The New York Times’ editorial writers — who reflect the opinions of the newspaper’s publisher and principal owner, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., who hires and fires them — have their knickers in a knot over Sheldon Adelson. What has the Las Vegas hotel-and-casino tycoon done? The Times asserts that he is spending his money “to advance his personal, ideological and financial agenda, which is wildly at odds with the nation’s needs.”
Readers of the Times are expected to take it on faith that Mr. Sulzberger, who came by his status through inheritance, accurately perceives the nation’s needs, and that Mr. Adelson, who over the course of his 77 years rose from dire poverty to fabulous wealth by building businesses, has not a clue.
Full disclosure No. 1: I spent some of the best years of my life working for the Times, as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor. Then, as now, some of the world’s finest journalists were employed by the Grey Lady. One thing they have had in common: They do not draw conclusions and level charges except on the basis of solid evidence. By contrast, the Times’ editorial writers no longer burden themselves with serious argumentation. They assert, they preach, they allege. I have heard Times reporters grumble about this — though not on the record.
Full disclosure No. 2: I know Mr. Adelson and, on occasion, he’s donated funds to the non-partisan, non-profit organization I head to support work on national-security issues he views as critically important. But not for that reason do I defend his constitutional right to spend as much of his money as he likes to persuade his fellow Americans that his agenda is preferable to that favored by the Times. I would just as vehemently defend the free-speech rights of George Soros, another multibillionaire who spends lavishly to promote his agenda — an agenda with which the Times largely agrees and I do not. The Times has never criticized Mr. Soros as they have Mr. Adelson. In other words: I am championing a principle without exception; the Times — not so much.
The Times promotes its policy preferences — again, we’re really talking about Mr. Sulzberger’s policy preferences — every day, using ink it buys by the barrel. The Times sees that as part of its mission, correctly. But private citizens are entitled to the same free-speech rights as the media — unless, of course, one embraces as a serious principle what I’ve always assumed the great journalist A. J. Liebling intended as a quip: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” It should not go unobserved that the Times rarely allows opposing views to be aired on its op-ed pages.
Much of the money that Mr. Adelson, Mr. Soros, and others give to political candidates is spent on communications — ads in newspapers (including the Times) and on television and radio. The ads run by the politicians Mr. Adelson is likely to support often rebut the opinions articulated by the Times and other mainstream media, as well as the “public media,” which are subsidized with taxpayer dollars.
Mr. Adelson recently spent more than $20 million to support the presidential candidacy of Newt Gingrich. The Times calls that an attempt to “buy influence” but, more objectively, it was an attempt to persuade voters and, in my view, a net contribution to the national policy debate. Now Mr. Adelson is supporting Mitt Romney. That support, the Times fears, could help push the Republican candidate “over the top in a close race like this year’s.” The Times sees that as unfair. What the Times views as fairer: The Times supporting President Obama and pushing him over the top in a close race like this year’s.
The Times mentions only one substantive issue motivating Mr. Adelson: He is writing “huge checks” because, the Times alleges, of his “disgust for a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, supported by President Obama and most Israelis.” What is the basis for the Times’ use of a loaded word such as “disgust”? Readers are not told. The Times adds only that Mr. Adelson “considers a Palestinian state a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.”
Why in the world might Mr. Adelson think that? Well, there is the fact that Hamas, which rules Gaza, has repeatedly proclaimed that there can be “no solution” to the Palestinian–Israeli conflict “except through jihad,” a religious war through which “Islam will obliterate [Israel] just as it obliterated others before it.”
There is the fact that Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, has banned “all informal meetings between Israelis and Palestinians” because such dialogue promotes “the culture of peace” and is designed to “normalize” relations between Israelis and Palestinians. There is the fact that Palestinian Authority official Adli Sadeq has written in the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, that Israelis “fool themselves, assuming that Fatah accepts them and recognizes the right of their state to exist, and that it is Hamas alone that loathes them and does not recognize the right of this state to exist. They ignore the fact that this state, based on a fabricated [Zionist] enterprise, never had any shred of a right to exist.”
If Times editorial writers have contradictory evidence, reasons to believe that Hamas and Fatah do not see a Palestinian state as “a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” it would be useful for them to present it.
The Times goes on to charge that Mr. Adelson’s “overriding interest is his own wallet. He rails against the president’s ‘socialist-style economy’ and redistribution of wealth, but what he really fears is Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on companies like his that make a huge amount of money overseas.” Think about this for a minute: A man well into his eighth decade worth billions of dollars “fears” a tax increase?
The Times neglects to inform readers that Mr. Adelson does not give away money only to participate in political debates. He also has donated huge amounts for medical research, education, and other philanthropic pursuits. If his “overriding interest” were his wallet, would he do that?
The Times concludes by lamenting that we live in a time when “there are no legal or moral limits” preventing Mr. Adelson from helping “to elect Republicans who promise to keep his billions intact.” Under the moral and legal regime the Times would prefer, newspaper owners, “progressive” politicians, and government bureaucrats would decide how to spend Mr. Adelson’s money — and he would shut the hell up. I leave it for you to ponder whether that agenda would be in line with “the nation’s needs.”
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.