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September 19, 2006
Truth in adverising and the NYT
Readers of the metro edition of the print Gray Lady found tucked into their papers this morning an additional 24—page section, in broadsheet size, printed in full color, and devoted to promoting the proposition to readers that, 'These Times Demand The Times.'
The object of this remarkable encomium to itself — and they promise more of such 'in the months ahead' — appears to be to allay readers' growing dismay at the continuing decline in the Times's objectivity, quality, and accuracy. The special section reassures am outstanding breadth of coverage for events near and far, a mightily talented staff, and the most interesting and intelligent views from op—ed and other opinion columnists.
Here is a photo of Jerusalem Bureau Chief Steven Erlanger taking notes in the old section of that city. Surely the massive criticism of his one—sided reporting on Israel and her enemies is just partisan bickering.
And here is Sabrina Tavernise, in full battle dress, reporting from an Iraqi location 'close to the Syrian border.' Surely this eager foreign correspondent is sending back a true first—hand account of the US Army's bungling failures as they carry out the Bush administration's misguided policies in that war—torn land.
Turn the pages to find more and more glorification of the 'Newspaper of Record' and the outstanding men and women who do the recording. One wonders why such elaborate reassurances are needed to the very readers who should be able to perceive all this themselves in the daily editions. But, wait. On page 9 comes a subtly revealing statement.
That's just the problem — they don't, and Times readers are becoming more and more aware of the shockingly inaccurate reporting purveyed, including but not limited to misstatements, misinterpretations, omissions, and downright propagandizing masquerading as objective new reports.
Ironically, the supplement section appears the very day (although the same could apply to any number of other days) in which the Times demonstrates most obviously how it twists its reporting far out of shape. Two major stories provide the grist for the twist.
Let's consider first the release of a report by a Canadian government commission regarding the case of Maher Arar, traveling on a Canadian passport, who was apprehended in transit at a US airport and, after advice and information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to our FBI, was deported to his native Syria.
The report comes after a lengthy investigation caused by much political rancor generated among Canadians because of the deportation of one of their citizens to the land of his birth, where he was allegedly tortured although eventually cleared of wrongdoing and returned to Canada.
Here is a direct quote from the Canadian commission's report. The report itself runs to many hundreds of pages, but the most salient paragraph is
Analysis and Recommendations
Report of the Events
Relating to Maher Arar
The exoneration of the United States seemed the most important factor in the commission's findings — at least to the Wall Street Journal, which ran this AP dispatch on its Web site, headline presumably written by the WSJ staff:
Canadian Inquiry Clears Terror Suspect
September 19, 2006 3:46 a.m.
The New York Sun, likewise emphasized the exoneration of the US officials, who had acted reasonably based on what they thought was accurate information provided them by the RCMP indicating that Arar was a likely terrorist. The Sun ran an AP dispatch on page 6 of this morning's edition, with the headline shown:
Not the New York Times, which found it irresistible to take another poke at the Bush administration and the efforts to combat terrorism and keep our borders secure. The Times's editors felt it appropriate to assign one of their own staff reporters to give the story a suitable slant, a headline writer to misstate the facts of what happened, and a position as its front page lead article:
The other big story of the day on which the Times had its own peculiar attitude was the reneging by France of its solidarity with the US, Russia, and China regarding terms for dealing with Iran over its nuclear program. France, once again, stabbed America in the back with a surprise last—minute move by Chirac on the eve of a scheduled Security Council meeting on the subject, where a unanimity of approach had been agreed to by the four countries involved.
The New York Sun realized that this was sufficiently important news to assign its UN reporter to write a 2—column article and run it in the lead space of its front page:
The Times, however, didn't see much importance in this development and relegated note of it to page A14, where it was yawned off by Elaine Sciolino, often considered to have been on the beat so long that, like Stockholm Syndromers, she's become a thoroughgoing Europhile.
In light of the Times' distorted treatment of these two news stories in just a single day (follow the leads to the full texts for a more thorough way to compare and contrast its handling with those of more credible newspapers), the need for an elaborate advertising campaign to persuade its own customers of its worth does seem both logical and necessary.R
Richard N. Weltz 9 19 06