Politics & Policy

When It Raines, It Pours?

The embattled New York Times may be getting the message.

The Krugman Truth Squad is going to talk about more than Paul Krugman today, even though his op-ed in this morning’s New York Times offers more than the usual number of juicy opportunities for hilarious lie-busting.

As you know, there’s been a key development in the battle against liberal bias in the media — what I call “the conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid.” The conspiracy was dealt a severe blow Thursday when Howell Raines resigned from the Times. (Raines, the paper’s executive editor, was the man who hired Paul Krugman in the first place.)

The proximate cause of Raines’s resignation — and that of managing editor Gerald Boyd — is the Jayson Blair scandal. But there are deeper reasons that had been developing below the surface ever since Raines took the helm twenty months ago.

One is Raines’s autocratic and divisive management style, which the Times itself admitted in its own coverage of the fallout:

… some of the newspaper’s reporters and editors said they told [Times publisher] Mr. Sulzberger that the newsroom’s disaffection with Mr. Raines was so deep as to be most likely irreparable … “The morale of the newsroom is critical,” Mr. Sulzberger said earlier yesterday. The ability of reporters and editors “to perform depends on their feeling they are being treated in a collaborative and collegial fashion.”

Bully for the Times for going beyond the superficial excuse of the Blair scandal. But of course, there’s something else at work here — something that the Times is not yet prepared to admit. Raines had to step down because the Times’s relentless and reckless ultra-left wing agenda was destroying the world’s greatest newspaper franchise.

Raines was the instrument of the destruction, with his rogues gallery of radical liberal op-ed screedsters and his capricious and exploitive “flood the zone” campaigns against Enron, Augusta, the war in Iraq, the peace in Iraq, Bush’s tax cuts, and all the rest.

But Raines is not, ultimately, to blame. He is no more than the creature of publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. — the scion of the family dynasty that owns the Times who elevated Raines first to editorial-page editor in 1992 and then to executive editor in 2001, specifically because of his sympathy with Sulzberger’s leftist viewpoints (according to Ken Auletta’s 2002 New Yorker portrait of Raines). Sulzberger’s liberal views extended not just to editorial positioning, but to the very mission and managerial style of the New York Times Company itself, of which he is chairman.

Arthur Silber, of the Light of Reason blog, points us to the “mission statement” that appears as the last sentence of the boilerplate paragraph at the bottom of every Times Co. press release. It’s on the release announcing Raines’s resignation. It has appeared on every press release since at least early 1999, long before Raines was named executive editor. It reads:

The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.

Consider all that is revealed in just 18 remarkable words. First, the “core purpose” to “enhance society.” Perhaps such a thing would be a worthy goal for the Ford Foundation, but the shareholders of this for-profit corporation should be quite concerned by this apparent elevation of utopianism above earnings. It’s especially ironic coming from a newspaper where a business columnist — Gretchen Morgenson — regularly lacerates “greedy” CEO’s for not putting their shareholders first.

To “enhance society,” Sulzberger officiated over an aggressive affirmative-action program that first elevated and then protected Jayson Blair — a mistake that has forever tarnished the 152-year old newspaper’s brand image. But the “enhance society” end justifies even Blair’s fraudulent means. After all, the mission statement specifically calls for “creating” news. And isn’t that exactly what Blair did?

“Enhancing society” is exactly the kind of thing that Paul Krugman believes “plutocrats” — especially inheritors like Sulzberger — should be doing. Krugman wrote last year,

The influential dynasties of the 20th century, like the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and, yes, the Sulzbergers, faced a public suspicious of inherited position; they overcame that suspicion by demonstrating a strong sense of noblesse oblige, justifying their existence by standing for high principles.

It’s chilling to imagine someone like Krugman sitting in judgment of what is required for people to “justify their existence.” (One immediately has visions of Robespierre and the guillotine.) Yet this is exactly the judgment that Sulzberger submitted himself to. But he’s wising up — and just in time, before the dollars-and-cents judgment of the Sulzberger dynasty decides it’s “off with his head.”

Other newspapers are getting the message, too. Two weeks ago, John Carroll, the editor of the ultra-liberal Los Angeles Times, sent a memo to staff forcefully forbidding liberal bias in news stories. Carroll wrote with astonishing candor,

I’m concerned about the perception and the occasional reality that The Times is a liberal, politically correct newspaper … The reason I’m sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage. We may happen to live in a political atmosphere, Los Angeles, that is suffused with liberal values, but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of The Times.

So, Raines is out. Retired executive editor Joseph Lelyveld has come back on an interim basis to manage a transition to new leadership. What happens to Krugman and the rest of the Howell Raines Menagerie?

My guess is that nothing happens, immediately. And I suspect Krugman will get away with his misinformation campaigns for a good while longer, as the Times will no doubt wish to focus its reform effort where it will count the most — the news. We will see the paper’s “core purpose” return to reporting the news, rather than “creating” it. The spin will be that the editorial pages are just opinion, so they’re fine as they are. There will be change there — a key “retirement” here, a new and more moderate voice there. Maybe there will be some new source-citing requirements and fact-checking guidelines. All to the good.

But at least for the near term, if I know Krugman, he’ll turn up the volume on his ultra-liberal ranting and raving, just to show that he has nothing to apologize for and nothing to fear. But don’t worry — Raines or no Raines, the Krugman Truth Squad remains on active duty.


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