David Brooks Debut - September 9, 2003

Times Watch for September 9, 2003

David Brooks Debut

David Brooks, senior editor at The Weekly Standard, makes his debut as columnist Tuesday with Whatever It Takes. The Times hiring of Brooks is seen by some as an attempt to balance a liberal-leaning opinion page that currently contains only one non-liberal columnist, William Safire. Yet if his debut column is any indication, Brooks hiring may not do much to tip the scales toward the center.

In the opening paragraph of his column, on Bushs shifting policy on Iraq, Brooks writes: The Bush administration has the most infuriating way of changing its mind. The leading Bushies almost never admit serious mistakes. They never acknowledge that they are listening to their critics. They never even admit they are shifting course. They don these facial expressions suggesting calm omniscience while down below their legs are doing the fox trot in six different directions.

For a second one could be reading a more nuanced version of Paul Krugman. Then you read Krugmans column for Tuesday (opposite side of the page from Brooks): Mr. Bush created this crisis, and if he were a true patriot he would pay a political price to resolve it. And one realizes that although Brooks may not be a hard-core conservative (he had kind words for Sen. John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries), at least hes no Krugman.

To read David Brooks first entry as a Times columnist, click here.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: The Times' Tax Collector

In our June 26 critique of Times coverage of an Internal Revenue Service report on the 400 highest income taxpayers, Times Watch made two observations that the reporter, David Cay Johnston, recently complained to us are not supported by facts.

Having reviewed his work more fully we have concluded it was not accurate to write that "Johnston has always been willing to give tax collectors a boost," and that in citing one of his earlier stories to support this point we relied on outdated information. Johnston's clips show he has written many enterprising articles critical of the IRS.

Unlike most reporters, who won't even take our telephone calls, Johnston told us why he wrote what struck us as a biased description in favor of Citizens for Tax Justice, especially in comparison to his description of the Heritage Foundation.

He called the liberals "a labor-backed group" that "favors higher taxes on the wealthy" and Heritage "a conservative organization that favors lowering taxes for all Americans." But then Johnston went on to state that the tax justice group makes "calculations [that] are respected by a broad spectrum of tax experts." We said that showed bias.

Johnston said he has quoted conservatives and libertarians in the past saying that while they disagree with its views, they respect the integrity of CTJs calculations on taxes. Johnston said he needed to explain to readers why he would rely on CTJs estimates. Had similar calculations been available that day from Heritage, Johnston says he would have vouched for the integrity of its estimates.

While we were probably too hasty in jumping on Johnston, Times Watch still thinks that by placing the article on the top of the front page, the Times gave the report much greater play than it deserved and demonstrated the liberal bias of its editors on income distribution issues.

Child of Privilege Bush Just a Very Lucky Guy

Tuesdays lead editorial, Presidential Character, goes moralistic on Bush, sniffing out a fundamental flaw in the character of this White House. In the last paragraph, the Times uses Bushs background to suggest the president is someone who expects to find an easy way out of difficulties, writing: Mr. Bush is a man who was reared in privilege, who succeeded in both business and politics because of his family connections. The question during the presidential campaign was whether he was anything more than just a very lucky guy.

Bush was a child of privilege who succeeded because of his family connections, which of course makes him totally unlike his election opponent, poor mans son Al Gore.

For the rest of the Times editorial on Bush, click here.