Five Blasts of Bias from the New York Times in 2012
2012 was another banner year for bias at the New York Times, from slanted coverage of campaign 2012, to bizarre displays of individual unfairness to conservatives. The Times also intensified its push for liberal legislation on issues dear to the heart of its readership, like fighting "climate change" and amnesty for illegal immigrants. Here are some of the worst bits of bias from the year that was.
Taking Sides With Mitt Romney's Snobby Liberal Neighbors
Epitomizing the paper's social liberalism, the front of the June 7 New York Times Home section (!) featured a large story targeting Republican nominee Mitt Romney that made the paper's notorious front-page investigation into Ann Romney's horse look as significant as Watergate by comparison.
Political reporter Michael Barbaro devoted a staggering 1,800-word investigation to the fact that Romney's liberal neighbors in La Jolla, California don't approve of his presence or his politics. The text box read: "On a cul-de-sac in La Jolla, residents are not happy about their new neighbor's renovation plans – or his entourage." (Or his politics, as the article made clear.)
A liberal gay couple trying to organize an Obama fundraiser earned not one but two photos: "THE OPPOSITION – Mr. Romney's neighbors, Randy Clark right, and his partner, Tom Maddox, object to the expansion – and to the candidate's stance on same-sex marriage." The couple got another photo and caption on the jump page with their political opposition to Romney masked as neighborhood concern: "CONCERNED: Randy Clark, right and Tom Maddox are among those who say they want to protect the tight-knit neighborhood."
From Republicans, anyway.
On Dunemere Drive, it seems as if just about everyone has a gripe against the owners of No. 311.
The elderly woman next door complains that her car is constantly boxed into her driveway. A few houses over, a gay couple grumbles that their beloved ocean views are in jeopardy. And down the street, a widow grouses that her children’s favorite dog-walking route has been disrupted.
Bellyaching over the arrival of an irritating new neighbor is a suburban cliché, as elemental to the life on America’s Wisteria Lanes as fastidiously edged lawns and Sunday afternoon barbecues.
But here in La Jolla, a wealthy coast-hugging enclave of San Diego, the ordinary resident at the end of the block is no ordinary neighbor.
He is Mitt Romney.
Somehow Barbaro made his neighbors' liberal intolerance Romney's problem.
But many of the residents of this exclusive tract in La Jolla say they are rankled by what they see from their decks and patios as the Romneys’ blindness to their impact on the neighborhood. And personal politics is fueling their frustration as much as anything else, several days of interviews with about a dozen residents suggest.
It turns out that Mr. Romney -- who has likened President Obama’s policies to socialism, called for cutting back on federal funding to PBS and wants to outlaw same-sex marriage -- has moved into a neighborhood that evokes “Modern Family” far more than “All in the Family.” (There are six gay households within a three-block radius of his house, neighbors said.)
Four doors up the street from the Romneys is the home of Randy Clark and Tom Maddox, a gay couple who meet regularly with other residents worried by the candidate’s renovation plans.
Barbaro reveled in the smug liberalism of Romney's unneighborly political opponents.
Mr. Clark, an accountant, is trying to organize a campaign fund-raiser at his home for President Obama and hopes to bump into Mr. Romney on the street, so he can explain, “in a neighborly way,” why he thinks his relationship with Mr. Maddox deserves the same rights and status as the marriage between Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann.
'A few houses up on Dunemere are Michael Duddy and his partner, James Geiger, who make no secret of their discomfort with some of Mr. Romney’s politics. Chatting with Mr. Maddox and Mr. Clark a few weekends ago, Mr. Geiger playfully proposed hanging a gay-pride flag from the Italian stone pine tree in his yard “so that Romney’s motorcade has to drive under it.”
Even an MSNBC panel of liberal journalists thought the paper has gone too far with Romney-bashing. The lone Times defender on the panel was Times reporter Jodi Kantor.
