Gray Lady struggles to get its story straight

NYT Banner YearOkay, let’s recap this Linda “I am the Alpha and Omega of all things factual” Greenhouse story.

When it broke in late September that New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse gave a speech that sounded more appropriate for a MoveOn organizer than a respected reporter, I wrote about the unfortunate response given by Jack Nelson, former Washington bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. He said he would defend a reporter expressing personal opinions unless those opinions supported President Bush. And I wondered whether the Times would take any action against Greenhouse.

On Oct. 1 I voiced my support for reporters being transparent with their biases but asked whether the stunning lack of diversity in newsrooms hampered efforts to write more fairly about abortion and other conentious issues.

On Oct. 10 I looked at the public editor’s treatment of the story where Greenhouse said her opinions were statements of fact. That’s right, statements of fact.

And on Oct. 18 I highlighted what Greenhouse’s “facts” would have looked like from an alternative perspective.

Which brings us to today’s update. Craig Whitney, the assistant managing editor overseeing journalistic standards at the Times, answered reader questions this week. One of them, excerpted here, relates to the Greenhouse brouhaha (emphasis mine):

Q. . . . Is there some way to adjust NY Times policy so that a reporter of Ms. Greenhouse’s standing can give opinions to an audience as long as they are labeled opinions? It is a shame for us to [lose] out on some of the deeper reflections we can get from this.

A. It is simply fatuous, I think there is no other word for it, to expect intelligent and conscientious reporters on any subject they’ve covered as seriously as Linda Greenhouse has covered as well as the Supreme Court to have no opinions about the issues that come before it. The requirement of fair and balanced journalism is that they keep those opinions out of the news articles they write — to step back, not imposing their views, and, even in a news analysis, to give readers enough factual information to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with the reporter’s view. . . .

Linda Greenhouse has faced, for one paragraph in a very thoughtful and stimulating speech that she thought she was giving to a closed audience, attacks on her integrity that she could have avoided if she had been more reticent about what she thought. And she should have been. But her critics should be honest — would they really rather have a dope who didn’t know what she thought about the current big issues before the Supreme Court? Or only someone who agreed with their own views, whatever they are? Shame on them, if they would.

Now if Greenhouse thought it was a closed audience, why did she tell NPR the following?

“I said what I said in a public place. Let the chips fall where they may.”

And if Craig Whitney calls Greenhouse’s liberal views “opinions” and the reader asking him the question calls them “opinions” and, for that matter, anyone with an understanding of the definition of the word “opinion” calls them “opinions” … then why in the heck has no one at the Times dealt with Greenhouse’s contention that her liberal views were anything but personal opinions?

She told the public editor at the Times that she considered her opinionated rant to be facts — facts that could be in any news story.

So which is it — was Greenhouse giving her opinions or offering facts? How hard should it be for the Times to pick one response and stick to it?

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  • Joel

    Why would it be OK if the speech was to a “closed audience.” Does that mean it’s OK for a reporter to say “I’m slanting the news to advance our cause” as long as the other side doesn’t hear about it?

    As Mollie as pointed repeatedly, it’s troubling that someone as smart as Greenhouse can’t tell the difference between her opinions and real facts (like Brown v. Board of Education was argued on December 9, 1952). This is evidence of a pretty deep-seated bias.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Maybe the problem at the NY Times (and many other big mainstream media outlets) is not so much pervasive liberal bias but liberal bias with a total lack of integrity leading to a corruption of how the news is presented –and above all–what news stories to splash and emphasize or deep-six and bury. That certainly seems to be the case based on the FACTS presented
    here wherein the mainstream media’s practitioners and apologists keep tripping over each others vocabulary making each look like lieing phonies.

  • Larry Rasczak

    Interesting case of bias happened here in Houston a few weeks ago.

    Luis Palau had “Cityfest Houston”. I didn’t go but apparently almost a quarter of a million other folks did.

    Now, if a quarter of a million people turned out for a Gay Marriage Rally, the NYT would be on it like stink on a skunk.

    If a quarter of a million people turned out for a two day Cindy Sheehan/Michale Moore Anti-War Rally the NYT would have passed out in an fit of pure orgasmic joy, and CNN would have had live gavel to gavel coverage.

    But a quarter of a million people turn out for a CHRISTIAN Rally… well that just isn’t news.

    Which is why you haven’t heard about it.

    Interesting side point, as to why I live in a RED state, and not a Blue one.

    Go to

    Then click on event information, and select SPONSORS from the drop down menu.

    You will see

    The Houston Astros
    The Houston Texans
    The Houston Aeros
    David Weekley Homes
    The Houston Chronicle
    HEB Grocery Stores
    Channel 55 (NOT a Christian TV channel, an independent).
    and a whole mess o’ big EVIL oil companies.

    Now, can anyone here picture

    The New York Yankees,
    The New York Jets
    Much less THE NEW YORK TIMES
    signing up to sponsor something like this?

    I’m reminded of the joke George Will told about the ’72 election, where the New Yorker said “I can’t believe McGovern LOST…. Everyone I know voted for him!!”

    The media bias is so deep they don’t even see that they ARE biased anymore. Everyone they know voted for him.

    Which is why their viewers and readers are declining.

  • Michael

    Why is it bias for a New York paper not to cover an Evangelical crusade/event in Houston? Where’s the news, given Palau has been doing these events for awhile?

