- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

With the recent announcement of another round of Pulitzer Prizes comes yet another discussion of the merits of the newspapers that win them. The acknowledged leader among them, the New York Times, has won 81 to date.

The paper won two Pulitzers this year: One for beat reporting on loopholes and inequities in the U.S. tax code and one for national reporting for a series on race in America.

At the same time, the newspapers motto, “All the News Thats Fit to Print,” has become a point of contention over what “fit” really is.

The Times dominant position in the American marketplace is evidenced by its 1 million weekday and 1.7 million Sunday circulation. Once declared by Newsweek to be printed on “sacred parchment,” it has about three dozen more Pulitzers than any other newspaper. Bolstered by 1,000 reporters and editors located in nine national and 29 international bureaus, the papers performance has nevertheless spawned critical columns, books and even a Web site.

The latest critique comes from William Proctor, a former New York Daily News reporter, in his recent book “The Gospel According to The New York Times.”

“Youre basically looking at the Bible,” says Mr. Proctor, who wrote for the Daily News in the early 1970s. “Its the most significant reporter of events in our culture.”

As he competed with the Times reporters almost 30 years ago, “I came to really respect them and liked what they were doing. In the later 80s and early 90s, that changed. I was noticing a lot of editorializing, a stacking of facts, that appeared to be pushing a point.”

He began a study of the Times values and world view, to “reveal the issues and beliefs that its own editors, management, and reporters regard as most important.”

Others noticed a change in the Times as well.

“I started noticing in the early- to mid-90s there was a problem,” says Ira Stoll, editor of www.smartertimes.com, a Web site “dedicated to the proposition that New Yorks dominant daily has grown complacent, slow and inaccurate.” Each day it publishes a critique of the newspapers coverage.

Why the shift?

“The Times sees itself more as an agent for social change and an advocate of good causes,” says John Corry in “My Times: Adventures in the News Trade,” published in December 1993. Mr. Corry spent 31 years working his way up from copy boy to columnist and critic at the Times, during which time women were introduced to the newsroom.

Mr. Proctor calls such advocacy “culture creep” — a way of propelling the reader toward a certain worldview through headlines, pictures, strategic selection of facts, and prominent placing. His book analyzes more than 6,000 Times articles from the mid-1970s to 1999, from which he picked seven “deadly sins” he says the Times pushes against. They include religious certainty, conservatism, capital punishment, broken public trust, the Second Amendment, censorship and limitations on abortion.

The Times will “bombard the public with one particular view,” Mr. Proctor says. For instance, when James C. Kopp was recently arrested in France on charges of the 1998 murder of Buffalo, N.Y., abortionist Barnett Slepian, the New York Times put the story atop its front page. Such placement was noted by other observers.

“Inside was a ‘defending abortion rights editorial,” noted pro-life activist Steven Ertelt on the prolifeinfo.org Web site, “and should there be any doubt where the Times stands on this issue (how could there be?), the paper published an op-ed piece by the director of the Boulder (Colo.) Abortion Clinic, who said he received the news of Kopps arrest ‘just as I finished performing an abortion for the last patient of the morning. ”

The Times Washington bureau demurred from commenting on its critics, passing all inquiries to its New York-based spokeswoman, Kathy Park. Even though changes have occurred since 1992, “The newspapers mission hasnt,” she says.

“We believe our news coverage is scrupulously impartial. Clearly we would not risk our journalistic reputation — and our usefulness to concerned readers — by tolerating departures from neutrality in the news columns.

“Certainly competition from television news (and now the Web) has led all newspapers, since the 1960s, to strive for broader, richer, more backgrounded approaches to coverage, and to add coverage of trends to the mix.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Proctor is concerned about the direction of the “gray lady,” a Times nickname, because of the newspapers eminent status as a primary source for historians. For instance, the newspaper has crowned Sen. Hillary Clinton “perhaps the most important Democrat in the country.”

He asks, “What are the implications for you when one news media behemoth becomes a virtually infallible cultural bible for movers and shakers on the national and international scene?”

“The arguments presented are likely to seem reasonable. If you havent really thought through the position, you may buy into it. If you are not aware of what you believe on a number of these different issues, or if you dont have strong beliefs, then it is likely that the mass media will do your thinking for you.”

Critics point to the ascendancy of Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who became publisher in January 1992, as the turning point for the newspapers seeming shift to the left.

Hilton Kramer, a former chief art critic for the Times, has gone so far as to call Mr. Sulzberger a “gravedigger” for the paper, saying the publisher has made the venerable newspaper into an organ for political correctness.

“It matters less what the Times says about a subject than the amount of attention they give to it,” says Mr. Kramer, now editor of the New Criterion magazine. “Its the scale of coverage that the Times gives to subjects that counts more than the content.”

Mr. Kramer critiqued the Times himself through Timeswatch, a column that ran in the New York Post from 1993 to 1997. The Times, he says, “has more effect on the public through other media than they do directly.”

“Im not so much concerned about the Times as an organization,” says Rich Noyes, director of media analysis for the Media Research Center. “Its organizations such as CBS, ABC and NBC who seem to cede most of their decision-making over to the Times editors.

“What has happened in the past 20 years is that they have become so conscious of their role and of their effect on other media that they sometimes promote boutique liberal stories that probably wouldnt ordinarily merit normal news coverage.

“These are stories that probably dont belong on the front page of a newspaper that calls itself the ‘paper of record, ” Mr. Noyes said.

In a recent column in this newspaper, comedian Jackie Mason and attorney Raoul Felder charged that “the Times promotes its own agenda, and disguises it as news.

“The New York Times is considered by the world to be a paragon of intellectual thought and commentary,” they wrote, “but is never interested in reporting ‘all the news thats fit to print. ”

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