Politics & Media

The New York Times & John McCain

The financially troubled newspaper cements its status as a de facto arm of the Obama campaign.

Reading editorials in The New York Times is an occupational hazard for this writer, as I suspect it is for those who also find the daily’s noblesse oblige tone insufferable. Undoubtedly those on the other side of the political divide find The Wall Street Journal’s editorials equally objectionable. Reacting to the Oct. 2 Sarah Palin-Joe Biden vice-presidential debate—which left me unimpressed with both candidates, perhaps owing to the stifling format that has completely devalued the word “debate”—the Times was unstinting in its criticism of both Palin and John McCain. That’s not surprising, of course, since the Times, probably feeling the need to be more vitriolic than ever as the newspaper industry crumbles, has dispatched all of its (affluent) foot soldiers, also known as reporters, out on the campaign trail to pay homage to Barack Obama.

The Times’ Oct. 3 edit led: “We cannot recall when there were lower expectations for a candidate than the ones that preceded Sarah Palin’s appearance [at the St. Louis debate with Biden]. After a series of stumbling interviews that raised serious doubts even among conservatives about her fitness to serve as vice president, Ms. Palin had to do little more than say one or two sensible things and avoid an election-defining gaffe. By that standard, but only by that standard, the governor of Alaska did well.”

How charitable. I guess Biden’s remark last week that during the stock market crash of1929 FDR had immediately addressed the nation on television to reassure Americans—Hoover was president then and the first televised presidential statement was still in the future—doesn’t qualify as an “election-defining gaffe.”

In any case, although many of the Times’ editorial voices from Olympia have rotated over the years, I find it hard to believe that the current sages do not “recall” the ridicule heaped upon George H.W. Bush’s running mate Dan Quayle in 1988. Why, isn’t that what a newspaper’s archives are for? A reminder: on the day of the Quayle-Lloyd Bentsen debate 20 years ago, the Times edit began: “All the advance sarcasm makes tonight’s Vice-Presidential debate sound like a trivial TV game show. Can Dan Quayle walk and chew gum at the same time?” Two days later, the Times gave its verdict: “Mr. Quayle met his handlers’ modest goals. He did not stumble or fall. Keeping his exuberant campaign style in check, he delivered rehearsed, measured answers… [Bentsen] seems more presidential now, if only because Mr. Quayle seemed so far out of his depth.”

Fairly damning, but mild compared to the paper’s editorial conclusion for this year’s veep debate. “Mr. McCain made a wildly irresponsible choice that shattered the image he created for himself as the honest, seasoned, experienced man of principle and judgment. It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.”

Americans will make their own decision in just over four weeks, but let’s be clear: the Times had forced McCain to walk their well-appointed plank months before he chose Palin. On Feb. 21 of this year, a front-page story in the Times—with four bylines—headlined “For McCain, Self-Confidence n Ethics Poses Its Own Risk,” implied that the Arizona senator had an extra-marital relationship with Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist for telecommunications companies. After the story appeared, the Times was roundly criticized, and not just by conservative journalists, for its salacious suggestions. So it seems that McCain, at least on trial before the Times’ judges, was deemed guilty of breaking the conduct of principle and honesty before the vast majority of Americans had even heard the name Sarah Palin.

Might Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., should his company be sold in the next year or two, find a new career in an Obama administration?

DISCUSSION
  • Go to comment.
    Oct 03, 2008, 12:55PM
    I’ll admit; I'm biased. So, I guess you can take it with a grain of salt when I say that I think that the statement in paragraph two is objectively accurate. I feel that over the last eight years, “bias” has really become a term that is thrown around with reckless abandon. I’m not saying that I disagree with your premise that the New York Times leans left, but I feel like any criticism leveled against a political figure today is automatically written off as bias unless it’s given by an openly liberal/conservative commentator against someone in their own party. I genuinely do believe that Palin's "gaffes" (God, I’m sick of that term now) have been worse than Biden's and that led to a significantly lowered expectation of her performance. I’m not saying Biden’s missteps are always forgivable (see his “joke” about Indian Americans during his democratic primary run). However, in the FDR example, yeah it was a dumb and historically inaccurate comment, but you can figure out that he was ultimately making a statement about leadership. But when Sarah Palin can’t (or is unwilling to) name a single Supreme Court case she disagreed with other than Roe v. Wade or name a newspaper/magazine that she reads, what’s the positive takeaway from that? Either she literally has no answer (which I doubt), or she is way too worried about giving an answer that she thinks might upset people. Also, I don’t understand how the ridicule of Dan Quayle shows bias – hasn’t the consensus been developed that he was an idiot? I mean, I’ve even heard conservative commentators complimenting Sarah Palin by saying that she’s “no Dan Quayle.” Which brings up a good point – what is the shelf-life of bias? Have all the people who were called biased for saying the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea in 2003 been forgiven? Anyways, the central point to this article is that the New York Times is left-leaning, and I’m not arguing the contrary. Rather, I disagree with some of the examples used.
  • Go to comment.
    Oct 03, 2008, 02:50PM
    Phil, as always, I respect your opinion, if not that of the Times. I'll agree that the word "bias" is overused, but not EVERYTHING bad in society has happened over the past 8 years. Plenty of people used the word "bias" and less polite terms while Clinton was president, especially re Monica. But, to the point: I don't care that the Times is liberal and a virtual adjunct of the DNC. My beef is that their editors still put on the charade that their news coverage is "objective," which is just silly. The Guardian, in England, for example, makes no bones about being a left-leaning paper, just as The Telegraph is conservative. The Times would be far more palatable if it ditched it's anachronistic motto "All the news that's fit to print," (since it's all the news THEY believe is fit to print) and follow the example of their colleagues in Europe.
  • Go to comment.
    Oct 03, 2008, 03:00PM
    So the Times is left leaning. The Wall Street Journal leans right. What paper doesn't have a bias? I'd really like to hear of one. More importantly, these papers are fulfilling the historical role of newspapers in the U.S. Would you not agree that when Ben Franklin owned or controlled the majority of the papers in the colonies, the unstated purpose was to sway/control the public? Also, I think you give too much credit to the Times. I sincerely doubt that the Times has any more control over the election than CNN, FOX or MSNBC.
  • Go to comment.
    Oct 04, 2008, 04:53AM
    Landlord, even in its decline, the Times still sets the agenda for most television stations, with the exception of FOX. CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, etc. read stories in the Times and take their cues from them. Also, while the Journal makes no pretense about their views on the editorial pages, the news columns, unlike the Times, are completely different. You can read a front-story in the Times and consider it an editorial. As for papers that show LESS bias, look to the Washington Post.
  • Go to comment.
    Oct 05, 2008, 06:21AM
    If objective truth is biased, then I give up!
  • Go to comment.
    Oct 05, 2008, 09:29AM
    I think we're on the same page, dkrm08, election-wise, and the NYTimes is a-okay by me, except Maureen Dowd, but surely you don't believe there's any "objective truth" in the media?
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