Friday, September 11, 2015

Revolting Stuff at the Grey Lady

If you've been following the readers' comment sections of the New York Times lately, particularly those on the Public Editor's page, you'll have noticed a mass outpouring of complaints critical of the paper's Bernie Sanders coverage. It's the closest thing I've ever seen to a spontaneous intellectual revolt against a major newspaper by the reading public.

The reader complaints are essentially twofold: the Times coverage of the Sanders campaign, compared to that of Trump and Clinton and Bush, has been scanty, buried deep within the inner pages of the newspaper; and, that the rare examples of prominent coverage have been derisive and/or dismissive, caricaturing Sanders as a wild-haired socialist who cannot possibly win the Democratic nomination. (regular Times commenter Rima Regas has compiled a pretty comprehensive, well-sourced overview.)

So, at the request of Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, newly-appointed political editor Carolyn Ryan has finally responded to the accusations, saying that while she "respects the passion of the Sanders supporters," she thinks they may be overlooking much of the coverage.

Right off the bat, Ryan mischaracterizes the complainers as Sanders supporters.  Although many of them are, this has nothing to do with cheerleading for a candidate. This has to do with how the largest news organization in the world is falling down on the job, failing in its duty of basic journalistic integrity.

Ryan provides a laundry list of every Grey Lady Sanders article ever written, without noting the placement and without comparing the volume to pieces on Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, which have been, by the paper's own admission, much more numerous. Ryan concludes,
​The Sanders campaign stands out, in my experience, for its fervent energy and organization. But one of the​ strategies of ​Sanders supporters is to ​relentless​ly​ agitat​e ​for more ​​favorable​ coverage​ ​from The Times and other outlets. ​
 We are mindful of their critiques and listen to ​their concerns, and often point out stories to them that they have overlooked.But ultimately we have to use our journalistic judgment​ and serve a broad readership​, by cover​ing​ the entire field of candidates, and not ma​k​e decisions in response to lobbying campaigns.I’m puzzled by the tone complaints and I cannot say that I agree with them.
 The reader responses to her response were pretty much as you'd expect. Here's mine:
Carolyn Ryan's response is the gold standard for whenever hoi polloi dare to complain. She chides us for our "tone," and caricatures us as a mob of Sandernistas who don't recognize quality and fairness when we see it.
She could have just boiled it down to "harrumph!"

Silly me, not to appreciate that the NYT has captured first, foremost and better than anybody else what it considers to be the "essence" of Bernie Sanders. It reminds me of David Brooks's response when readers complained about his use of the word "mutts" to describe bi-racial and multi-ethnic people. In essence, it was more feigned befuddlement coupled with advice to get over ourselves.

It's like the response of TV critic Alessandra Stanley when readers reacted negatively to her characterization of Shonda Rhimes as "an angry black woman." (Stanley was just being "arch" and if readers didn't get her irony and wit, then too bad.) 

Carolyn Ryan has just cringingly described her campaign reporters as her elite stable of "thoroughbreds." No surprise therefore that she seems to view those complaining about the Bernie Sanders coverage as a bunch of nags. Not a whinny attitude if you want to keep your readers.
Expecting the New York Times to fairly treat an FDR-style candidate running in the interests of working and poor people would be like expecting the Queen to invite the servants to join her for dinner. The Times, along with all establishment media relying on the dollars of corporate and plutocratic advertisers, is not about to bite the sensitive hand that feeds it. Bernie Sanders is not the first, nor will he be the last, victim of this kind of neoliberal bias at the hands of the media-political nexus.

Speaking of food, I had almost forgotten that this is our great national holiday of Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste! Then an email alert from the Times reminded me. Food critic Sam Sifton is sharing his 9/11 "recipes of remembrance."