"Can I call bull on this?" Nation magazine contributor Ari Melber asked. "What they've done here is taken a campaign reporter who covers the campaign with a really thin, silly story, and then put it in the home section."
"This is an attempt, to draw connections, implicit or otherwise, between his personal wealth and his candidacy.... If they want to do it, they should do it either in the opinion section or in a news story about whether his wealth matters," Melber noted, adding that to his mind, it's not a substantial story anyway because, "I don't really care how much money Mitt Romney has."
Editor Andrew Rosenthal on Racist John Boehner
Is Republican House Speaker John Boehner an anti-Obama racist? Times Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal all but accused him of it in a January 3 blog post, "Nobody Likes to Talk About It, but It's There." The original web headline was blunter: "Republican Attacks Have Racist Undertones."
Talking about race in American politics is uncomfortable and awkward. But it has to be said: There has been a racist undertone to many of the Republican attacks leveled against President Obama for the last three years, and in this dawning presidential campaign.
You can detect this undertone in the level of disrespect for this president that would be unthinkable were he not an African-American. Some earlier examples include: Rep. Joe Wilson shouting 'you lie' at one of Mr. Obama's first appearances before Congress, and House Speaker John Boehner rejecting Mr. Obama's request to speak to a joint session of Congress – the first such denial in the history of our republic.
As for decorum during presidential appearances before Congress, Rosenthal has apparently forgotten the rumbles and hisses, hoots and hollerings of 'No! No!' thrown at President Bush by Democrats (documented in his own newspaper) at Bush's February 2005 State of the Union address when he spoke on Social Security reform.
Rosenthal seemed suspiciously uninformed, as he often is on political matters. Speaker Boehner did not in fact 'reject' Obama's request to address Congress, but instead suggested the president delay the speech for one day, to avoid it being held on the same night as a Republican presidential debate. (That's what happened.) Rosenthal's suggestion that Boehner's move was somehow racist is too pathetic to even merit response.
Rosenthal's reasoning was equally ludicrous when he accused Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney of racism.
Sometimes the racism is more oblique. Newt Gingrich was prattling on the other day about giving 'poor children' in 'housing projects' jobs cleaning toilets in public schools to teach them there is an alternative to becoming a pimp or a drug dealer. These children, he said, have no work ethic. If there's anyone out there who doesn't get that poor kids in housing projects is code for minorities, he or she hasn't been paying attention to American politics for the last 50 years. Mr. Gingrich is also fond of calling Mr. Obama 'the greatest food stamp President in American history.'
Is Mr. Romney playing the same chords when he talks about how Mr. Obama wants to create an 'entitlement society'? The president has said nothing of the sort, and the accusation seems of a piece with the old Republican saw that blacks collect the greatest share of welfare dollars.
Rosenthal, perhaps prodded by the scathing attention of Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, posted an update January 6. Unrepentant, Rosenthal berated some of his critics for being "overtly racist themselves, including bigoted references to my last name."
Rosenthal's only regret, apparently, was that he did not mention 'that racially tinged and outright racist attacks did not begin with the election of Mr. Obama,' and brought up an old favorite he had previously written about, the Willie Horton ad used in the 1988 presidential campaign against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis. (Never mind that it was Democratic candidate Al Gore who brought up the issue in the first place.)
Campaign Fact-checking, Obama vs. Romney
James Taranto has written at Opinion Journal that the recent trend of aggressive media "fact checking" of statements made by the campaigns on the stump and during debates is "overwhelmingly biased toward the left" and "gives journalists much freer rein to express their opinions by allowing them to pretend to be rendering authoritative judgments about the facts." The paper's coverage of the Obama-Romney campaign provided the proof.
Reporter Michael Cooper led the pack of the Times' bogus fact-checking. His September 1"Political Memo," "Fact-Checkers Howl, but Campaigns Seem Attached to Dishonest Ads," focused on the allegedly false statements emanating from Mitt Romney's ads and the Republican National Convention podium. Cooper heralded the "Pulitzer Prize-winning" left-leaning fact-check website Politifact as the gold standard of objectivity, although it grades Republican officeholders much harsher grades than their Democratic counterparts, according to a content analysis by SmartPolitics.
