Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America


Tuesday, December 14, 2010 Radio Show
H1: Atheist Buses
Prager H1: In Ft. Worth, atheists have taken out “Who Needs God?” bus ads. Their real purpose is to tweak believers. That they do it during the holiday season does not reflect well on them… How can it be constitutional to force people to buy health insurance if they don’t want it?… Dennis talks to John Kindt, professor of legal affairs at the University of Illinois and leading world expert on marine pollution. Professor Kindt explains why the new drilling moratorium is bad policy and will move us further away from energy independence… Christians are leaving the Arab Middle East, the victims of murder and mayhem.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 Radio Show
H2: Gray Lady Down
Prager H2: Dennis talks to William McGowan, former editor at the Washington Monthly and currently a Media Fellow at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center. His new book is Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America… Dennis discusses his new column in which he takes Hollywood screenwriter and Leftist, Aaron Sorkin, to task for his hysterical Huffington Post column on Sarah Palin and her TLC reality show.

McGowan appeared on Prager’s show in 2001 to promote his last book, Coloring the news: how crusading for diversity has corrupted American journalism.

William says this new book — Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America — is a sequel.

William: “This new book goes into the institutional and journalistic dilemmas and blunders and embarrassments that the New York Times has suffered over the past ten years in particular, with a window to the last 20 years, approximately the time that Arthur Sulzberger took over from his father and tried to make the paper over and failed for the most part.”

McGowan is a political independent.

William: “Some dislike the Times because it is left-wing, or perceived as left-wing, because it kowtows to all the sacred cows… Some dislike it for its politics. Others dislike it for its undependable journalism. The New York Times led on the Duke rape case. They persecuted those boys. It ended up that none of it was true. The New York Times did not even apologize. Its execution of journalism was horrible.”

“There was no adult supervision on that particular story. It was spread out across a number of desks. It originated as a story covered by sports reporters. They had a number of stringers in the area filing in. They got some national level reporters down there to cover it as it built as a national story.

“Once it was seen that the Times had seriously run off the rails on the story, they sent down one of their ace investigating reporters, David Barstow, who did a fairly good job sorting things out, but by that time it was clear that these guys had not done what they were alleged to have done. Barstow allowed the dubious local DA, Mike Nifong, to be an anonymous source on one of his stories. That shows a real journalistic sleight of hand that readers were not served by.

“It did not come on as a directive on high. These stories hit a certain sensibility in the news room. It is in the drinking waters. The reporters and editors associated with those kind of stories have this kind of script built into their brain.”

Dennis: “You don’t need a directive?”

William: “You don’t.”

Dennis: “How does the New York Times differ from the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe?”

William: “It is an industry-wide mentality. It is an orthodoxy that dominates newspaper journalism. The New York Times is probably one of the worst.”

Dennis: “There used to be honor in being a reporter. That is no longer considered prestigious. Those who report the news now wish to improve society, not just report the news.”

William: “There’s an activist streak that entered into the newspaper ecology since the 1960s. There’s a counter-cultural activist advocacy streak to make society better, side with the poor over the rich, and afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. It should not come at the expense of truth.”

“I’ve lectured at Columbia Journalism School and New York University Graduate Journalism School and the Syracuse Newhouse Journalism School and I’ve found an academic PC translated into a Front Page ethos. The professors who can’t do, teach. They bring this sixties partisanship that they set up as the standard for the students to achieve.”

Dennis: “I was incensed at the amount of front page coverage of Abu Ghraib. Something like 30 days in a row. It was obviously disgraceful conduct by some service people, but I found the disproportionate amount of attention to be clearly politically inspired.”

William: “I agree. There were at least 50 or more front page stories in the whole arc of the Abu Ghraib affair. It was considered by many to be the My Lai of our operations in Iraq.

“Interestingly, Seymour Hersh, who as a younger reporter, broke the story of My Lai, said on the record that My Lai and Abu Ghraib were apples and oranges. That Abu Ghraib did not hold a candle to My Lai.”

Dennis: “Of course. Nobody was killed.”

William: “This was an exceptional and resonant thing. This is where the Times editors and reporters, schooled in this deconstructionist rhetoric and semiotics where symbols get elevated over facts, this is where they really go to town. The idea that Abu Ghraib would become a metaphor for the war was a false one.”