As you ponder the 3,000 lives lost on that day, The Times wants you treat yourself to some steak frites with Bearnaise sauce (not to be confused with those lumpen Freedom Fries). Do not, of course, chew over the millions of lives lost and uprooted in the continuous illegal wars of American aggression stemming from that terrible day as you swill white wine and comfort yourself with binge-watching Narcos on Netflix from the safety of your luxury digs. Mayor Rudy Giuliani urged us to go shopping after the disaster. Sam Sifton wants you to keep stuffing your faces as you party like it's 9/11 all weekend long:
Rate your recipes after you've cooked them, and leave notes on them, and send them around. We want a big party here. Bring some friends.
As always, we'd like you to let us know if you have any problems with our technology, design or prose. We're at And I'm on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook if you want to show me your food. #NYTCooking! Have a great weekend.
Now that you've finished quietly barfing over that little interlude, let's get back to the political stuff. The lines between the mass media and government/political parties/donors are growing increasingly blurred. Just days ago, Times Executive Editor Dean Bacquet tellingly dished to the Washington Post (the source of that awful "thoroughbred" quote) that Carolyn Ryan will be moving from running the Washington Bureau to running "one heck of a campaign" within a campaign from New York City, money capital of the world and therefore Campaign Central.

The presidential campaign, admitted Bacquet to the WaPo's Erik Wemple, "is not really a Washington story." Plus, it would be too hard for Ryan to cover both "Trumpfest" and the day-to-day news coming from the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court. 
 “The reality is that the Obama second term — he’s not going quietly,” says Ryan, noting that the paper needs a Washington bureau chief who can pay heed to the president’s last months in office. (Baquet addressed the same dynamic, only with a touch of internal-memo hyperbole, as he highlighted the “continuing story of the epic struggle surrounding President Obama’s final months in Washington.”)
They don't even try to hide the fact that they are propagandists first, news reporters second.The president will be treated not as a public servant accountable to the public, but as some kind of mythic hero in a Manichean battle between good and evil.

Since, as researchers Martin Gillens and Benjamin Page have demonstrated, the wealthy get what they want in the way of legislation from the politicians whom they fund, doesn't it stand to reason that they also get what they want from the media they own? What they seem to want is an alternate reality, far removed from the lives and the travails of regular people. No wonder that their manufactured reality has no room for the likes of Bernie Sanders and his populist agenda.

They don't even try to hide their dismay over the rising fortunes of the Sanders campaign. In another digital front-page Times piece published on Wednesday, panicking Wall Street Democrats mulled recruiting a malleable candidate to replace the tanking Hillary Clinton. Their adherence to the plutocracy couldn't be more brazen: 
It is not just Mrs. Clinton’s weakness in the polls that has generated talk of other alternatives, but also the strength of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is routinely drawing huge crowds at campaign events. That has been disconcerting to Democratic officials who believe that Mr. Sanders, a socialist, is so liberal that his presence at the top of the party’s ticket in 2016 would be disastrous.
“If party leaders see a scenario next winter where Bernie Sanders has a real chance at the Democratic nomination, I think there’s no question that leaders will reach out to Vice President Biden or Secretary of State Kerry or even Gore about entering the primaries,” said Garnet F. Coleman, a Texas state lawmaker and Democratic national committeeman.
The corporate press resides not in the Fourth Estate, but in a luxurious guest house on a virtual gated estate called Oligarchic Acres, Feudal States of America Inc.

The Royal Prosecutor, the Scribe, and the Feudal Lord (Anonymous, 13th century)


Meredith NYC said...

I returned to reading a Brooks column out of morbid curiosity re the Russia he misses. Silly as usual. I said:

Interesting that 19th/early 20th century Russia was behind the other western countries in democracy, human rights, living standards for the masses and technological modernization. Then with forced 1930s industrialization under Stalin’s dictatorship they progressed, and the ironically Koch bothers' father worked as an engineer for Stalin, starting his fortune that he passed to the present Kochs---which they then apply to undermining US democracy!

Today the USA is behind other 1st world countries in many areas. We have voting rights, but also with politics tethered to a small elite functioning as an ‘aristocracy’ which the US was designed to do away with. Russia was a vast country isolated by geography. The US is also huge geographically and isolated by 2 vast oceans and a Canadian border.
Shall we compare the media---with most of ours now owned by only 6 conglomerates—and with resulting conformity not befitting a democracy?

Mr. Brooks if you could only apply the profound insight and sensitivity of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky that you admire so much to your own political views. Political soul? We get smug, condescending pop psychology sermons.

