By Greg Mitchell
- The scoop about the domestic spying program should stay in the spotlight, but instead the newspaper itself is becoming the story.
Editor & Publisher Dec. 20 — The New York Times can’t seem to win for losing. It scores its biggest scoop of the year, with its domestic spying revelations, and wins wide praise. At the same time it gets hammered from left, right and even some in the middle for holding the story for a year, and then belatedly timing publication either to the Patriot Act debate and/or an upcoming book — and being less than transparent about the whole kit and caboodle.
Will Bunch, the Philadelphia Daily News reporter and blogger, said it best today with this simple question: “Is there a word in the English language that means ‘stunned’ and ‘not stunned’ at the same time?”
He could have been referring to the “what’s next?” element of this, after the Times‘ bungling of WMDs, the Judith Miller matter and, among other things, the recent Ken Auletta piece about the newspaper’s publisher in The New Yorker. What Bunch actually meant was that he had predicted days ago that it would soon emerge that the Times had the spy piece before the November 2004 election and failed to run it, costing John Kerry the presidency. This morning, of course, the Los Angeles Times cited two sources inside the Times confirming that indeed a “debate” about running the piece pre-election did indeed take place.
Also in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category we have Matt Drudge wildly alleging within minutes of the story breaking last week that it was somehow tied to publication of a book by one of the co-authors, James Risen, next month. Fat chance! The L.A. Times, citing the same inside sources, also confirmed that allegation today, saying it was at least part of the reason the Times finally acted now. The Times still denies this.
Adding to the bizarre picture, we have Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, and not someone at the Times, recounting the summoning of the Times‘ publisher and executive editor to the Oval Office by President Bush on Dec. 6 in a final attempt to forestall the much-delayed but now on-track story. True? The Times has not yet confirmed, but then it has said little overall about the delay-then-publish angle.
More below the fold »»
NEW YORK (Hard Times) Dec. 25 — New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who famously got punched in the eye by a bicycle messenger in 2002, gets another shiner in the new issue of The New Yorker.
In a must-read profile for media soothsayers, writer Ken Auletta raises the question of whether Pinch Sulzberger can survive journalistic embarrassments and shrinking profits.
Auletta quotes a “family friend” asking, “Is Arthur going to get fired?” Though Auletta notes that The Times remains arguably “the world’s finest newspaper,” and the only one that generates more than $1 billion a year in advertising, he contends: “Within the newsroom, there is a sense of rudderlessness and a fear that a series of business misjudgments may so weaken the company’s finances that the brilliance of The Times … will be at serious risk.”
5. Behind the Scenes at The New York Times
A toy moose … a vomiting dog … a sagging stock price … two huge reporting scandals – these have been difficult times for the New York Times.
In an exhaustive article in The New Yorker magazine, longtime media insider Ken Auletta raises questions about the reign of Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., whose family has controlled the newspaper since 1896.
Auletta quotes Gay Talese, author of “The Kingdom and the Power,” the definitive history of the Old Gray Lady, regarding Sulzberger, 54, who succeeded his father Arthur (Punch) Sulzberger as publisher in 1992:
- “You get a bad king every once in a while.”
The New York Times Company’s stock fell 33.2 percent between the end of 2004 and this past October 31, and twice in the past three years the paper has been forced to admit to running bogus stories.
In 2003, reporter Jason Blair and executive editor Howell Raines were fired after it was revealed that Blair had fabricated stories.
The New Yorker by Ken Auletta
Sulzberger can be just as passionate about journalism and the Times, the newspaper that his family has controlled since 1896. But there his “infectious enthusiasm” sometimes strikes people as immature or sarcastic. Although he occupies perhaps the most august position in the nation’s press establishment, he seems to lack the weighty seriousness of his predecessors, among them Adolph Ochs, the paper’s founder; Orvil Dryfoos; and his father, Arthur (Punch) Sulzberger.
This was evident on the afternoon of September 29th, when the Times reporter Judith Miller was released from a Virginia jail, after being held for eighty-five days because she had refused to name a source. Sulzberger and the paper’s executive editor, Bill Keller, waited outside the prison to greet her, but federal marshals wanted Miller to leave in handcuffs and shackles. Suspecting that photographers were waiting, Miller protested; instead, the marshals put her in the back seat of an SUV with tinted windows.
The SUV was trailed by Miller’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, in one car and Sulzberger and Keller in a second car. When the marshals stopped to let Miller out, Sulzberger told his driver to pull up alongside the SUV He jumped out and, unable to see through the dark glass, excitedly tapped at the back window. “Judy!” he said, “Judy! It’s me!”
“Get away from the vehicle, sir!” a marshal said, according to Miller.
Robert Bennett, a veteran of many of Washington’s largest legal battles, was surprised. “I said to myself, ‘It sure seems odd for the publisher of the New York Times!'”
Miller recalled that she was “thrilled to see him,” and “so relieved it was over.” But, of course, it wasn’t over. Within days, fresh criticism of Miller and her reporting began to build at the Times, and within weeks her estrangement from Sulzberger and the newspaper was complete. And it was far from over for Sulzberger, whose business decisions and editorial judgment have sometimes been questioned by associates almost from the time that he took over from his father. Gay Talese, who, in the sixties, wrote the definitive history of the Times, “The Kingdom and the Power,” says, “You get a bad king every once in a while.”
“Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
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