Ganging Up on the New York Times

The New York Times slogan “All The News That’s Fit to Print” takes a beating from the blogosphere this morning, which seems to have replaced that claim with its own slogan for The Times: “The Only News That’s Fit to Criticize.”

Orin Kerr starts the fire by torching The Times for reporting on what he calls a “bogus privacy scandal.” For those who didn’t catch it, a little over a week ago, The Times ran a story calling into question the integrity of the Census Bureau for tailoring “specially tabulated population statistics” for individual government agencies. Kerr writes, “Disturbing, right? Well, hold on a second. It turns out that there is an important piece of information that The Times is not telling you: All of the information disclosed has been publicly available from the Census Bureau’s own website for years.”

An email Kerr obtained from the Census Bureau explains “the information had been released to the public already and was ‘merely packaged … in a more usable format’ for Homeland Security.” Kerr has an inkling that The Times lifted the story, and its wording, from the Electronic Policy Information Center’s own report on the Census Bureau. He concludes, “Maybe I am missing something, and if so, I would be happy to retract this post and to apologize for the misunderstanding. But if I’m not missing anything, doesn’t the story seem to rest on a rather sneaky misrepresentation of the facts?”

Atrios has his own bone to pick with The Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller for, among other infractions, failing to help readers evaluate statements made by Rep. Porter Goss, who Bush has nominated to head the CIA. In June, Goss defended Bush’s policy on North Korea, arguing that it was producing results. Bumiller balances the Goss comments with comments from Democratic Senator Carl Levin, but leaves the reader wondering who’s telling the truth. Atrios directs us to The Washington Post, which cites U.S. intelligence on North Korea effectively debunking Goss’ assertions.

Even when proof is offered, the blogosphere remains skeptical of The Times. OxBlogs’ David Adesnik read Monday’s Times front page story on the Bush administrations’ seemingly corrupt attempts to regulate coal mining standards and found it to be “an ugly story that provides a lot of evidence to back up its claims.” “But,” asks Adesnik “how do I know that the NYT is being reasonably fair and balanced? I don’t.” Before he started blogging, says Adesnik, he assumed everything printed in the New York Times or the Washington Post was gospel; now he’s not so sure. His solution, “If I’m not an expert on a subject, I try to avoid having firm opinions about it.”

Finally, the Plame scandal is back in full force with a judge holding Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in contempt for refusing to rat on a source. Josh Marshall has two lengthy posts on the subject. In the first, Marshall agrees “with the court ruling that says that the First Amendment does not grant an absolute shield for journalists seeking to avoid testifying before grand juries — not just that that is the law but that it should be the law. And that means that journalists must in some cases be willing to go to jail to protect a source, even if the source isn’t particularly deserving of protection.” For him, journalists are “too ramshackle and unregulated a bunch to get the protections the law provides to doctors and psychologists. And even those are not absolute.”

In the second, Marshall takes a step back to look at the “big picture.” For him, “President Bush could have settled this matter in a flash a long time ago and spared the country a destructive exploration of the limits of journalistic confidences before the law” by instructing the pertinent sources to free journalists of their obligation of confidentiality. Alas, concludes Marshall, “I’m not holding my breath waiting for this to happen. But let’s not lose sight of the president’s passivity and indifference to this probe. He’s dragging the country through this. And the reason, I think, is obvious. He doesn’t want the probe to succeed.”

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.