Every four years there are lies in campaigns, and at times a blurry line between acceptable political argument and outright sophistry. But recent events -- from the misleading statements in convention speeches to television advertisements repeating widely debunked claims -- have raised new questions about whether the political culture still holds any penalty for falsehood.
Cooper settled the biggest portion of the blame onto the shoulders of the GOP by claiming as false the (oversimplified but true) claim that Obama has gutted the work requirements of welfare reform: "But some independent commentators have argued that the Romney campaign appears to be more dishonest at this point in the campaign, citing the many times it has broadcast a commercial making the false claim that Mr. Obama wants to gut the work requirements of welfare."
White House reporter Jackie Calmes talked to Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod for a strong hit of Republican Convention bashing in her August 31 story, citing liberal media analysis to bolster her contention that even "independent fact-checkers" think the Republicans were lying.
But worse than what Republicans have not said, [Obama strategist David] Axelrod added, is what Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have said: “a compendium of demonstrable lies,” including widely refuted claims that Mr. Obama is trying to end work requirements for welfare recipients and is “raiding” $716 billion from Medicare beneficiaries.
“The audacity of mendacity,” Mr. Axelrod called it, in a play on the title of Mr. Obama’s 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope.” He added, “It’s lying as a campaign strategy.”
The partisan operative’s critique was harsh even by the standards of the normal combat of presidential politics. But it is one that was echoed to some degree by a raft of nonpartisan fact-checking articles, commentary and editorial columns recently, especially on Thursday after Mr. Ryan, who generally has been credited as a straight-shooter throughout his career in the House of Representatives, in his prime-time convention speech on Wednesday night repeated some debunked claims by Mr. Romney and added a few widely disputed statements of his own.
Criticism from the Obama campaign could well be dismissed among voters as the usual stuff of politics, and independent fact-checkers have criticized some of Mr. Obama’s statements, too. Still, the number of falsehoods and misleading statements from the Romney campaign coming in for independent criticism has reached a level not typically seen.
The Biden-Ryan vice-presidential debate October 11 brought out the media's "fact checkers" in full force, including the New York Times, which had a squad of reporters evaluating the statements of Joe Biden and Paul Ryan online during the debate. Still, with perhaps 15 reporters on the job on debate night, the paper still had to out-source a crucial Biden misstatement on Libya to the one-man fact-check machine at the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler, the next morning.
The Times boiled down a few of its findings for the print edition under "Check Point" on topics including Medicare, the stimulus, and the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Yet the paper ignored a key point about Libya. Reporter Eric Schmitt's didn't weigh in on Biden's false claim that "We weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security," although the paper's own Mark Landler wrote in a separate story that "Biden appeared to contradict other American officials when he declared that the administration did not know about requests for more security in Libya." It was up to Juliet Lapidos on the paper's left-wing editorial blog to clarify.
Mr. Biden fumbled somewhat when discussing Libya, and may have added to the impression that the administration has been less than transparent about what happened. Oddly, Lapidos cited as refutation a fact-check from...Glenn Kessler of the rival Washington Post.
When the Times wasn't flyspecking the Romney campaign with fact checks, it was fiercely defending Obama from accurate Romney attacks, as when Obama dismissed individual entrepreneurship speaking at a fire station in Roanoke, Va. with his infamous"you didn't built that" phrase: "If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen."
Peter Baker's July 19 "campaign memo," "Philosophic Clash Over Government's Role Highlights Parties' Divide," came six days later and marked the first appearance in the Times of Obama's slam on business, which, according to Baker's amazingly generous spin, "make clear that he celebrates individual achievement and free enterprise while believing that they are bolstered by collective investment."
It took only a few days for it to become a favorite Republican talking point. President Obama told an audience that “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that; somebody else made that happen.”
