Accuracy in Media

Following the charge of a military “cover-up” in the Iraqi prisoner story, the Wall Street Journal responded, “Unlike the Catholic bishops, some corporate boards and the editors of the New York Times or USA Today, the military brass did not dismiss early allegations of bad behavior. Instead, it established reviews and procedures that have uncovered the very details that are now used by critics to indict the Pentagon ‘system.’ It has done so, moreover, amid a war against a deadly insurgency in which interrogation to gain good intelligence is critical to victory?and to saving American lives.”

Not only did the Times dismiss early allegations of bad behavior by Jayson Blair, the reporter who was fired for plagiarizing and faking stories, but the Times still has not gotten to the bottom of the scandal.

In an interview with AIM, Blair said he learned his techniques of deception from colleagues at the paper. What’s more, his book alleges that Times journalists wrote stories in exchange for sex and other gifts. We would like to believe these sensational charges are false. We don’t necessarily believe Blair now, after his record of deceit, and we have strongly condemned what he has done. But the allegations won’t go away just by ignoring them. The Times has an obligation to fully investigate them.  

Jayson Blair Lives

At the Times annual meeting on April 13, Cliff Kincaid, editor of the AIM Report, asked chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. whether he had investigated the allegations that Blair makes in his book, Burning Down My Master’s House.

Kincaid told Sulzberger, “He says in his book that at the Times everyone seemed to know about his drinking, even the Metro desk administrator, who was used to signing off on the frequent multi-hundred-dollar tabs from the bars.”

“Life was turning into a big party on the corporate dime,” says Blair. He goes on to say that “public relations executives would provide The Times reporters free theater tickets, free meals and drinks, and sometimes even sex for mentions in the newspaper.”

Kincaid asked Sulzberger, “Now what have you done to get to the bottom of these allegations and resolve them.”

Sulzberger said, “If you choose to believe this gentleman, that’s your problem,” he said. “I do not believe him; he’s a known liar. I believe the standards we have put into place in the newsroom and on the corporate side have strengthened our journalism, strengthened the way we operate, strengthened the way we relate to the outside world. Quite frankly, I am not interested, I am not interested, in what Jayson Blair has to say about anything. If you want to read that book, you go right ahead; but if that man told me it was raining outside today, I probably wouldn’t bring my umbrella. Thank you.”

This is not, however, the attitude of the paper itself, for it published a February 27 news story on Blair’s book.   The story, by Jacques Steinberg, noted that the book contains a revelation about a fabrication “that the newspaper did not discover during an examination last year into his reporting.”

So the Times’ own internal investigation did not reveal all of Blair’s deceptions. 

Blair Still Makes News

Steinberg explained, “In a 625-word article published a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mr. Blair wrote of a day trader named Andrew Rosstein who had fled a brokerage office in tears after experiencing substantial losses.” Blair reveals in the book that he “improvised by creating a last name for him” and this was the first time that he had made something up. He said he made it up because he wanted to get a story into the paper.

The Steinberg story noted that new Times executive editor Bill Keller sent an email to his staff advising them not to take Blair’s book seriously. Clearly, however, Steinberg took it seriously. And, by this account, Blair does have something new and serious to offer.

If the evidence suggests that Blair has turned over a new leaf and is coming clean about his deceptions, his other charges require scrutiny. That is why we asked Sulzberger about them. But he’s not interested.

Favors From Special Interests

The Blair book (page 136) goes into some detail about special interests providing favors to Times reporters in exchange for stories. And he writes that, “Journalists at The Times were considered to have a weak spot for sex?” Blair writes about an executive from an Internet company providing a young blonde woman for his sexual enjoyment. They went to bed and the relationship produced “several mentions” of the Internet company in his stories for the paper.

The Times is in a position to find out if this is true. But Sulzberger has his head in the sand. 

It is tempting to dismiss Blair as a “known liar” who will never tell the truth. But, as we have seen, he did come clean about the “Rosstein” fabrication. Blair says he has emerged from his alcohol and drug problems with a new outlook on life and that he intends to tell the truth about journalistic corruption.  

AIM invited Blair to attend the Times annual meeting. He declined. “I think I would be stoned,” he told us in an interview. He meant that Times brass would pelt him with rocks.

Blair Vs. Duranty

The Blair scandal continues to be worthy of comment and analysis because his treatment stands in contrast to how another lying reporter, Walter Duranty, has been handled. Duranty is the former Times reporter who lied in print about Stalin’s genocide against millions of Ukrainians, known as the Holodomor. However, Duranty won a coveted Pulitzer Prize for the paper. 

Blair writes about this in his own book, noting that he had been compared to Duranty in some of the media coverage. He mentions that there is an asterisk beside Duranty’s name on the Times’ list of Pulitzer Prizes in their Manhattan headquarters. The asterisk is followed by the words, “Other writers in The Times and elsewhere have discredited this coverage.”

While Duranty’s name is still featured as a Pulitzer Prize-winner in the Times headquarters, Sulzberger dismisses Blair, who has cleaned himself up, as a “known liar.”

