Friday, October 07, 2005

An Obit for the Times

Well, it's official. The golden age of The New York Times is over. Their coverage today of Bush's speech on terrorism betrays such a lack of insight, journalistic distance, and careful reporting, I can only conclude that the Times' entire system for maintaining high standards has collapsed.

Here's what I am referring to:

    ?    Despite constant chatter in the media and at the Times about the need to use fewer unnamed sources, reporter, David Sanger, does just that. He writes:
A senior White House official said Thursday evening that the president's 40-minute speech arose from Mr. Bush's desire to remind Americans, after "a lot of distractions" in recent months, that the country was still under threat, and had no choice but to remain in Iraq so Al Qaeda did not use it as a base to train for attacks on the United States and its allies.

What possible reason there is for using an unidentified source to say this, I cannot even begin to fathom. But the bigger problem is that this is pro-Bush spin masquerading as political analysis. It seems as if a White House insider is tipping his hand about Bush's strategy when, in fact, he is reenforcing the President's message. New Orleans and the outrage over Harriet Miers are dubbed "distractions," and the theme's of the President's speech repeated. One wonders how such a paragraph ever made it through the innumerable layers of editing that supposedly exists at the Times.
    ?    We got the above analysis, but it's never explained why Bush's aides had to scramble to identify the 10 foiled plots Bush cited in his speech. It's merely inserted that they scrambled, raising all sorts of questions: did Bush veer off-message? was this speech not written or at least vetted by his aides? and, most importantly, is this claim true? Some political analysis on this apparent faux pas would provide at least some way of assessing the veracity of Bush's statements.
    ?    The President is allowed to boast of 10 foiled terrorist plots, yet there is no mention of the all the plots which were not spoiled and the spike in terrorist activities around the world identified recently by our very own State Department. It would not be unfair or unobjective to point this out. In fact, it strikes me as absolutely necessary since the Times played up the President's boast. And not mentioning it up implies that stopping attacks on America is more of an accomplishment and more important than stopping attacks in the rest of the world by al-Qaeda.
    ?    Another Presidential claim that goes unanswered: "Mr. Bush used his speech, before the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, to warn that Syria and Iran had become 'allies of convenience' for Islamic terror groups, appearing to step up political pressure on both countries." As far as I can tell there is absolutely no evidence, or minimal evidence, for this assertion. A recent report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS) found that overwhelmingly, the insurgents in Iraq are not foreigners or for that matter Baathists, but Sunnis opposed to a Shiite-lead government. Of the foreign fighters who are their, the report says most come from Algeria. I am not saying Bush is wrong or that the CSIS is right (although I suspect that is the case) only that the Times has an obligation to mention the CSIS report. There's this weird ethos of fairness plaguing the Washington press corps where it's considered unfair to point out opposing views to his when he holds a press conference or delivers a speech. Essentially, reporters turn off their analytical skills, which is to say they play dumb.
    ?    How can you not mention that most of the themes in the speech have been repeated by Bush incessantly since this war began, and the speech, except that it ratcheted up the rhetoric, did not contain a single new policy initiative?

Honey, let's do it. Let's stop our subscription to the Times.

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