And it only took six days for the remarks to appear in the Times. Meanwhile, Romney surrogate John Sununu's crack that Obama should "learn how to be an American" made instant news.
Baker pled for calm, emphasizing "proper context" and lamenting the "Internet-fueled distortions" of what Obama said, while admitting that the remark did demonstrate that "Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney presents voters with starkly different philosophies about the role of government in American society."
Suddenly his critics had proof that he does not believe in individual success or the free market. Mitt Romney scrapped much of his stump speech on Wednesday to focus on the line and sent surrogates to reinforce the point. Mr. Obama’s aides said he was taken out of context, that he was referring to the value of public structures like bridges and roads in the nation’s commerce.
Read in total, Mr. Obama’s comments make clear that he celebrates individual achievement and free enterprise while believing that they are bolstered by collective investment. At its core, the president’s argument is that the every-man-for-himself ethos he attributes to his opponents does not work. Instead, he advances a we’re-in-this-together creed born out of his days as a community activist. It is this belief that to him justifies government programs as necessary for American progress at a time when that is not fashionable.
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
Other than "climate change," no issue brought out the New York Times' liberal bias in 2012 more than illegal immigration. The Times pounded the protest drums for illegals, hyping every small protest (while ignoring the March for Life for the fifth straight year) and constantly punching in the cliched image of illegal immigrants cowering "in the shadows" -- the phrase crops up in many news stories, though it doesn't jive with the massive pro-amnesty street demonstrations put on by illegal immigrants (and the photos of illegals that constantly grace the paper).
Beat-reporter Julia Preston was a particularly egregious offender, but on April 19, reporter Fernanda Santos piled on the pro-illegal immigrant tropes in her story from Phoenix, "In Arizona, Immigrants Make Plans In Shadows." Santos claimed that an Arizona law "seeks to push illegal immigrants out of the state by making it hard for them to go about their lives and earn a living." The paper has used that sympathetic description in several purportedly objective news stories about illegal immigrants.
The rest of Santos's story was similarly by the numbers.
Miguel Guerra has a wife, three children and a house. He has a car, but no driver’s license. He has business cards, but no immigration papers. He got into the habit of keeping his cellphone close when he drives so he can quickly call a cousin, the only legal resident among his relatives in the United States, in case he gets pulled over.
If he does not call again within an hour, he said, the cousin knows to look for him at the county jail.
Mr. Guerra, 36, moved here 13 years ago, before Arizona made illegal immigrants a target, turning once mundane tasks like driving to the grocery into a roll of the dice. Protesting the state’s strict immigration laws “hasn’t changed anything,” he said, so one recent evening he took a more pragmatic approach. He filled out an affidavit designating his cousin to care for his children, his money, his house and everything else he owns should he be arrested.
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next week challenging the most controversial sections of an Arizona immigration law, known as SB 1070, which seeks to push illegal immigrants out of the state by making it hard for them to go about their lives and earn a living. Lower courts have prevented many of the most controversial provisions from taking effect, but that has not stopped a chill from seeping into the bones of the state’s immigrants.
On April 26, beat-reporter Julia Preston portrayed Arizona's popular crackdown on illegal immigration as controversial.
Hundreds of chanting demonstrators filled the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, denouncing an Arizona immigration law that was under debate inside, saying it would spread fear among Latinos in the state.
Protesters from Latino communities in Arizona, carrying crosses and images of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, called on the justices to strike down the disputed provisions of the law, warning that they could unleash a wave of discrimination in the state.
But while the protesters, who also included labor and religious groups, denounced the civil rights abuses they said the law would bring, inside the court questions asked by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. early in the arguments clarified that the case did not directly concern racial profiling or other rights claims.
Preston used scattered protests to suggest the act was unpopular, though a Quinnipiac poll shows votered by 62-27 percent think the Supreme Court should uphold Arizona's law.