At the meeting, Marco Supron, the son of a Holodomor survivor, asked Sulzberger and the Times to consider returning the Pulitzer “to atone” for Duranty’s flawed reporting. Sulzberger responded, “The Pulitzer Board spent a year looking into this issue. We left it to them. They made a decision not to take the Pulitzer back and that was their decision?It wasn’t our decision to make.”

The Sulzberger Letter

Kincaid challenged this version of events, noting, “Isn’t it a fact that you wrote the Pulitzer board before they made their decision, saying nothing would be served by revoking the Prize? You put pressure on that board to come to that decision, didn’t you?”

Sulzberger responded: “No, sir. I made my opinion clear; I did not put pressure on that board.”

Kincaid: “But you wrote a letter to that board, didn’t you, exactly the way I described it?”

Sulzberger: “Absolutely. I’m not arguing with your description. I’m arguing with the way you characterize it. Everyone has the right to express an opinion. It was an important subject; I expressed mine. If you recall, at the very end I said, ‘We will happily live with whatever decision you make,’ and I put that in the letter.”

Kincaid replied that while the Times maintains a portrait of Duranty in the Times building, the paper ostracizes Jayson Blair.

Blair, who was hired under an affirmative action program, told AIM that he was not treated like a person at the Times. He says the paper was an “amoral” environment, where he was only judged by how many stories he could produce, and that he is now in a “moral environment” where he has been encouraged to come clean.

“Anti-conservative” Environment

While he found the atmosphere at the paper to be “anti-conservative,” he also found it “anti-minority,” despite the paper’s commitment to “diversity.”

“The Times is oddly a place that’s both anti-minority and anti-conservative at the same time,” he said. He found the paper was permeated by an “elitist secular” attitude. “There are certainly religious people” there, he said, but they try to divorce their religious beliefs from their jobs.

He said the Times newsroom was “a very self-centered, selfish place” and that he found a niche in the “cult of the New York Times” by producing front-page stories. “That’s what is paramount,” Blair said. “Nothing matters more than that. It doesn’t matter what corners are cut or what games are played.”

He added, “All the things I did in terms of fabrication and plagiarism, I wish I could say I was an evil creative genius and I came up with them. But I learned them from my colleagues who were under considerable pressure. When you’re under that kind of pressure, when you’re set against each other, and when you’re in an amoral environment, it becomes easy to lose any bearings. You have to cut corners. And if we can’t be trusted to do our jobs within the building, how can we be trusted to be fair and objective? That’s the real scary part.”        

On the exchange of sex, tickets and other perks for stories, Blair reiterated that “gift-giving” for stories was widespread. He explained, “Every day somebody is getting flowers, candy, tickets or something else at their desk?  There were constantly gifts being given back and forth. There was undue influence?[such as] when I as a Metro reporter got sent to a theater along with senior editors by a developer. These are all real examples.”

If these claims are false, the Times should state so directly. Blair says he’s seen no evidence that this kind of cozy arrangement has ended at the paper.

Raines Still Out-of-Touch

Howell Raines, who resigned as executive editor of the Times in the wake of the Blair scandal, subsequently published a lengthy article in The Atlantic that makes the amazing claim that the paper isn’t liberal enough. He claimed the existence of “a small enclave of neoconservative editors” who would make accusations of political correctness in order to block stories favorable to minority groups. 

Gerald Boyd, the managing editor of the Times who also left in the wake of the scandal, has been signed by Universal Features Syndicate to do a column. The biography posted by Universal mentions that, “Gerald M. Boyd’s remarkable history as a journalist and editor has placed him in many groundbreaking positions” but doesn’t even allude to  his role in the Blair scandal.

Incredibly, Universal advertises the Boyd column as an examination of the news business. “Gerald Boyd’s column will help explain this business, its goals, its imperfections?and its responsibilities,” Universal says. “Whether your paper tries to explain itself to its readers or not, Mr. Boyd’s valuable insights and experience can make your job easier. Think of him as a national ombudsman. When reading Mr. Boyd’s column, they’ll be insiders, along with him.”

The Times scandal will be examined in the new book, Gray Lady Down: Jayson Blair and How the New York Times Lost Touch With America, (Encounter Books) by William McGowan. He also wrote Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism, which analyzed the policies that produced the Blair scandal. 

But not all is lost at the Times.

When Kincaid asked for the Times to devote some attention to the new Jayna Davis book, The Third Terrorist (WND Books), Sulzberger agreed to discuss the matter with executive editor Keller.

The 9-11 commission discussed this alarming new book when commissioner John Lehman asked former FBI Director Louis Freeh about the possible Iraqi/al-Qaeda connection to the Oklahoma City bombing. Lehman said that the startling information contained in The Third Terrorist “begs for further investigation.”

“In the case of Oklahoma City,” Lehman said, “the hypothesis was that there were two Americans and they acted alone. There’s a new book out now, as you probably know, called ‘The Third Terrorist,’ that has new information that begs for further investigation showing the links or purporting very significant links between Terry Nichols and Ramzi Yousef in the Philippines, and also links between the two perpetrators and Hussein al-Husseini, the Iraqi, perhaps, agent.

