Media Musings From Cincinnati and Beyond

New York Times in-house critic, public editor Margaret Sullivan, says the Times is re-embracing jingoism that supported America’s attack on Saddam Hussein 11 years ago.

Jul 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

New York Times in-house critic, public editor Margaret Sullivan, says the Times is re-embracing jingoism that supported America’s attack on Saddam Hussein 11 years ago. 

“The lead-up to the war in Iraq in 2003 was not The Times’s finest hour,” she wrote. “Some of the news reporting was flawed, driven by outside agendas and lacking in needed skepticism. Many Op-Ed columns promoted the idea of a war that turned out to be both unfounded and disastrous.”

In the months before that war, sources preferred by Times reporters and editors assured readers on Page 1 that Iraq was rife with weapons of mass destruction (remember WMD?) while skeptics’ evidence and comments were buried when published. 

Sullivan continued: “With Iraq in chaos, military intervention there again has been under consideration … readers have good reason to be wary about what appears in the paper about military intervention in Iraq. … Many readers have complained to me that The Times is amplifying the voices of hawkish neoconservatives and serving as a megaphone for anonymously sourced administration leaks, while failing to give voice to those who oppose intervention.”

Sullivan said Op-Ed pages and news columns include “very few outside voices of those who opposed the war last time, or those who reject the use of force now. But the neoconservatives and interventionists are certainly being heard.”

She quoted an email from Phyllis Bennis, who writes on the Middle East. Bennis asked, isn’t it time for “serious, comprehensive, virtually uncritical” coverage of those who opposed the 2003 war and warned of what is coming to pass now?

Part of the problem, Sullivan said, is the failure of sycophantic Times writers and editors to “challenge and vet the views of these government sources” to whom access is everything for Washington reporters. 

Coverage of skeptics and critics of Obama policies lacks the in-depth attention that readers want as a counterbalance to pieces like the long, sympathetic profile on historian Robert Kagan, a supporter of the 2003 invasion, she continued.  

“On the editorial page and Op-Ed pages, the anti-intervention arguments have come not from the outside but largely from The Times’s own columnists and its editorials. The opinion pieces by outside writers have tilted toward military intervention.”

• Google acted after the European Court of Justice said it must remove links to information that individuals claim is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” or face a fine. It’s the newly discovered European “right to be forgotten.” British dailies are already complaining, although Google says it did not censor the content of articles or images whose links it deleted.  

The power to censor makes people crazy. I won’t even mention federal officials who stamp “TOP SECRET” on newspaper articles. The New York Times says Google’s censorship got nuttier late last week: “Google’s efforts to carry out a European court order on the ‘right to be forgotten’ took another twist (last) Friday as the company restored search-engine links to several newspaper articles from The Guardian whose delinking had stirred a public furor only a day earlier.” 

Now what happens if a paper reports a deletion request based on the European Court of Justice “right to be forgotten”? For instance, the London Guardian said Google deleted links to a story about Robert Daniels-Dwyer in the small Oxford Mail, published by Newsquest/Gannett. He was convicted of trying to steal £200 worth of Christmas presents from a Boots pharmacy in 2006.  

Oxford Mail editor Simon O’Neill argued that it is “an assault on the public’s right to know perfectly legitimate information” and he repeated the story to underline his point. 

Calling it a “right to censorship,” O’Neill continued: “It is an attempt to re-write history. … We often get complaints from convicted criminals that publishing stories about them invades their privacy or is unfair, but the simple fact is if they didn’t go out committing crime and appearing in court then there would not be a story.” Now, republishing Daniels-Dwyer’s 2006 story has drawn extra attention to what he hoped to hide. 

• Starting July 1, all U.S. TV and radio stations must send records of political advertising buys to the FCC, according to Previously, 230 stations in the top 50 markets had to file online. Now, more than 2,000 stations will turn over their records. For data-based reporters, it can be a goldmine. 

“It has been a long battle to make it easier for the public to see who is paying for political TV ads, many of them attack ads launched by somebody other than the candidates themselves,” Poynter’s Al Tompkins wrote. 

“ProPublica has spent two years trying to ‘free the files’ while other groups have hammered away at broadcast stations for not disclosing what they should about who is buying ads. Now, the nonprofit and nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation is making it easier to examine the records that involve billions of dollars in ad buys. 

“Sunlight launched, which makes it easy to see where special interest groups are spending their money to buy airtime. … The next big step to making these records truly useful will be to ask the broadcasters not to submit PDFs of the contracts to the FCC but to put the information into spreadsheets, like Excel files, so they could be easily sorted and mapped.”

• includes some of the best reporting on the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Publisher Tom Goldstein also runs @SCOTUSblog. When five justices said Obamacare couldn’t require Christian owners of Hobby Lobby to provide birth control to which they object for religious reasons, @SCOTUSblog tweeted the result almost instantly.

And the shit flew. It appears lots of Americans thought @SCOTUSblog comes from the court and their complaints went directly to the five justices. The sheer ignorance of those Hobby Lobby tweeters provoked Goldstein’s inner snark. American Journalism Review said one user accused SCOTUSblog of making the worst decision of its history. SCOTUSblog replied that another terrible decision was “eating the cheap Kung Pao Chicken.”

That, of course, sparked further tweets. 

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]