  • Larry Rasczak

    “Why is it bias for a New York paper not to cover an Evangelical crusade/event in Houston? Where’s the news, given Palau has been doing these events for awhile? ”

    A good honest question should get a good honest answer.

    So picture this… 225,000 people in Central Park listening to the NARAL gang for two days with music and big festival. Honestly do you think that would get media attention? Heck one thirty-seventh that number got national media attention when they signed a petition saying they didn’t regret their abortions, and nobody even checked to see if all the signatures were valid.

    But lets move from the hypothetical to the concrete.

    When less than 100 people show up at “Camp Casey” in Crawford to worship “Mother Sheehan” THAT makes news! (Well it did till she tried to undercut Diane Fienstien and the DNC by running for a Senate seat from California. Her free publicity dried up faster than a puddle in Tucson in August once she tried that…. but I digress). So anti-war people in a tiny town in Texas are 100,000 times more newsworthy than pro-Jesus people in the biggest city in Texas?

    But like I said, Cindy’s 15 minutes were up the millisecond she crossed the DNC, so lets move past “old news”.

    I Googled “Anti War Rally” and “New York Times”.
    Up came a story by Thom Shanker The New York Times, and an anti-war rally in Korea with 4,500 ” students, civic- group activists and unionists” gets a mention…. So if I did the math right, Koreans who stage leftist a rally are 50 times more newsworthy than Texans who stage Christian rally.

    Here’s an A.P. Story I found…

    MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A pint-sized activist gaining some national attention for her anti-war activities staged a protest on her birthday against the Iraq war on the steps of the Alabama Capitol.

    Celebrating her 16th birthday, Ava Lowery called Saturday’s protest “Sixteen Candles for Soldiers.”

    “This is both to show our support for the troops and to demand answers” about the war, said Lowery, who lives in the Auburn area. “We’re demanding the truth.”

    Lowery’s 4-year-old twin sisters carried signs, one saying President Bush needs a “time-out.” The other said the president “stinks.”

    Lowery’s protests have drawn the attention of CNN, the New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.

    She said she started planning her 16th birthday party like any teenage girl. A big, expensive party like those seen on MTV’s hit show “My Super Sweet 16″ didn’t seem to fit, she said.

    “You see them having these lavish parties,” Lowery said of the show. “I don’t see the point in that.”

    With some help from her parents, Lowery planned a protest. She and her friends handed out fliers at Auburn University and sent out mass e-mail messages to peace organizations to recruit guests.

    So three girls in Montgomery Alabama that stage an anti-Bush rally is, apparently news, but almost a quarter of a million people going to rally for Christ is’nt?

    That means Alabaman Girls are 75,000 times as newsworthy as Texans? Gee, I was unaware the NYT and CNN were so devoted to the Yellowhammer state. Must be part of their readers longstanding devotion to and admiration of all things Southern.

    Me, I smell bias. Probably not deliberate, but bias none the less.

    Christians simply aren’t “real news.” I mean who knows any Christians anymore? “Sunday was made for the New York Times”. Anyone who’s anyone knows that… and those other people who live in “flyover country” and do wacky things like go to Church… well they simply aren’t important and “aren’t news”.

    And the fact that the NYT is loosing readers (and its stockholders are loosing money) at an ever increasing rate has NOTHING to do with any of this….

  • Michael

    The bigger bias question is whether the Houston Chronicle should be sponsoring a controversial evangelist’s revival? Can they really report objectively on an event they are sponsoring? Is it a newspaper’s role to sponsor events that involve stealth evangelism? Can you imagine them sponsoring a similar event held by Muslims? or the Scientologists? Or a mass marriage by the Unification Church? (well, the Washington Times would sponsor that :) )

  • Chris Bolinger

    No, Michael, that’s not the bigger bias question. It’s simply the fabricated bias question with which you would prefer to deal instead of the well-articulated and well-supported bias question that has been presented in this and other posts. The press doesn’t get religion, and you (apparently) don’t get the fact that the NY Times is willfully and happily biased.

  • Michael

    Chris, I was actually responding to Larry’s allegation of bias in not covering a story in Houston.

    The NYT has a perception of bias problem, I don’t disagree, and Greenhouse complicates it. Still seems significant that no one can point to ACTUAL bias in her work (and Brent Bozell and AIM don’t really count since they could see bias in papers wrapped in blue plastic.) Even the alleged Greenhouse effect on the Supreme Court is seen as more a “the NYT is liberal” perception then Greenhouse actually being biased in her reporting.

  • Larry Rasczak

    “The NYT has a perception of bias problem”

    Michael, that’s sort of like saying “The Lusitania has a perception of a torpedo problem.”

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  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Funny the Times rails against “greenhouse gases” and it’s emitting “Greenhouse Gas” itself!

  • Dee Wingfield

    I was telephone-solicited by a NY Times subscription salesperson, recently. I live in a small town on the Gulf Coast of Florida. I told the person on the phone I had no desire to subscribe. She said, “Well, I realize some people in the South don’t really like to read very often, but perhaps you could just try it and see if you don’t find something that interests you.” LOL Absolutely, Lady, insult my intelligence and expect me to buy something from you. Makes sense to me. “No,” I replied. “Quite contrary to your insinuation, I am not illiterate, nor am I uninterested in news. I simply find that the NY Times is biased and unfactual. Please put me on your list of people who do not wish to subscribe to your newspaper.” I’m guessing that this salesperson was quite representative of the entire NY Times organization. They believe they are superior and are performing a public service by attempting to enlighten the uninformed masses.