, except in the sense that he may think a column that disagrees with the NYT crusade can't be "well-reasoned"? ....[Maybe he's saying you can defend the Augusta National Golf Club's single-sex membership policy without attacking the Times specifically?--ed1) If that were the case it would have been easy to rewrite the spiked Dave Anderson column to avoid mentioning the Times. I've done that myself when writing for the op-ed page, where they also don't let you criticize the Times directly (even when it wouldn't be "intramural"). 2) It's hard to attack Augusta's critics without attacking the Times mainly because nobody but the Times and the National Council of Women's Organizations is making a fuss about Augusta. Correction: I've now spent enough time on Nexis to know that point (2) is not quite right, in that lots of people other than Times editors are inveighing against Augusta. Still, it might seem silly and artificial for a New York sportswriter to avoid mentioning the Times  -- its crusade has become such a part of the story. That seems to be Anderson's point.] ...P.S.: I agree with Shafer -- show us the columns! Let us judge if they're so badly reasoned and illogical. That's what the NYT editorial page would (righteously) be calling for if, say, Karl Rove had spiked a critical E.P.A. study. .. Update: Boyd's complete memo is here. It sure is pompous. Andrew Sullivan has a sophisticated exegesis here. ... 12:41 A.M.

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Clear It With Gail!While kausfiles fiddles, Slate's Jack Shafer has completely taken over kf's traditional ecological niche, feasting on the steady diet of embarrassments thoughtfully provided by Howell Raines' New York Times. 1) First came the front page story portraying House Speaker Dennis Hastert's attempt to rein in the free-spending Appropriations chairmen -- a reform long advocated by sensible liberals and moderates -- as some sort of sinister conservative plot. 2) Then came the news that Raines' deputies, if not Raines himself, squashed two sports section columns because they dared to deviate from the editorial line laid down by the NYT editorial page. "The twin spikes wound the Times sports section grievously," Shafer notes, pointing out that it will be hard for Raines to recruit high-quality columnists if ... how to put it subtly ... their job is to be voices in Howell's Castrati Chorus, apparatchiks obedient to the party line laid down by the paper's editorial page editor, Gail Collins (who does the bidding of ...).  ... Shafer generously seems to hold out hope that Raines will recognize his paper's error and correct it. Don't hold your breath!  Raines seems more like a proud, competitive sort who will apologize for his mistakes (and give his enemies succor) about the same time that Ann Coulter apologizes for hers, which is to say never. ... Note to Raines: Aren't the in-house dissenters from your campaign against male-only clubs just like those Southern whites who made excuses for segregation? Or actually defended it? Yeah, that's just what they're like! Do you really want a bunch of modern-day Bull Connors running around in the sports section? You wouldn't allow a Supreme Court nominee who disagrees with Brown v. Board of Education, would you? Some opinions are just beyond civilized discourse; they don't need to be represented in the NYT.  Isn't it time to purge these deviants once and for all? That'll teach them to go blabbing to the Newsweek and the Daily News! ...[Two Slate items on the Raines spike story. Is it that important?--ed. Flood the zone!] ... Update: Newsweek's Mnookin  has more anti-Raines insider grumbling. .. 5:46 P.M.

Monday, December 2, 2002

Another " sophisticated exegesis of a sociological phenomonon" from the NYTAndrew Sullivan has noticed a highly embarrassing New York Times  correction of an Arts section front page piece that (as NEXIS, but not the NYT correction, reveals) was written by TV reporter Bill Carter. The erroneous piece itself has apparently been removed from the Times Web site. (Update:  It hasn't been removed. It's here. Thanks, M.R. and V.R.) ... In the piece, Carter described how David E. Kelley, "himself raised Catholic in Boston," wrote an episode of "The Practice" about the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal. Carter's article was headlined, 

A Catholic Writer Brings His Anger to 'The Practice'

But it turns out Kelley "was brought up Protestant, not Roman Catholic." Oops! ... This error doesn't vitiate the entire piece (though the piece wasn't much to begin with). It does vitiate the angle the NYT's headline and photo caption writers seized on to sell it. ... P.S.: Why did the Times want Carter's flimsy story, which is really a glorified TV Guide entry, in the first place? Could it have been because the Catholic sex abuse scandals are (according to Newsweek) another Howell Raines crusade -- a crusade during which he's determined to "flood the zone" with Church sex abuse articles, even if that means hyping a single episode of a TV show? ... Just a thought! ... Do Raines' crusades turn out to encourage errors the same way "body counts" encouraged errors in Vietnam? ... 2:17 A.M.

