When William McGowan finished his award-winning book Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism, the New York Times Book Review refused to review it. When pushed for a reason, then-editor Charles “Chip” McGrath asked, “Is this newspaper…the best place to discuss a book that is so critical of this newspaper?”
That was in 2001. Last week, Encounter Books released McGowan’s follow-up, Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America, and the same thing is happening. When pushed for a reason why the Times hasn’t reviewed it, new editor Sam Tanenhaus said, “[The publisher] has had a stated policy for some years now of not sending us books because, as I understand it, [Encounter publisher] Roger Kimball does not want them reviewed in the Book Review.”
Tanenhaus is referring to the fact that his copy of the book came from McGowan himself and not the publisher. This is because after the Times ignored mountains of their best-selling, critically acclaimed books (many critical of Obama), Encounter gave up sending review copies to them.
I sat down with Bill McGowan at a charming local diner to discuss his book and the strange derailment of the Times since Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger, Jr., took over from his father Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger in 1991.
Gavin McInnes: Didn’t Tanenhaus personally guarantee you he was going to review the book?
Bill McGowan: Yes, he did at an LA Times Book Review event several years ago. He’s using this spat with my publisher as a fig leaf to cover his ass so he can ignore the book and save himself troubles with the boss.
I find it ironic that the book accuses the Times of neglecting to report on things that make them uncomfortable, and they refuse to report on it because it makes them uncomfortable—again!
I obviously want a review and so does the publisher, but what can you do? You can’t get blood from a stone.
Why did they hate Coloring the News so much?
That book discussed how papers like the Times make diversity a personnel policy and the next thing you know, you’re a political cheerleader doing bias reporting on immigration, Islam in America, the candidacy and presidency of Barack Obama, gay rights, transgressive popular culture, the War on Terror, and our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Aren’t the Times staffers just a bunch of bourgeois Ivy Leaguers completely out of touch with the real world?
That might have been the case in the past, but not so much anymore, although it is true most people working at the Times have the predictable liberal biases absorbed from the orthodoxy of political correctness that prevails at universities and liberal social circles.
My favorite part of Coloring the News was the reporter who decided to check if third-trimester abortions really were as rare as everyone said. She hit the phones and contacted dozens of clinics in New Jersey and discovered the whole thing was a lie. Third-trimester abortions are, in fact, very common. Later, when the doctors were asked why they misled the public, they claimed they figured it was for the “greater good.”
The point I make again and again in this book is: Neglecting to report certain news items can be just as damaging as misreporting news.
Which is why this refusal to review the book is such a profound metaphor. They seem to think the ends justify the means, so they’ll start with a final concept and then go backwards filling in details that fit. If anything gets in the way, it’s cut out of the equation. They believe what they want to believe.
Well, they obviously swallowed the J T Leroy scam hook, line, and sinker.
What are some of their biggest PC blunders outside of Jayson Blair, Plamegate, and ignoring the innocence of the Duke lacrosse players?
There was the wealthy prep-school girl who convinced them she was a poor orphan who had been adopted by this Big Mama character and ended up making crack and hanging out with the Bloods and the Crips. All a lie.
The female naval officer who said she was raped in Iraq and this was the second time it happened in her naval career. The Navy later confirmed she’d never been to Iraq.
The bleeding-heart piece about a black woman from Biloxi who had been devastated by Katrina and lost everything. One of the lines is, “Filing paperwork was a constant headache.” Turns out she was wanted for check fraud, had kids in foster care, and was nowhere near Biloxi when Katrina hit.
The book also mentions an African professor talking about how beautiful it was to go back to Africa and get her clitoridectomy. The first thing you think of when you hear a woman waxing poetic about having her vagina mutilated is, “Bullshit.” The second thing is, “Why are they glorifying this?”
The Times’ dogmatic obsession with diversity leads to a cultural relativism which has seriously hurt their credibility.
There was the Swift/NSA stories where the Times revealed the electronic banking habits of terrorists. This put our country in danger during a time of war. I wouldn’t say it was traitorous, but it’s certainly fair to call their patriotism into question.
Didn’t Arthur Jr. say he’d rather see an American soldier die than a Vietnamese soldier because it was the American who was doing the invading? [Arthur Sr. had asked him which soldier he’d rather see die.]
Sulzberger Sr., a former Marine, was furious about that. Later, Sulzberger Jr. said it was the stupidest question he’d ever heard in his life. Arthur Jr. is a very proud child of the 60s, and that counterculture sensibility has snuck into every nook and cranny of the paper.
So it all comes back to Pinch?
I don’t like calling him “Pinch,” as it seems like a cheap shot, especially in light of so much damning evidence of the paper’s journalistic malfeasance. But yes, the downfall of the Times rests on his shoulders primarily.
