The mark of a great newspaper is if it handles its embarrassments with integrity. The Wall Street Journal set the standard in 1984 with its no-holds-barred reporting on a staff writer it discovered was leaking market-sensitive story information to a stockbroker. The story contained myriad details that were embarrassing to the Journal, including the ridiculously low salary the reporter was being paid.
The New York Times once rivaled the Wall Street Journal on the guardian reputation front. Abe Rosenthal, the Times’ legendary editor who saved the newspaper from bankruptcy by adding then controversial “soft” sections like “Food” and “Living,” promptly fired a reporter when it was revealed she slept with a source when she worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer. It didn’t matter to Rosenthal the transgression happened at another newspaper. “I don’t care if you f..k an elephant, just so long as you don’t cover the circus,” he said.
The New York Times’ handling of its latest controversy reveals just how far its standards have fallen. Breitbart News and the New York Post last week revealed a slew of anti-Semitic and racists tweets a senior editor posted a decade ago. The Times’ first reference to the damning disclosures was buried in a story yesterday three days after they were reported and falsely stated that all the controversial tweets were posted when the senior editor was in college.
More alarming was the newspaper’s argument that it’s a victim of conservative activists it claims are loosely tied to President Trump and his supporters. The newspaper signaled to its readers they likely will be hearing more bad stuff about its reporters and those working at other liberal publications.
“Operatives have closely examined more than a decade’s worth of public posts and statements by journalists,” the Times reported. Only a “fraction” of what “the network claims to have uncovered has been made public,” the newspaper said, and more will be disclosed as the 2020 election heats up.
“They are seeking to harass and embarrass anyone affiliated with the leading news organizations that are asking tough questions and bringing uncomfortable truths to light,” the Times quoted its 39-year-old publisher A.G. Sulzberger as saying. “The goal of this campaign is clearly to intimidate journalists from doing their job, which includes serving as a check on power and exposing wrongdoing when it occurs. The Times will not be intimidated or silenced.”
If you’re not a journalism junkie, it’s understandable if you mistakenly assume there is an unwritten code of honor amongst journalists that their backgrounds and previously publicly stated opinions and beliefs are off limits. In fact, there’s an organization known as Media Matters with an annual operating budget of more than $10 million that is focused on digging up embarrassing tweets and quotes of conservative journalists. The organization was founded by David Brock, often referred to as Hillary Clinton’s “hatchet man.”
One of Media Matters most recent claims to fame was digging up sexist and other inappropriate comments made by conservative commentator Tucker Carlson a decade ago during call-in radio segments on The Bubba the Love Sponge Show. Liberal pundits quickly demanded that Carlson be fired and called on advertisers to boycott his highly rated Fox News show.
The Times’ defiance about not being silenced is applaudable, but its attempts to silence its critics is not. The newspaper in January 2017 published a commentary entitled, “How to Destroy the Business Model of Breitbart and Fake News,” about a growing movement pressuring advertisers to boycott the news site. The Times has repeatedly called Breitbart an alt-right, anti-Semitic and racist news site, despite the fact that one of its most prominent editors is a Yarmulke-wearing Orthodox Jew married to a black South African and its most vociferous Times critic is married to a Hispanic woman. Meanwhile, the Times hired a writer who boasted a friendship with the founder of a neo-Nazi website but promptly fired her because of outrage on Twitter.
The Times said the senior editor who posted the controversial tweets did so when “he was a college student with a Twitter following consisting mostly of personal acquaintances,” which tells you about the company he kept while attending Rutgers. Here’s a November 2010 tweet the New York Post found after the editor graduated and worked at the Newark Star Ledger. “I’m a ball of f-king rage. I HATE being talked down to by my peers. Fat, frog-looking bitch.”
I’m all for forgiving youthful transgressions, as I made more than a few myself. But it’s telling that the New York Times has established a pattern of hiring editors and reporters with a history of questionable tweets and controversial activities when it could just as easily hire quality journalists without the baggage. The Times could rent a dozen double-decker buses and pull into almost any neighborhood in Brooklyn with a sign saying, “Anyone want to work for the New York Times?” and the buses would be instantly overflowing with experienced journalists whose past wouldn’t embarrass the newspaper.
What has many people in a rage is the hypocrisy of it all. The Times and other liberal media outlets are quick to label anyone who disagrees with them racists and sexists despite growing evidence that people who profess loudest to occupy the moral high ground are often guilty of what they seemingly deride.
Former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was hailed in the media as a champion of women when in fact he liked to beat them up. Former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer spread false rumors about the fidelity of one of my clients when he was cheating on his wife and sleeping with hookers. It’s been revealed that the head of Media Matters has made inappropriate comments about Jews.
If the Times was honest with itself, it would do some soul searching and question the appropriateness of holding others to standards that the newspaper itself can’t adhere to. That’s likely not going to happen.
The newspaper’s standards have plummeted so low that it violated the first rule one learns in journalism school: Always give the subject you are writing about an opportunity to comment.
I can assure you that Times editors at the highest echelons reviewed the victim story and its trashing of Breitbart, but no one thought to seek a comment from the publication.
Which brings us back to the standards of the Wall Street Journal.
The Times years ago repeatedly declined to talk to a Journal reporter assigned to cover the newspaper. Knowing the probability of a “no comment,” the Journal reporter published a story saying the Times declined to comment without actually calling them. The Times complained about the journalism breach.
Unlike the Times, the Journal didn’t issue a statement saying the reporter violated its standards. They promptly fired him.