Pulp Fiction at the New York Times:
Fawning at the Feet of Mammon
by Kim Petersen
June 23, 2003
Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what Orwell called the official truth. They simply cipher and transmit lies.
-- John Pilger
It is not the best of times for the New York Times. The NY Times is till reeling from the massive credibility hit it took from the Jayson Blair incident. Mr. Blair managed to deceive the publishing bastion for a little over three years. This disclosure of deceitful journalism elicited a grandiose 7,000-word mea culpa from the Times. Mr. Blair was the first casualty but the nudge became a little more forceful and managing editor Gerald Boyd with executive editor Howell Raines recently resigned in abject fashion.
Mr. Raines’ greatest crime according to free-lance writer Dennis Hans was not the Mr. Blair debacle but his refusal to let economist-cum-writer Paul Krugman use the L-word in a slew of articles. Mr. Krugman has been especially aggressive in revealing the mendacity of President Bush and his administration.
Editorial manipulation is nothing new at the NY Times. In 1880 former managing editor at the New York Times John Swinton scathingly delineated the then state of the free press.
There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.
The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?
We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.
Such was the state of the media at the end of the nineteenth century. Nowadays authentic reporter Al Giordano, a critic of “the deteriorating New York Times” and mover behind the progressive website Narco News, reports the news and exposes slipshod journalism. Narco News has often cast the spotlight on journalistic shenanigans. Mr. Giordano credits the Internet and, in particular, bloggers “with the shake-ups at the previously impermeable New York Times.”
The NY Times, “considered the Cathedral of journalism,” has seen a plethora of its writers skewered for amateur journalism or corruption.
Journalism professor Carlos Ramírez reported on how NY Times correspondent Sam Dillon was “KOed” out of Mexico following a cover-up for a high profile drug peddler.
The Venezuelan backbeat saw a gaggle of NY Times writers tainted by inauthentic journalism.
During the short-lived Venezuelan coup New York Times reporter Juan Forero reported that President Chávez had “resigned” when, in fact, Mr. Chávez had been abducted at gunpoint. Mr. Forero did not source his knowingly false claim
Subsequently Gail Collins, on behalf of the NY Times editorial board, was compelled to offer an apology on the Venezuelan coup story. “Nobody should ever cheer the overthrow of a democratically elected government. You're right, we dropped the ball on our first Venezuela editorial.”
Francisco Toro a self-confessed, rabidly anti-Chavez reporter was hired by the NY Times in contravention of the paper’s policy of impartiality in reporting. Eventually things came to a head and Mr. Toro resigned over his conflict-of-interest.
Too many writers were guilty of lazy journalism and sourced their stories unchallenged out of the American embassy. There is no problem with reporting the US version of events but reporting it exclusive of other versions and without verification is tendentious and unprofessional. It is gullible journalism. Former NY Times executive editor Max Frankel, who Mr. Giordano praised as an authentic journalist, pointed out the folly of going hook, line, and sinker for the Whitehouse line. “It would be unwise to expect trustworthy information from Washington,” said he.
Another case of shoddy reporting at the NY Times is the textbook blunder of James Risen who monitors the CIA. Mr. Risen committed the error of allowing the source to oversee his manuscript. The CIA were permitted to censor sections of his book The Main Enemy, a historical assessment of CIA and KGB intrigues from the Cold War era, while he was still covering the CIA for the NY Times.
Then there is the case of NY Times writer Judith Miller. Ms. Miller has committed the cardinal mistake of using unsubstantiated sources. Ms. Miller finds herself now treading water over repeated articles asseverating weapons of destruction in Iraq with mysterious sources. The source of her stories is reputed to be the convicted swindler Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, the self-same group which led the US –UK invaders to believe they would be showered with roses and adoration by the liberated Iraqis. Nonetheless Ms. Miller was so cocksure of her stories that she claimed she had uncovered not only the “smoking gun” but also the “silver bullet.” This self-same Ms.Miller had the audacity to expostulate in May to a graduating class at Barnard College: “Journalists need to draw conclusions about whether journalistic objectivity was compromised during the war.” Ms. Miller questioned, “Were those who wanted to go to war deceiving themselves about Saddam's capabilities?” As reporter William E. Jackson Jr. noted this was “remarkably candid -- and ironic.”
Then there is a NY Times heavyweight, chief diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman. BJ Sabri, in a logically compelling article, exposed Mr. Friedman as an “insidious prophet of petty fascism, where arrogant judgments, studied preconceptions, bloated self-righteousness, and a message for hatred and violence constitute a value system.”
As for NY Times veteran op-ed writer William Safire, he’s not to be trusted at all.
Another recent victim from the self-inflicted wound of lazy reporting is the NY Times’ Lynette Clemetson. Investigative reporter Greg Palast takes Ms. Clemetson to the task for her remarks concerning former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Said Ms. Clemetson: “Ms. McKinney suggest[ed] that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war.”
That’s loony, all right. As an editor of the highly respected Atlanta Journal Constitution told NPR, McKinney’s “practically accused the President of murder!”
Problem is, McKinney never said it.
That’s right. The “quote” from McKinney is a complete fabrication. A whopper, a fabulous fib, a fake, a flim-flam. Just freakin’ made up.
Hi, Lynette. My name is Greg Palast, and I wanted to follow up on a story of yours. It says, let’s see, after the opening -- it’s about Cynthia McKinney -- it’s dated Washington byline August 21. “McKinney’s [opponent] capitalized on the furor caused by Miss McKinney’s suggestion this year that President Bush might have known about the September 11 attacks but did nothing so his supporters could make money in a war.” Now, I have been trying my darndest to find this phrase . . . I can’t. . .
Lynette Clemetson, New York Times: Did you search the Atlanta Journal Constitution?
Yes, but I haven’t been able to find that statement.
I’ve heard that statement -- it was all over the place.
I know it was all over the place, except no one can find it and that’s why I’m concerned. Now did you see the statement in the Atlanta Journal Constitution?
[Note: No such direct quote from McKinney can be found in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.]
And did you confirm this with McKinney?
Well, I worked with her office. The statement is from the floor of the House [of Representatives].... Right?
So did you check the statement from the Floor of the House?
I mean I wouldn’t have done the story. . . . Have you looked at House transcripts?
Yes. Did you check that?
You did check it?
[Note: No such McKinney statement can be found in the transcripts or other records of the House of Representatives.]
I think you have to go back to the House transcripts.... I mean it was all over the place at the time.
Yes, this is one fact the Times reporter didn’t fake: The McKinney “quote” was, indeed, all over the place: in the Washington Post, National Public Radio, and needless to say, all the other metropolitan dailies -- everywhere but in Congresswoman McKinney’s mouth.
Nor was it in the Congressional Record, nor in any recorded talk, nor on her Website, nor in any of her radio talks. Here’s the Congresswoman’s statement from the record:
“George Bush had no prior knowledge of the plan to attack the World Trade Center on September 11.”
Ms. Clemetson was caught in a web of her own spinning.
“All the News That's Fit to Print,” is the self-titled billing for the NY Times and with so many of its journalistic misdemeanors exposed, one wonders about the criteria for being “fit to print.” Nonetheless, since it is still the unofficial voice of the Washington establishment we continue to engage, as Noam Chomsky said, in “the masochistic exercise of reading the NY Times.”
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org