In Washington and around the country, protests against Arizona were far more numerous than public actions in support. Demonstrators in Washington chanted civil rights-era songs, and clergy members in white robes from several faiths led a silent march around the court building.
President Obama in June bypassed Congress to put in place part of the paper's beloved Dream Act by executive order, halting deportation of young people who came to the United States illegally. That merited a June 15 lead story by Julia Preston and John Cushman, who devoted precisely two of their 28 paragraphs to opposing views from "angry" Republicans in Congress. The rest were devoted to Obama's announcement, joyful illegals, and their liberal supporters happy that immigrants could finally, as the Times has reported ad nauseum, "come out of the shadows."
An accompanying story put the heat on Republican Mitt Romney: "Obama’s Announcement Seizes Initiative and Puts Pressure on Romney."
And you know there's something afoot when the Times portrays former President George W. Bush as a fount of wisdom, as Preston did in her December 5 article "Praising Immigrants, Bush Leads Conservative Appeal for G.O.P. to Soften Tone."
Preston, who is unabashedly pro-amnesty, doesn't actually name these "conservatives" supporting amnesty, though the ever-reliable Richard Land makes his usual appearance as a stand in for all religious conservatives breaking away from the GOP on amnesty.
Looking for new footing on immigration before a debate on the volatile issue in Congress next year, Republicans and conservative leaders spoke out this week, raising arguments that immigration is good for the ailing economy and consistent with family values.
Former President George W. Bush weighed back in to the discussion on Tuesday by calling on policy makers in Washington to revamp the law “with a benevolent spirit” that recognized the contribution of those who moved here from other countries.
In Washington, leaders of a coalition that unites conservative law enforcement officials and clergy with business leaders -- they described themselves as “Bibles, badges and business” -- held a strategy session Tuesday on how to push for a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, which would include “a road to lawful status and citizenship” for 11 million illegal immigrants.
The next day Preston reported again, with absolute sympathy (and no objectivity), from a "congress" of illegals in Kansas City and gushed "To judge from the display they put on here, young immigrants will come to that fight [over immigration overhaul] with distinctive resolve and esprit de corps." Preston dropped all pretense of objectivity to identify completely and sympathetically with the alleged victims of America's immigration policy: "Young Immigrants Want 'Dream Warrior' Army."
The movement of young immigrants in the country without legal papers, who call themselves Dreamers, is held together by more than a commitment to push Congress for a pathway to citizenship.
More than 600 leaders of United We Dream, the largest national network of those young people, came together for their congress here last weekend to celebrate and reinforce a common culture, based on their experience living with hidden identities and with a low-grade but constant fear of deportation.
Their goal, they said, is to build an army of Dream warriors. They had Dream warrior T-shirts, Dream warrior chants and the prayer of the “four Tezkatlipokas,” an amalgam of wisdom drawn from gods of the ancient Aztecs of Mexico, the birth country of many of the young people. The sometimes exuberant, sometimes tearful, consistently cathartic three-day gathering was framed by rituals defining what it means to be one of those warriors.
Mr. Obama has pledged to start a debate early next year on a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration laws, including the Dream Act. To judge from the display they put on here, young immigrants will come to that fight with distinctive resolve and esprit de corps.
And Times reporters will be marching right alongside them.
Justin Gillis' Scary Climate Coverage
Ubiquitous on the New York Times front page in 2012, reporter Justin Gillis quickly established himself as the paper's most alarmist climate reporter (beating back stiff competition from John Broder). Environmental scientist Roger Pielke Jr. eviscerated a Christmas Day 2011 article by Gillis, "Harsh Political Reality Slows Climate Studies Despite Extreme Year," as “perhaps the worst piece of reporting I've ever seen in the Times on climate change.” Gillis had written:
But for many reasons, efforts to put out prompt reports on the causes of extreme weather are essentially languishing. Chief among the difficulties that scientists face: the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile, and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight....But for many reasons, efforts to put out prompt reports on the causes of extreme weather are essentially languishing. Chief among the difficulties that scientists face: the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile, and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight.
