June 8, 2003: New York Times Got What It Deserves

I have gone through my files and carefully checked my notes.  I have spent hours reviewing reams of polling data and research materials and, for the life of me, I can’t lay my hands on one scrap of paper that indicates who decided the New York Times is “the nation’s finest newspaper.” I know it wasn’t me.  It must have been the snips at The New York Times.   That would be just like them.

In case you have been worrying about trivial stuff like the economy, negotiations between Israel and Palestine or whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has ordered that her husband’s zipper be welded shut, you may have missed the big news that has all the rest of us in a dither:  The New York Times has been found to be about as dysfunctional as a Yarbrough family reunion.

Papers are supposed to report the facts.  Leave the fiction stuff to Ernest Hemingway and Dr. Seuss.  At least that is what I learned at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia back in simpler times.  It turns out that at the New York Times, facts are fiction.  Jason Blair, one of the paper’s up and coming stars, covered the Maryland sniper shootings and the celebrations in West Virginia of Army private Jessica Lynch’s rescue in Iraq while padding around his Brooklyn apartment in his skivvies.  Then there was Rick Bragg, an ace among the Times top-gun reporters.  Bragg took credit for a story about some goings-on in Apalachicola, Florida, despite the fact that he just passed through town and let an intern do all the work.  Now comes the ultimate insult.  Dick Morris, one of Bill Clinton’s buddies, is claiming in a new book that the New York Times rigs its polls so the results favor the Democrats.  Why does none of this surprise me?

Let me let you in on a little secret.  The New York Times has never been as important as it deems itself to be.  The people that I have dealt over the years at the Times were supercilious snobs.  Their self-importance comes from the fact that they are located in a very large city and most of their readers have yet to discover that life exists beyond the Hudson River.  Everybody in New York thinks they are smarter than the rest of us and if they are that brilliant, they assume that their newspaper must be also.  So it is easy to see how the New York Times would be a tad insufferable.  The whole town is.

One reason that the paper has come off looking like a poor imitation of the National Enquirer is that two of the people who caused a lot of the mess and are now history at the New York Times  – reporter Bragg and executive editor Howell Raines – are from Alabama and had left that state to go work in New York.  Even Sheila the Family Wonder Dog will tell you that anybody who would voluntarily leave Alabama to live in New York couldn’t have been too bright to begin with and should be watched carefully.   Given that both Raines and Bragg are bleeding-heart liberals, Alabama was probably glad to see them go.

Meanwhile, media experts and journalism professors are wringing their hands and rolling their eyes over what has happened to the New York Times.  From what I have read and seen so far, they make it sound like civilization as we know it is coming to an end.  As usual, they are talking to themselves.  The rest of us had the paper figured out a long time ago. The New York Times couldn’t find the mainstream if you gave them a map and a pair of waders.  The Times leans to the left like a car with bad suspension.  They don’t like Republicans, Southerners (except bleeding-heart liberals), asking everybody who comes to this country to learn to speak English or Americans indulging themselves in a little flag-waving every now and then.

Maybe I am supposed to feel bad about what happened to the New York Times, but I don’t.  It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group.