What is to be done with the mass of the US middle class, headed downward toward a 21st century version of a modern peasant class, ruled by our 1 percent oligarchs? The candidates who truly oppose this are hardly publicized in our media. So much for our famous 1st amendment and press freedoms, unknown in Tsarist Russia.

See Jimmy Carter’s recent use of the term oligarch to describe US election financing by big money, determining who will be nominated—for president, governors and congress.

What would Leo Tolstoy and Isaiah Berlin say to that?

Meredith NYC said...

I'm posting this a 2nd time since it didn't get in for some reason.

Karen....thanks for linking to Gilens and Page which I plan to read.

Ms Ryan is a detriment to the Times.
Readers have a legitimate grievance that Ryan rejects responsibility for, in her bubble. The longer the Times holds out on covering Sanders’ policies, the more readers will justifiably complain.

NYT’s top political editor for 2016 is so detached she doesn’t grasp that this ‘relentless agitation’ of readers is directly caused by the Times own distorted coverage. She’s getting a normal readers response after many, many months of increasing frustration.

What would be the downside really for the Times to cover Sanders and O’ Malley’s proposals factually and fully, pray tell???

Why does the Times even have comments, if widespread reader criticism is called lobbying? Don’t pass the buck, Ms. Ryan. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen --Harry Truman.

The Times made the decision way in advance that Clinton is the one--- BECAUSE she raised big money, the others didn’t. Even tho it focuses on the email scandal. Then polls are more positive BECAUSE she’s covered the most on the media. Feedback loop of big donors, media, polls and more media. Then media denies unbalanced coverage.

What a different story if we had campaigns like other democracies—financed by allocated, finite public funds available to all candidates, instead of infinite funds from billionaires for their favorites only. The majority of voters would then get representation, and the media would reflect this.

Sanders is only ‘significantly left of center’ in a warped definition. Dean Baquet says he wants to “focus more heavily on issue stories in the coming weeks and months.” The lack of issue talk is the basic flaw in op eds and news articles—and why the coverage is biased.

Pearl said...

Even Bernie admitted he was stunned at the current results of his overtaking Hillary in the New Hampshire and Iowa polls. One reader challenged the NYTimes to mention this little bit of information. Perhaps they have by now.

Some reports in other newspapers are daring to suggest that Bernie capturing more states and getting a foot in the door of the Whitehouse is within the realm of possibility.

I watched Hillary being featured on Degeneres'TV program, taking place in enormous Rockefeller Center(?) being praised to the rafters as our savior, with women screaming and jumping up and down. A Hellish vision.

The groundswell of criticisms to the Sullivan and Ryan articles are amazing and brilliant and was glad to see yours, Karen, and Meredith's, I believe. I had written a comment but didn't press the right button and lost it but there was no need to rewrite it as practically all the others echoed my thoughts.
It is a wonderful feeling to be in sync finally with so many people who won't be silenced anymore. I remember urging everyone to keep writing and talking and somewhere, somehow, we might be heard.

The recent interview with Bernie on CNN was very effective - he was treated with real respect and looked very presidential. I can imagine him debating the other party runner up, DT by any chance? which will be the ultimate climax for the year.
AND we have our work cut out for us, even from Canada where coming good news can be held up as an example to follow,

Meredith NYC said...

Karen....for me this is one of your best ever posts. A Times reader revolt indeed, with scathing, well thought out comments obviously not written by a ‘mob of Sandernistas’, but showing justified, pent up frustration. Ryan’s response doesn’t defend the Times, just takes down its reputation, revealing it’s negatives. No wonder their famous liberal with a conscience is centrist Krugman---it all fits.

At least Sullivan used the phrase ‘the zenith of fluff”, which I love, with this passage:
“The fluff may have reached its zenith — at least, one can always hope — with an exchange in a Times Magazine interview. (by a free lancer, Ann Marie Cox, not Times regular).

Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?
Hillary’s hair gets more scrutiny than my hair?
Is that what you’re asking?
O.K., Ana, I don’t mean to be rude here. I am running for president of the United States on serious issues, O.K.? Do you have serious questions?”