You note his mediocre performance as a reporter during the early part of his career at other news organizations. The book talks about a copyeditor at a North Carolina newspaper who was stunned to see him spell “hate” wrong several times in one piece.
Yes, he spelled it “hait.”
I think it’s ironic that Pinch sees George W. Bush as someone whose daddy brought him into power, but that’s exactly who Pinch is. His position at the Times was inherited.
Here’s a guy who took a newspaper that was making $52 a share before the Blair scandal and brought it as low as less than $4 a share at one point—even lower than the price of the Sunday edition at that time. You’d think any chief executive who presided over such a disastrous stock slide and loss of revenue and layoffs would no longer be there, but he is.
In his defense, he was played a bad hand. All print has suffered recently.
True, but he played that hand as bad as he possibly could.
Gray Lady Down goes into a lot of detail about their fawning Obama coverage. Their “reporting” was more like fan mail.
In the book, I quote Mark Halperin [formerly of ABC News, now at TIME magazine] who said their reporting on the election was “the most disgusting failure of people in our business since the Iraq war. It was extreme bias, extreme pro-Obama coverage.” They printed all this crap about McCain’s mistress which was totally untrue and then got ticked off at him for complaining about it. Then editor Bill Keller said that, in light of these complaints, his first impulse was to “find the toughest story we’ve got [on McCain] and put it on the front page.”
You mention the seven-figure book deal that one of the Times reporters who covered Obama got after doing a sycophantic piece about the Obamas’ marriage.
Yes, during the Obama campaign, this reporter Jodi Kantor minimized the importance of Obama’s relationships to Reverend Jeremiah Wright and former terrorist Bill Ayers as well as anything else that might be controversial. Then she goes on to have a great payday. This is a reporter? No, this is corruption.
Was the Obama coverage their biggest blunder?
I think that would have to fall on Judith Miller of Plamegate fame when she claimed there were WMDs in Iraq.
Wait, doesn’t that contradict your whole thesis of left-wing bias at the Times? Miller’s reporting on WMDs is more an example of right-wing bias, isn’t it?
I’ve been asked that before, but the core of this case is the reckless reporting and subsequent institutional embarrassment. And the misreporting here is still related to left-wing bias.
The Times were so determined to show they were not part of the “axis of appeasement” as they were being accused of at the time, they overcompensated, setting the stage for Miller’s credulous misreporting. Which had huge consequences.
When Coloring the News came out, Fox News was relatively new. It’s now crushing MSNBC and other liberal media, and The New York Times is all but dead. Is there now a right-wing bias in the media overall?
As a news operation, Fox has a broader variety of voices than the other two cable-news outlets. As an op-ed network, it’s definitely conservative, but most major news organizations still lean to the left. One of the few that can keep their news reporting down the middle is The Wall Street Journal.
In the book you devote a lot of attention to the Times’ treatment of Islam. It seems like the Times hates Archie Bunker unless he’s wearing a turban.
They certainly wouldn’t condone these traditions for their own kids. This acceptance of Islamic traditions is at odds with American norms and values. It’s actually anti-progressive. Islam is the most misogynist and homophobic religion on Earth. Sharia is an anti-democratic concept. The American Muslim Brotherhood embraces all these characteristics, and the Times hasn’t done one story on them in the forty years the Brotherhood has existed in this country. They’re petrified of inciting any kind of anger toward Muslims, as they are hypersensitive about offending any of their “pet victim” groups: immigrants, gays, African Americans….When they reported on the Danish Muhammad cartoons, they used Chris Ofili’s dung painting of the Virgin Mary to illustrate one analysis.
The previous book came out ten years ago. What took you so long?
Although this book is a sequel of sorts, I actually started it in 2003. The problem with writing this book was the wealth of examples that kept coming out day after day after day. Even the night before it went to print, I was adding details about the Times’ coverage of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy, citing its apology to all of Islam for America’s alleged Islamophobic reaction. That was late Sunday night, and the book went into production the following morning.
You know that people are going to accuse you of being just another person who “loves to hate the Times,” as Bill Keller calls them.
The biggest mistake someone could make would be to call this a right-wing or even conservative book taking gratuitous potshots at the Times by cherry-picking examples. I must have examined at least 20,000 articles as part of the research for this book.
In fact, although I have some conservative inclinations, I’m hardly a Tea Partier and actually voted for Obama. This book isn’t about my politics. This book is about how one man, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., did so much damage to one of America’s most important institutions and the journalistic tradition the greats like former executive editor Abe Rosenthal stood for.
That respect comes across in the Juan Williams blurb, “a vividly supported exposé from a journalist who loves newspapers and the Times.”
Yeah, it’s too bad the book went to press before the whole debacle with him getting fired. I would have definitely included the Times coverage of that if time permitted.
So political correctness is still alive?
All you have to do is read The New York Times to see that.
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