Accuracy in Media

Consider how the New York Times covered a recent hearing on Capitol Hill: “…the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Tuesday that pet military projects sought by House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senator Majority Leader Trent Lott, and Congress’ refusal to close unnecessary bases, are weakening the nation’s defense.” Despite the implications of that lead paragraph in a front page article, the truth is that the Joint Chiefs never mentioned Gingrich or Lott by name. The Times had converted some real but largely insignificant testimony by the Joint Chiefs into a personal blast at the top Republicans in Congress. Why?

The apparent reason is that the Times reporter, Eric Schmitt, was determined to take the Clinton Administration off the hook for pursuing policies that have gutted our military. A week earlier, President Clinton himself admitted in a letter that the defense budget is being strained by “operational and maintenance shortfalls.” Clinton said there is a clear need to increase purchases of new weapons and military equipment to replace aging aircraft, ships and ground vehicles.

The Times is the only major newspaper we surveyed which decided to emphasize that Congressional Republicans were the bad guys. Other papers, including the Washington Post, emphasized that Republican members of the Senate committee which took the testimony from the Joint Chiefs expressed disappointment, even anger, with the failure of the Chiefs for not coming forward earlier with the facts about military readiness. The chiefs had said last February that the forces were “fundamentally healthy” and that there was a “right balance” between spending on current operations and long-term modernization. Now they were saying that the U.S. military could become a “hollow force.”

But Eric Schmitt wasn’t alone in twisting the issue. Consider how the editorial board of the New York Times handled the matter. On October 1st, a Times editorial complained about an “insatiable Pentagon” that wants more money than it needs. The Times said that the Pentagon budget “should be more than sufficient to keep American forces in fighting trim…” It complained that the Pentagon “has never figured out how to allocate money where it is really needed…”

After making that sweeping statement, the Times proceeded, just one day later, in running another editorial telling the Pentagon where it ought to spend the money. In an editorial about human rights problems in Kosvo in Yugoslavia, the Times strongly urged the use of the U.S. military to carry out bombing raids on this European country.

The contradiction should be obvious: Pentagon resources are being strained by a Clinton policy, supported by the New York Times, of committing our troops to various trouble spots around the world. This is one of the big reasons for our readiness problem. A Congressional expert on foreign policy issues who saw both editorials told us: “This is a textbook example of liberals trashing an adequate defense capability while demanding the armed forces undertake endless missions unrelated to national defense.” Now that the debate over national defense has begun, it is important that newspapers like the New York Times give us the facts. The Times cannot have it both ways, and it should not distort testimony before a Congressional committee.

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