Has the New York Times decided to follow Fox News’ lead and become shills offering partisan political propaganda to their audience? The first sentence of the New York Times’ lead article on Monday October 11, 2010 , would get an “F” in a Journalism 101 classroom. It read: “Republicans are well-positioned to pick up a substantial number of governor’s seats in this year’s election, with potentially far-reaching effects on issues like the new health care law, Congressional redistricting and presidential politics.” The writers (Jeff Zeleny and Monica Davey) do not say what evidence caused them to jump to that conclusion. If it is based on extensive, quality polling that would be a very strong reason to draw that conclusion; if it was based on a partisan press release (from Karl Rove?) that would completely destroy the logic of agreeing with that conclusion.
The World’s Laziest Journalist, on Monday afternoon, fired off an e-mail questioning that example of poor journalism, to the New York Times ombudsman, Arthur Brisbane. (We didn’t even get an automated reply.)
We also raised some additional points of concern about the quality of the item in question. The second paragraph contains this sentence: “But the balance appears likely to shift, perhaps markedly, with Republicans holding the upper hand in many of this year’s 37 races, including those in crucial political battlegrounds.” Who says the “balance appears likely to shift”? What evidence indicates “perhaps markedly”? Isn’t “Republicans holding the upper hand in many of this year’s 37 races” a bit vague?
Later on in the story the writers say: “But Republican candidates for governor are benefiting from the same climate that has put the party in position to win control of the House and make gains in the Senate.” Objection! The propagandists are making an assumption not previously entered in evidence. Who says that? Karl Rove again?
The writers also say: “The anxieties are being translated into a broader feeling from voters: a call for change not only in Washington but also in state capitals.” Did the writers tour the USA and talk to voters or did they get a news release from Rove? Aren’t travel budgets for reporters being reduced?
The writers say: “But Republican candidates for governor are benefiting from the same climate that has put the party in position to win control of the House and make gains in the Senate.” Objection! Isn’t that sentence more like subliminal suggestion than journalism? The Republican noise machine has been proclaiming a looming Republican landslide, but does that tsunami of partisan political propaganda qualify as uncontestable evidence that it is just about to happen? Some tangible evidence, such as quality polling data, would make better journalism than drivel from reporters imitating the Pope’s infallibility act.
If journalism in the United States has deteriorated from the high point of Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now” half hour report on Senator Joeseph R. McCarthy (broadcast on March 9, 1953) to the point where The World’s Laziest Journalist has to call out the New York Times for falling to the level of producing partisan political propaganda of the sort usually provided by Fox News, then it seems the only lower level will be a Karl Rove directed version of Hitler’s variety of journalism provided by the Volkischer Boebachter newspaper.
If this columnist is wrong and the level of journalism in that story would be endorsed by the staff of the Columbia Review of Journalism, then we would be glad to offer a column with a big apology in it.
If we are correct and the New York Times is undercutting Democracy with partisan political propaganda disguised as journalism, then we are reluctantly going to realize that the best way to “go along to get along” will be to start marketing “Jeb in ’12” T-shirts.
We urge readers to send e-mail to the editors of the Columbia Review of Journalism (their e-mail is editors the at symbol cjr dot org) and strongly urge them to adjudicate this matter. (Maybe even send a CC to Arthur Brisbane at the “Great Gray Lady”?) If they find that the story in question qualifies as an example of commendable journalism, we will be forced to consider switching back to providing online film reviews. If they call out the New York Times, it would just be natural to write a column full of gloating. If the CJR crew ignores calls to play referee, we will remind our readers of the old legal maxim: silence implies consent.
In a speech, (according to page 539 of Murrow: His Life and Times, by A. M. Sperber, [Freundlich Books hardback]) Edward R. Murrow told the Radio and Television News Directors Association: “Surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communications to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which are to be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word ‘survive’ literally . . . .”
We wonder if Murrow would report on the reliability of voting results produced by the electronic voting machines or if he would blithely add his voice to the chorus of political propaganda reporting, without attribution, on an expected Republican sweep in the fall elections which will be difficult to dispute because of the stories that include pontifications such as: “has put the party in position to win control of the House and make gains in the Senate”?
Did anyone other than Bard Friedman at the Bradblog report on the revelations, in a hearing held Friday October 8, 2010, in Washington D. C., about the test of the security of the online voting system that was being studied?
If the Republicans win a majority in the House and Senate it will truly be time for all Americans to say: “Good night, and good luck.”