Kerry Mystery Challenge: What is it that makes so many people, myself included, intensely dislike Sen. John Kerry? This is the great mystery surrounding his 2004 presidential campaign. I don't think "aloof and arrogant," the traditional Kerry negatives, are exactly it -- he may be aloof and arrogant, but there are plenty of aloof and arrogant people I don't rule out instantly due to their gross characterological deficiency, which is what I do with Kerry. It's not just his "long record of opportunism," though again that's part of it. ... I say we harness the power of the Web to solve the mystery! A copy of Kerry's undoubtedly riveting book, The New War, to the kf reader (or non-kf reader) who most precisely describes the root of Kerry's loathsomeness. ...(References to descriptions of Kerry by others may also qualify for the prize .) ... My own attempt: I think it starts with the phony furrowed brow. Perpetually furrowed and perpetually phony. It's been furrowed for so long I doubt he could unfurrow it now even if his advisers convinced him that would be a good tack to take! ...Then add the sense that Kerry would never ever take a principled or unpopular stand if losing the argument might actually threaten to derail his precious political career. (He apparently made some anti-affirmative-action noises in 1992 and quickly backed down when the obvious groups complained.) Add in relentless, obvious self-promotion to the point of indignity -- sucking up to Gore while jockeying for the vice-presidential nod in 2000, for example (as described by The New Republic's  Ryan Lizza). Plus the way his equally ambitious supporters call him "JFK." It's creepy. The man's an animatronic Lincoln. There's a metal plate in the back of his head -- under all the glued-on "hair"  -- that they open up and stick screwdrivers in when he gets back to his office.... There, that's my best shot. But I'm not sure it's quite there. I know you can do better!. ... P.S.: Here's a small-but-telling example of clumsy self-promotional dissembling: TNR's Michael Crowley  reports that Kerry is not an "unreconstructed liberal in the Kennedy tradition" because Kerry "was a strong supporter of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings balanced-budget act ... 'That was heresy back in Massachusetts,' [Kerry] says." Heresy in Massachusetts? Teddy Kennedy himself supported Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. How heretical could it have been? ...P.P.S.: See  Talking Points on the press' dislike of Kerry. ...12:53 A.M.

Sunday, December 1, 2002

Does the NYT not publish letters to the editor  when they're too effective? (Second item) No wonder there are blogs. ...11:29 P.M.

Raines Staying Silent in Debate on Augusta Crusade, Day 6! Ever since NYT Executive Editor Howell Raines has come under attack for his forced, feverish crusade  regarding the Augusta National Golf Club's men-only membership policy, he has been silent on the issue, apparently hoping the complaints of a few Web writers and the New York Observer will be smothered by public indifference! ... But now comes Newsweek's Seth Mnookin, playing catch-up to Slate's Jack Shafer  and the  Observer's Sridhar Pappu. (Mnookin gives Shafer the required insignificant mention). Mnookin's got internal grumbling from Times staffers, in the form of blind quotes, plus a great closing anecdote. ... He's even got a "comes at a time" paragraph! ... Is Raines "in danger of losing the building," as one staffer tells Mnookin -- the Sulzbergian version of losing the Arab Street? ....The Times has run 32 stories on the Augusta controversy in less than 3 months, Mnookin says. .... The paper appears to be resisting the argument that it should rein in Raines' egomaniacal campaign, instead letting its flack put out the absurd, Fox-like line, "Our coverage judgments are based on news value." ... 5:05 P.M.

    

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