So the New York Times’s company spokesman–I mean, “public editor”–Clark Hoyt attacks Ed Whelan for criticizing one the newspaper’s reporters. Then Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick attack the Times for even mentioning Whelan’s criticism. (Whelan is an un-person! He does not exist! Pay no attention to that Whelan! Shoot, we said his name. . .) But Whelan is the one doing the “bullying,” if we’re to believe Hoyt.
Whelan has responded to Hoyt in Bench Memos and to Bazelon and Lithwick in an NRO article. Let me just make two brief comments about the language being used in this dispute. Whelan had commented about Times reporter Linda Greenhouse’s coverage of a case in which her husband filed an amicus brief. He wrote that “it would be impossible to separate any such bias”–any bias in favor of her husband’s side of the argument–”from the broader political bias that pervades so much of Greenhouse’s reporting.” Hoyt, Bazelon, and Lithwick say that Whelan’s words were “slippery innuendo.” They deny that Greenhouse’s coverage was at all biased.
Leave aside whether they’re right on that point, although Peter Berkowitz makes a good case that they’re wrong. Whelan’s contained a straightforward accusation: that a pervasive bias marks Greenhouse’s work. What’s slippery about that? Bazelon and Lithwick say that Whelan has “slimed” them in the past. What they appear to mean is that he has criticized them, and pointed out their inaccuracies, when they went after, e.g., Samuel Alito. You could just as easily say that they “slimed” Alito. And since Whelan’s criticism of them has gone unrefuted, their criticism of him meets the definition of “slippery innuendo” better than anything he has said.
One more thing. Why do Bazelon and Lithwick imagine that conservatives pick on Greenhouse? She is, on their telling, a terrific and unbiased reporter. (When she called Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas “the Court’s far right,” for example, that was just straight news reporting.) Perhaps, in their view, that is what conservatives dislike about her: They want someone to slant the news their way. But if that were the case, wouldn’t there be liberals who attacked her for not being left enough? Yet somehow that almost never happens: Liberals seem happy enough with her work. Is their theory that conservatives are just less fair-minded and more paranoid than liberals? That’s quite a defense: We’re not biased against you; you’re just lunatics.