Is the New York Times Motto for Real?
A motto, simply an ideal or a guiding maxim, is never meant to be taken at face value. The New York Times coined its motto in 1897, and there it is today on the masthead.
The public is free to believe in "All the news that's fit to print," but, admitting that newspapers are out to make a profit, let the public beware. In any case, "fit to print" means what? Fit for whom – readers?
For the media at large, news fit for whom? is addressed in my book Hadrian's Echo: The Whys and Wherefores of Israel's Critics. The answer, the key to unlock media bias, is not, as many would think, readers and audiences. The core stakeholders come first: media owners and advertisers. It is for their sake alone that news must be fit to print.
What it all means may come as a shock: news and its quality are second thoughts. Return on investment is king. And here the Times, with that motherly nickname "Gray Lady," must take care. The paper has to be wary of "unwelcome" news, of news unfit to print, which could hit profitability. Hence, unwelcome news will be tampered with or blocked out entirely. In other words, for profit's sake, something has to give, and that something is objectivity – bias, if you will. By definition, unless a newspaper or a channel or a site is biased in the preferred way, shareholders and advertisers will be none too happy.
Where does that leave the Times motto? Not far off the mark, actually. One word out and one in will make the motto quite believable: "Only the news that's fit to print." Then the Times would have a solid case for publishing news that leans heavily to one side.
If bias can be understood, faking the news is a different kettle of fish. And downplaying atrocities committed by monster tyrants puts a media business out of bounds – among the lowliest and the dirtiest. How the New York Times got there is on record.
It starts with the owners.
In WWII, Arthur Hays Sulzberger and family, loath to alienate the powers that be, downplayed news that could give an impression of the Times being a "Jewish newspaper." Hence, editorial and news pages methodically skirted the plight of Europe's Jews being murdered wholesale. In her book, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper, Laurel Leff cites many instances of how the Times shied away from the truth. It went so far as to blur Jews in the Warsaw ghetto revolt into "Poles" or, even sillier, "Warsaw patriots."
Stories on massacres of Italian and Austrian Jewry never made it onto the front page. Page 12 and four columns were good enough for an account of a half-million Hungarian Jews sent to their deaths.
As if downplaying one Holocaust wasn't bad enough, the Times had already denied another one. News was not buried; it was faked, cooked up to order. Prior to downplaying Hitler's solution for the Jews, the paper denied Stalin's solution for Ukrainians. The years 1932 and 1933 saw a famine of unprecedented proportions. Ukrainians by the millions starved to death. Stalin wanted their land for Russians and set to starving them out. Cannibalism got to the point where authorities had to plaster signs on walls: "To eat your own children is a barbarian act."
Meanwhile, Walter Duranty was playing his own disgusting part. The Times' man in Moscow filed dispatches denying it all. Americans read that the Holodomor, as Ukrainians call their Holocaust, was a stunt. His tales of "hardship" won Duranty the Pulitzer Prize for his "dispassionate interpretive reporting." Fifty years later, the artist of fake would be known as "the correspondent who liked Stalin" and "Stalin's apologist."
Duranty, the communist- and Bolshevik-admirer, vociferously denied the famine. People, he wrote, were "hungry but not starving." "There is no famine." Fact is, the rogue newsman saw the famine with his own two eyes. None of it stopped the Times going to print with reports demeaning the atrocity as mostly "bunk" and greasily quipping, "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." Jokes and a big fraudulent prize!
Executive editors were cool with it.
The revelation doesn't seem to qualify as news. It's really history and belongs in history books.
It also didn't much bother Howell Raines, the executive editor at another time (emphasis added).
Though the paper's slogan is "All the News That's Fit to Print," it is patently flawed. Important news slips by because our coverage reflects blind spots that we recognize only in retrospect[.] ... "We know we make mistakes, but as long as they are ... intellectually honest...
Blind spots! The Times was not intellectually honest then, nor was it afterward – unless declining to return the fraudulent prize was the honest thing to do. Some record.
The paper's record on Israel is more of the same. Fact is, the first owners never liked Zionism; the second- and third-generation owners liked a Jewish state no more than a chronic carbuncle – hence the hiring of Middle East reporters who were and remain duty-bound to be anti-Israel, who implant opinion into news until the reader gives up distinguishing one from the other.
Something called "News Analysis" on the front page brings a new subtlety to the art of coaxing readers to interpret news the Times way. The feature is an editorial by another name. Headlines, too, often are simply opinion in disguise.
When covering Israel, keeping opinion and news apart seems to be a foreign concept at the Times. Jodi Rudoren took obfuscation to a new level. While bureau chief in Jerusalem, her dispatches made it clear that bias was in her brief, that her solemn duty was to tear down Israel in the eyes of the world, to deprecate, denounce, condemn, and revile Israel as the villain. From the outset, Rudoren had the back of Hamas covered, same as Walter Duranty had Stalin's back. It was her given duty – the Gray Lady had appointed her to be a cutout replica of that rogue.
Perhaps the day has come for the New York Times to remove the "all" in its motto. "Only the news that's fit to print" would be a more transparent one.
The writer is a prolific author of novels, non-fiction, and essays. His works are The Paymaster, 1998; Hadrian's Echo, 2012; contributor to "War by other means: Israel and its detractors," 2012; Enemies of Zion (ready for publication early 2019); and Balaam's Curse (WIP novel). His articles have appeared on many sites and in many journals. Steve blogs at Enemies of Zion (http://enemiesofzion.wordpress.com).