“Are you satisfied that you ran all of these potential al-Qaeda links to ground with McVeigh and Nichols?”

Freeh Pleads Ignorance

Freeh replied, “Well, other than that book, which I haven’t read, you know, I don’t know any other credible source with respect to that kind of a link. No, I have not run those links myself. I certainly was not aware of them when I was FBI director. I know that there is a review going on with respect to some of the matters that have been raised by his attorney in connection with the state murder prosecution that’s ongoing. I guess I don’t want to say anything with respect to that case as it’s being tried now by a judge and a jury.

“But I don’t know of any connections, except the one you’ve just mentioned, between Ramzi Yousef and that terrorist act.”

Kincaid told Sulzberger that the Times, in a February 29, 2004, story about the Oklahoma City bombing case by Ralph Blumenthal (page 21), noted that “a former television reporter, Jayna Davis, has long maintained that she has uncovered ties between Mr. McVeigh and Mr. Nichols and Iraqi soldiers operating undercover in the United States. She has said she gave the information to the F.B.I. without notable results, calling the reaction a cover-up.”

Ms. Davis worked for a New York Times Company-owned television station in Oklahoma City. She is a natural resource for the Times and yet the one paragraph near the end of the Blumenthal story is the only mention of her work that had appeared in the paper!

A Times reporter, David Rohde, had previously reported evidence that the Oklahoma City plot may have been hatched in Afghanistan. On the November 28, 2001, edition of the PBS NewsHour program, host Ray Suarez asked Rohde about what had been left behind by the retreating Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Rohde said that he found a lab and documents about anthrax and balloons to disperse biological agents. Rohde went on to say, “There was even one notebook that gave the formula for a fertilizer bomb, and written in it was Oklahoma City, and that it was the exact same chemical mix used in the Oklahoma City bombing.” He said much the same thing in a Times article.

In order to carry the story forward and publicize the Davis book, a news conference was scheduled for May 18 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey was among those scheduled to comment on the evidence that Davis has uncovered linking Iraq/al Qaeda to the Oklahoma bombing.    

The press release declared, “The nexus between Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein is forged in the ashes of Oklahoma City.” It asked, “How many more Americans would have been marked for death had the U.S. military not invaded Iraq to overthrow a bloodthirsty broker of terror?” 

The Times is in a perfect position to answer these questions, having employed Davis through a television station affiliate. 

Since the Times annual meeting was held, the paper has taken a new look at dramatic evidence that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry attended a controversial 1971 meeting of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in which participants discussed assassinating members of the U.S. Senate. What’s more, Times reporter David M. Halbfinger confirmed that the Kerry campaign tried to pressure a vet to deny that Kerry attended the meeting.

Kerry’s “Kill for Peace” Group

The April 24 Times story ran under the vague headline, “Kerry’s Antiwar Past Is a Delicate Issue in His Campaign.” But the story itself, building off material already published by The New York Sun’s Thomas H. Lipscomb and the Kansas City Star, was dynamite. Halbfinger confirmed that John Hurley, the Kerry campaign’s veterans coordinator, had called John Musgrave, an ex-Marine, urging him to change his story that Kerry had been at the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) meeting in 1971. Hurley wanted Musgrave to tell reporters that he had been mistaken about Kerry being there. Hurley told Musgrave, “I’d like you to refresh your memory.”

Halbfinger pressed the issue, interviewing Kerry about his antiwar activities and reporting that Kerry “said that he knew nothing of attempts by his campaign to tinker with the past and that he disapproved.” Kerry said, “People’s memories are people’s memories.”

Kerry first claimed that he was not at the meeting, then that he forgot if he was there. Kerry himself now claims “no memory” of the meeting. But Lipscomb of the Sun found six witnesses who saw Kerry there, and the FBI documents on the VVAW confirmed his attendance.    

It matters little that Kerry did not endorse the assassination plan. What counts is that Kerry was part of such a group and didn’t report what happened.

Finally Getting It Right

In another breakthrough, the New York Times magazine on April 11 actually ran a story headlined, “What the World Needs Now Is DDT.” Author Tina Rosenberg admitted that the environmentalism popularized by the Rachel Carson book “Silent Spring” is “killing African children”?millions of them today because of the banning of DDT which resulted.

Rosenberg, an editorial writer for the paper, said that when she re-read the book, she was “struck by something that did not occur to me when I first read the book in the early 1980’s. In her 297 pages, Rachel Carson never mentioned the fact that by the time she was writing, DDT was responsible for saving tens of millions of lives, perhaps hundreds of millions.”

AIM has been after the paper to tell the truth about DDT for many years. The time has finally come. Perhaps the Times can try to rectify some of the damage done by the Jayson Blair scandal by campaigning for the truth about DDT. But the Blair charges have to be answered as well if the Times editors want to put this scandal behind them.

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