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Bill Keller Defends His Paper's "High-Minded" Journalism

Documenting and Exposing the Liberal Political Agenda of the New York Times.
Bill Keller Defends His Paper's "High-Minded" Journalism

In an eyebrow raiser, Executive Editor Bill Keller writes a letter to the editor of his own paper, lambasting a recent Sunday Book Review cover story by U.S. Court of Appeals judge and law professor RichardPosner, a catch-all review of several books positing media bias variously on the left and the right.

Keller claims that Posner's "market determinism" ignores the dynamics that make papers like his great, such as "the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story," which no doubt explains the Times'wall-to-wall-coverage of the AirAmerica scandal (in which it's been beaten locally by the New York Post, the New York Sun, and the New York Daily News).

Keller may be mad because the libertarian Posner is most convinced by arguments suggesting a liberal bias in the media. From Posner's opening paragraph: "Liberals, including most journalists (because most journalists are liberals), believe that the decline of the formerly dominant ''mainstream' media has caused a deterioration in quality."

Posner also notes: "Fourteen percent of Americans describe themselves as liberals, and 26 percent as conservatives. The corresponding figures for journalists are 56 percent and 18 percent. This means that of all journalists who consider themselves either liberal or conservative, 76 percent consider themselves liberal, compared with only 35 percent of the public that has a stated political position."

Tim Graham points out on MRC'sNewsbusters blog that two prominent media leftists also wrote letters to the editor criticizing Posner's piece: "In fighting against the idea that the media is biased (at least to the left), [Keller]'s joined by Bill Moyers and Eric 'What Liberal Media?' Alterman."

Keller's preens about his paper's "high-minded," "ambitious" journalism: "First, and weirdly, [Posner] makes almost no distinctions within the vast category of American media, between those that are aggressively partisan and those that strive to keep opinion sequestered from news, between outlets that invest in serious reporting and those that simply riff on the reporting of others, between the sensational and the more high-minded, between organizations that hasten to correct errors and those that could not care less, between the cartoonish shout shows on cable TV and the more ambitious journalism of, say, the paper you are holding in your hands. Then he swallows almost uncritically the conventional hogwash of partisan critics on both sides: that 'the media' (as accused from the right) work in tireless pursuit of a liberal agenda, and that they have (as accused from the left) become docile house pets of the Bush administration because they fear offending the powers that be."

For the rest of Keller's letter to himself, click here.



The Times Punches Its Anti-Swifties Hot Key: "Unsubstantiated"

The word "unsubstantiated" to describe allegations by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth makes a cameo in Sunday's New Jersey section, in a column (not online) by David Kocieniewski, the paper's Trenton bureau chief.

Kocieniewski's column involves the surprisingly heated start to New Jersey gubernatorial race between Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine and Republican businessman Douglas Forrester.

"Why have things become so heated so early? One factor is the money. Mr. Corzine and Mr. Forrester are both wealthy enough to finance their own campaigns, so while other candidates might be forced to spend the summer on the telephone, dialing for dollars, New Jersey's gilded gubernatorial wannabes are free to lob insults and unfounded accusations. Both campaigns also appear to have learned from last year's presidential race, when the Democrat, John Kerry, went dark during the month of August only to find himself buried beneath so many unsubstantiated smears about his military record that he never recovered."

During the 2004 campaign the Times was notorious for using the word "unsubstantiated"to describe allegations about Sen. John Kerry's service by the Vietnam veterans group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The NYT used the word in that fashion over 20 times. By contrast, not once did the Times use the term to describe "Bush is AWOL" or similar allegations from Democrats about Bush's Vietnam War-era service.



"The Insurgents in Iraq Trying to Keep George Bush from Taking Their Oil"

Stuart Emmrich, the editor of the Times Travel section, visits a newly tourist-friendly Belfast. But after pondering the muted nightlife and botanical garden, Emmrich unleashes this puzzler:

"Then we turned onto Shankill Road. There before us was the Belfast of old - the rundown buildings; the grim faces of the passersby; the Union Jacks flying from almost every window, reminding those who might wish for a unified Ireland that this was still a land fiercely loyal to the British government. Most striking were the famous murals that decorated nearly every vacant wall - huge, crudely drawn paintings that vilified the Catholic citizens of this divided city and celebrated the Protestants who had died in battle with their crosstown adversaries. The scene was the same a few minutes later when we drove down Falls Road, the main artery of Catholic Belfast. No Union Jacks here, but plenty of murals as well - some praising the work of other 'liberators' - the P.L.O., E.T.A., the insurgents in Iraq trying to keep George Bush from taking their oil - as well as those honoring their own dead, most notably Bobby Sands, who died during a prison hunger strike in 1981."