My comment to editor Ryan:

Ms. Ryan suspiciously sees a lobbying campaign by relentless Sanders agitators. Like the ‘outside agitators’ from the civil rights mvmt?
No, Ms. Ryan, it’s a response to abysmal coverage by our major newspaper in an election campaign.


Much, much less than the big fund raising candidates and the outrageous rw.

Op ed page ignores him except for 2 examples with Sanders as subject—Collins and Healey with snide, jokey, non issue pieces, and a few other columnists with negative 1 liners only.

Bernie’s big turnouts led to 2 articles on Page A1—by Lyall and then Horowitz. Both were full of negative phrases aimed to create voter suspicion of Sanders, blatantly exaggerating his so called ‘Left Wing’ background. Horowitz, that astute political expert from the W. Post Style Section!... used the phrase “not ENTIRELY Marxist”.

A Business Section article by Jared Bernstein finally cited Bernie’s proposal to tax financial transactions for needed revenue. But Sanders name was omitted from the headline, so it got few readers...the only piece I recall that explained policy at all.

Mainly dismissive, condescending, and frankly, disrespectful of a serious and civilized man with the good of our society at heart.

Equalizing Sanders to Trump just b/c each differs from his party is truly low IQ punditry, avoiding the huge distinction---Sanders is reality oriented, humane and civilized. Trump lives in his own fantasy--racist, sexist, bullying, egotistical, exhibitionist -power mad. The 1st is sidelined and mocked, while the 2nd dominates media for months.

Meredith NYC said... said "from Canada where coming good news can be held up as an example to follow". We could all use some good news from Canada as an example, where it exists, so any posts would be interesting. We get so little in the news on positive examples from elsewhere.

Pearl said...

On October 11 we are having a national election for Prime Minister and it is highly likely that the New Democratic Party (democratic socialistic one) will likely win. Mr. Mulcair the leader of the NDP has a similar agenda in mind like Bernie Sanders although not as desperate a situation as in the U.S. However, it was headed that way under 9 years of Harper of the Conservatives.
All due to voter anger and dissatisfaction for a long while. Although I can't vote here I do belong to that party and it will be an exciting event when it occurs. One issue that will be faced is bringing home Canadian soldiers stationed in Iraq.

Another good thing happened today in California when it passed the end of life choice law (Death with dignity)by allowing terminally ill people to have the choice of ending their life when they so choose. This is now legal in Canada this past year which is a weight off my shoulders at my age and I think Canada may be influencing other states in the U.S to follow suit.

Pearl said...


And Marx had it right as he predicted the present scenario in the U.S. Mr. Horowitz.

Mark Portier said...

Carolyn Ryan deserves to be fired over the Times' internal investigation of the Sanders coverage -- and her outrageous response to these findings. I don't expect that she will be. If anything, we'll probably see the reader comments section disappear from any articles having to do with Sanders or Clinton. Sanders is now leading the polls in New Hampshire and Iowa without the nation's so-called newspaper of record reporting on his rallies or his platform.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Repeat after me: "The New York Times that once was is no more." No, slower and repeatedly till it sinks in a little deeper.

Haven't we all been saying that in one way or another for years? Something like the turnaround of mind we went through with Obama & Co. If you can see through an empty suit, surely you can see through a propaganda sheet.

At one time the NYT may have served as the gold standard in the American press. Liberals may have counted upon it to do the decent thing, once in a while. That's all in the past. Body snatchers are now in possession of the old Gray Lady. The richest man in the world, Carlos Slim, owns a big chunk of the Times. Knowing that, what do you expect? Slim is not one of Ralph Nader's nice billionaires with a conscience who's just itching to act with sixteen other rich guys to rescue the globe. On the other hand, you can see that Carolyn Ryan has been trotted out (she likes equine metaphors) on command to convince us we're hallucinating, we're mistaken, we're poor in countless ways and should therefore keep still.

Don't despair. The news and views worth a hard look may no longer be found in one place, but they're out there in the blog rolls of sites like this one. It'll take a bit more time and independent thought to understand what's happening. However, independent search and slow deliberation over reports from disparate sources may turn out to be a superior habit of mind than was sucking up the old full-service NY Times at its best.