“It was used by the New York Times to impeach the moral legitimacy of that war.”

Dennis: “I’ve been on the radio for 28 years. It used to be that when I would cite the New York Times, it was the paper of record. During the course of my career, whether I cite the New York Times or the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette makes no difference to my listeners.”

William: “That is unfortunate. We do need a newspaper of record. Unfortunately, the New York Times has lost that status. Our public debates and our civic culture suffer because of that.”

“I outline in my book the Times’ program for recovery dating back to the Jason Blair plagiarism scandal of 2003. I examine all the initiatives it embraced as part of that recovery program and it comes down to an addict pledging sobriety but falling off the wagon with great regularity. They are not following up on their reforms.”

Dennis: “I think it is a net gain for the country that whatever newspaper I cite has the same prestige as the New York Times. I believe news stories published in the New York Times. They don’t get their facts wrong. They just line them up in an obvious direction. For facts, I am just as happy to go to Seattle or the Denver Post, who also have liberal tendencies.”

“If I now say I have on the line a professor from Arizona State or a professor from Yale, the professor from Yale has a little more prestige but I don’t think the average listener gives a hoot.”

William: “It’s not just the way the New York Times lines up the facts, it is the calculated omission of certain facts. It is the calculated avoidance of certain stories. You have a lot of stories that the New York Times doesn’t go near. It is expressing its politics through the avoidance of those stories. Take the Reverend Wright connection to Obama. It did a couple of stories on that early in the Obama campaign, even before he declared his official candidacy, then it dropped it. It didn’t think it was important.

“Then ABC News came out with the tapes showing Reverend Wright saying ‘Goddamn America’ and all these other things. Then it became a story they had to pay attention to but they avoided certain facts that would’ve made it more incriminating.

“Same with Obama’s relationship with the former terrorist Bill Ayers. Didn’t do that story. When they did, they made it sound like David Axelrod said, it is just a casual relationship. They’re on the board of the same philanthropy. Their kids know each other from the neighborhood. But the relationship went much deeper than that.”

Dennis: “For this show, we rely on the British press for almost all of our reporting on skepticism vis-a-vis the Global Warming scare. You get none of it from the American newspapers.”

William says the Times is anti-Israel. “The Times was right to report on the sexual abuse scandals affecting the Catholic church. I also know the New York Times got it wrong when it blamed it on things like celibacy and the lack of women in the church. I agree with William Donohue that it doesn’t have a pedophilia problem. It has a homosexual problem. Most of the people who get abused in these situations are post-pubescent teenage boys. Pedophilia applies to children, not 13 and 14-year old men. This is where the Times was completely off. It did feed into a latent anti-Catholicism. By calling it pedophilia, it was a deeper and darker thing, as opposed to some kind of mutual experimentation by two possibly homosexual-leaning partners.

“This should fit into the larger frame of the New York Times being an organization that celebrates the transgressive over the traditional. They seem to think it is their journalistic duty to look at traditional America and to try to knock it down and deconstruct it, whether that is a religious tradition or whether it is a social tradition like the nuclear family. They just seem to have it in for these things. It stems from this counter-cultural knee jerk oppositional thing.”

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Dennis Prager writes:

On CNN recently, Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network,” “West Wing”) called Sarah Palin an “idiot.”

Let’s see to whom that label applies.

Last week in the Huffington Post, Sorkin wrote a column attacking the ex-governor of Alaska and her TLC mini-series reality TV show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.”

Sorkin opened with a quote from Palin on the hypocrisy of meat-eaters who condemn hunting for food. He then proceeded with this response:

“You’re right, Sarah, we’ll all just go f— ourselves now.”

That non sequitur was the high point of Sorkin’s column. (Also, as I noted in my last column on the Grammy Awards nominees for Record of the Year, while most people use expletives in private conversation or in a rare uncontrolled outburst, the Hollywood and art-world left uses expletives in public discourse and in writing as a matter of course.)

Sorkin was furious that the documentary showed Palin hunting and killing a caribou. Although she made it clear that she intended to eat the animal, according to Sorkin she had committed an act of murder and torture. To quote Sorkin:

“I don’t relish the idea of torturing animals.”

“I don’t watch snuff films and you (Palin) make them.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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