Was Emmrich paraphrasing the message off a mural, or is it his own outlook that the people killing Iraqis and U.S. troops are merely "trying to keep George Bush from taking" the country's oil?

For more of Emmrich's Belfast notebook, click here.



Does Bankruptcy Law Mean "Debtor's Prison Without Walls"?

Sunday's lead story from Timothy Egan on the new bankruptcy law opens: "Rushing to beat an October deadline when the biggest overhaul of the bankruptcy law in a quarter century goes into effect, rising numbers of Americans have filed for protection in the four months since the law was changed, seeking to have their debts erased."

Egan sees just a "sheen" of prosperity in one Western state: "Here in Idaho, the soundless wave of Americans going broke washes up at the clerk's office in bankruptcy court, with nearly 20 fresh declarations of desperation every working day.Idaho, a state with an otherwise prosperous sheen to its economy, is among the per capita leaders in a category that no state will brag about. Filings were up 11 percent for July over the same period last year - on a record pace for the year."

He brings us this heartrending anecdote: "Families with children are three times more likely to file as those without, according to studies done by Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School and others, and more than 80 percent of them cite job loss, medical problems or family breakup as the reason."

But Warren has been quoted previously by the Times as an avowed opponent of the bankruptcylaw, something Egan should have mentioned when citing her statistics.

Later Egan argues: "Consumer groups say the law will only make matters worse for the large number of families who are not abusing the system. They say families will be stuck in 'debtor's prison without walls,' as the Consumer Federation of America, which fought the new bill, calls it. Many economists and legal experts say that once all provisions of the law take effect in October, bankruptcies should fall again. And some experts say people will be caught in an endless cycle of debt repayment."

The arguments by the law's supporters ("bankers") are perfunctorily addressed in two paragraphs near the end.

For more Egan on bankruptcy, click here.



Envoy to North Korea Another Controversial Conservative

Saturday's story by White House reporter ElisabethBumiller, "Bush Names Special Envoy For Rights in North Korea." The text box reads: "An appointment sought by religious conservatives."

Predictably, Bumiller finds this appointment to be rather more controversial than usual, warning: "President Bush on Friday named a former top White House official, Jay Lefkowitz, to be his special envoy for human rights in North Korea. The president's religious conservative supporters aggressively sought Mr. Lefkowitz's appointment, to a post mandated by a 2004 law, as part of their campaign against human rights abuses in North Korea. At the same time, the appointment could aggravate relations with North Korea at nuclear disarmament talks that are scheduled to resume later this month."

She reads the tea leaves to suggest: "The nature and timing of the announcement - a brief statement on a Friday - suggested that the White House did not want to trumpet Mr. Lefkowitz's appointment. Conservative supporters of Mr. Bush said there was concern within some parts of the administration that pressuring North Korea on human rights could derail the talks, which are aimed at persuading the government to give up its nuclear weapons program."

For more Bumiller, click here.



Wal-Mart: All-Purpose Whipping Boy

A Saturday editorial, "The Oil Effect," sheds a few crocodile tears for Wal-Mart, whose profits are hurting because of high energy prices: "Just when it was starting to seem as if consumers were really shaking off high energy prices, Wal-Mart announced this week that its profits stumbled in the second quarter, rising at their slowest rate in four years. Forced to choose between their closets and their gasoline tanks, Americans unsurprisingly chose their tanks. Wal-Mart warned that future sales would be curtailed as well, and no wonder: gasoline is now averaging $2.60 a gallon nationwide, nearly a 39 percent increase from last year."

So, if the Times can't use Wal-Mart's success as asymbol for capitalismgone awry, it will use the company's temporary setback for the same purpose.

To read the rest of the editorial, click here.