Given what the Times has become (and keeping in mind what Einstein said about insanity), you are hallucinating, you are mistaken, you are poor if you keep returning to the Times in expectation of a different outcome.

Meredith NYC said...

Pearl.....good for NDP, I will be watching. Seems the Canadians have a way to redress their problems in their political system, which we lack---and the Sanders situation is proof. How does Canada's campaign financing compare to ours---billionaire/corporations, public funds, or combo? What are limits on private donations?

Thanks for telling us of Cal end of life choice act...i'm going to look that up.

Mark Porter......
exactly what I was thinking...Ryan should be fired...this whole thing reflects so badly on the Times. I'd think the comments will continue as usual, and the Times will have to put up with it or look even worse. But the comments do draw readers and subscriptions---even more than the articles, maybe, as they're usually more interesting and truthful.

Pearl said...

Jay: I agree with your analysis but reading the angry responses of former supporters of the paper and the democratic party makes me happy and anyone else reading the paper will be affected by those numerous and livid responses and hopefully help change their minds about whom to vote for. It is also fun to send in comments and see them agreeing with other readers and it helps get a proper idea of where the honest democrats are thinking and heading now.
The Washington Post seems to be doing a better job but you can't read anything without subscribing to the paper. At least they are quoted on the google headlines and they are exposing Hillary very well.
The only way to get to the truth is Truthout, Truthdig, Counterpunch, news from other parts of the world and other similar sites, but I find the articles so depressing that I can only read a few of them at a time.
The NYTimes has interesting health and science reports, some book reviews and human interest stories like the migrant situation pretty well covered. But I am not supporting them by subscribing. And occasionally an article by a guest will be a shocking breath of fresh air. Those are the ones that stay on the front page for a short time and then disappear somewhere.
Some of the best columns by Karen are inspired by an article in the Times which piece often represents the thinking of other major press papers and ignites the fire in her belly at some odd hour of the day or night. I can see her piling up books and articles from her library corner, and getting ferociously to work. Thank you Karen. So the Times serves a purpose.

Meredith NYC said...

off topic.....A prize quote of the week
Re false arrest of Tennis star James Blake outside the 42 st Hyatt Hotel --- from ny police commish:

“Mr. Bratton, speaking at the news conference earlier in the day, was unequivocal in denying that race had played a role, saying, “I don’t believe at all that race was a factor.””

Imagine being knocked to the ground by a cop in plain clothes, not identifying himself? Could easily have been another tragedy.

Meredith NYC said...

Re above post.... police commish Bratton cannot admit any racial bias motivating cops actions, no matter how blatant.
The NY Times editors cannot admit any anti Sanders---pro corporate, pro powers-that-be bias, no matter how obvious.

Mark Portier said...

Another hatchet job. Blow writes as if Sanders hasn't devoted his entire political career to the kind of economic and social issues that most benefit minorities, as he draws liberally from the Times' style book to marginalize both Sanders ("quixotic") and Cornel West ("petulant"). I feel like Winston Smith.

Mark Portier said...

Contrast Blow's column (centered around Sanders' campaign appearance in South Carolina) with the Washington Post's coverage of that same event. I understand that one is opinion and other news. See for yourself the difference between the two:

URL said...

Mark: thank you for the Washington post coverage as opposed to Blow's. Amazing. The Washington Post has been much more honest in reporting events and I may think about getting a subscription to follow their articles now and in the future. Who is responsible at the Post for this?

Pearl said...

The above is from Pearl not URL

Pearl said...

I just signed up for being able to read the Washington Post. I evidently had signed up some time back so it took no time to register. Already, I saw interesting articles on Bernie, etc. and it is easier to read the paper. I can alert you to anything interesting now for comparison.

99 cents for 4 weeks and then $9.99 per month and one can cancel at any time.

Cirze said...

I've been writing about the Times' paid liars since Judy Miller parted from the crowd and won the Olympics medal for reporting on how easy a victory Iraq was going to be.

The Washington Post only seems a more trusted avenue for information until you realize that their coverage is also acutely slanted to the interests of their owners and the rest of the .01%, who include Amazon's slick non-taxpaying owner.

Keep on keeping on.

Love you guys!