Pielke dissected the article from many angles, and concluded:
The NYT article relies on a very few people from the usual small circle of folks cited in such articles to say the usual suggestive things - Ben Santer, Jeff Masters, Peter Stott. Not one researcher is cited who actually publishes peer-reviewed work on tornadoes, economic impacts of disasters, or the long-term history of US weather extremes. However, somehow Congressional Republicans show up as the bad guys in the usual good guys-bad guys framing on this topic. No budget numbers are presented nor any specific discussion of what is going on in NOAA. Ink blot.
I still believe that the print media overall does a good job on a difficult subject, but every once in a while you see an article so detached from reality that it is worth noting."
Gillis definitely has chosen a side in the battle over global warming. On March 6 he reviewed a book for the paper's "Green" blog by global warming advocate Michael Mann, creator of the now-discredited "hockey stick" graph that purported to show a sharp spike in global temperatures over the last few decades. Gillis defended Mann and the hockey stick and questioned why skeptics targeted it so fiercely: "But many of the contrarians have been obsessed with the hockey stick for a decade, gnawing it over and over as a dog would a bone. They seem to think if they can disprove one small element of climate science, the whole edifice will collapse.Unfortunately for our future, the findings of modern climate science are a great deal more robust than that. They do not depend on the validity of the hockey stick, as Dr. Mann himself makes clear."
Gillis proudly told the Columbia Journalism Review in April that it was a "scandal" the media was failing to connect the dots between "weird weather" events and permanent climate change, and compared climate-change skeptics to people who don't believe in evolution:
If one is covering evolution these days, one can afford to ignore the anti-evolutionists most of the time because they are completely scientifically discredited and, more importantly, sort of spent as a social force. Unfortunately, we just are not at that point with climate science.
However discredited the scientific case questioning climate science may be, it is influencing half the Congress and a substantial fraction of the population. So this is almost like if you’d been in Tennessee in 1925 getting ready to cover the Scopes Monkey Trial. The anti-evolutionists were already scientifically discredited by then, but as a journalist, you could not have avoided quoting them in order to put the whole thing in its political context. I’m sad to say that in 2012, that’s still where we are with climate science.
On April 18 Gillis pushed an obscure poll: "Scientists may hesitate to link some of the weather extremes of recent years to global warming -- but the public, it seems, is already there."
He made the May 1 front page with a 2,500-word story on what he called the last stand for climate change skeptics: "Clouds' Effect on Climate Change Is Last Bastion for Dissenters."
For decades, a small group of scientific dissenters has been trying to shoot holes in the prevailing science of climate change, offering one reason after another why the outlook simply must be wrong.
Over time, nearly every one of their arguments has been knocked down by accumulating evidence, and polls say 97 percent of working climate scientists now see global warming as a serious risk.
Yet in recent years, the climate change skeptics have seized on one last argument that cannot be so readily dismissed. Their theory is that clouds will save us.
Gillis dwelled on a skeptical climate professor's "discredited" views.
Richard S. Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the leading proponent of the view that clouds will save the day. His stature in the field -- he has been making seminal contributions to climate science since the 1960s -- has amplified his influence.
Gillis noted Lindzen's "idea has drawn withering criticism from other scientists, who cite errors in his papers and say proof is lacking.
However, politicians looking for reasons not to tackle climate change have embraced Dr. Lindzen and other skeptics, elevating their role in the public debate.
Today, most mainstream researchers consider Dr. Lindzen’s theory discredited. He does not agree, but he has had difficulty establishing his case in the scientific literature. Dr. Lindzen published a paper in 2009 offering more support for his case that the earth’s sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low, but once again scientists identified errors, including a failure to account for known inaccuracies in satellite measurements.
Gillis wrote on June 6 that "The earth could be nearing a point at which sweeping environmental changes, possibly including mass extinctions, would undermine human welfare, 22 prominent biologists and ecologists warned...."