May 29, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

The Times

The old saw says "Let a sleeping dog lie." Right. Still, when there is much at stake it is better to get a newspaper to do it.

Mark Twain

In 1997 I wrote a column about the New York Times ( I didn't think much of that newspaper then, and I think less of it now.

On its masthead it has the phrase "All the news that's fit to print." That phrase is dishonesty personified, just like the advertising slogan of any inferior product. What it should say is that "We publish all of the news that we think is fit to print." That goes not only for the news, but for opinions. As to their editorials, we expect them to be biased.

Times reporter Jayson Blair invented and plagiarized news stories for four years. However, despite the fact that it was known by metropolitan editor Johnathan Landman in 2002, who informed the editors, the paper did not stop it and he was allowed to continue to write fiction masquerading as news, and the Times continued to publish it until this year.

In reporting this fraud, the statement was made that the Times had such a reputation for integrity that no one questioned it. I was not aware that the Times had any such reputation except as stated by themselves. I would not give any more credence to what I read in the Times than I would to what I read in any other reputable newspaper. I take everything that I hear or read with a goodly amount of salt. Of course, I figure that anything published in the National Enquirer is probably not true, while most of what appears in the San Francisco Chronicle or the Washington Post is probably true. But not everything in those papers is true.

I believe that it is no accident that my two favorite national columnists, Molly Ivins and Leonard Pitts, do not write for the Times. Ivins did write for the Times, but they were apparently incompatible, hence a divorce.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, in the introduction to his column on "Political Correctness and the NY Times," states that, "Years ago, I wrote a column using information from the New York Times. The story contained a mistake --a whopper-- which I repeated in my column. When the person involved called to complain, I checked with the lawyers for the Washington Post, fearing a libel suit. Nothing to worry about, I was told. Such was the reputation of the Times for veracity that both law and custom permitted me to use it without further checking."

Cohen attributed the problem that the Times had with Jayson Blair to racial preferences. I consider that to be relatively minor. The problem is the paper itself. I don't think that the Times reputation for veracity has ever been justified. You can't believe something just because it is printed in the Times; neither their ads nor their news stories nor their columnists. I discovered that sixty years ago, and the lack of integrity that I found to be the case then is more true today.

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