Patterico's Pontifications

12/15/2023

The New York Times Reminds James Bennett (and the Rest of Us) That Its Dishonesty Is No Recent Development; It Has Always Been Garbage

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:10 pm



In the Weekend Open Thread, Dana noted an article by James Bennett about how things have gone wrong at the New York Times. Speaking of the Good Old Days Before There Was a Hyper-Partisan Media, Bennett tells us:

But there was a compensating moral and psychological privilege that came with aspiring to journalistic neutrality and open-mindedness, despised as they might understandably be by partisans. Unlike the duelling politicians and advocates of all kinds, unlike the corporate chieftains and their critics, unlike even the sainted non-profit workers, you did not have to pretend things were simpler than they actually were. You did not have to go along with everything that any tribe said. You did not have to pretend that the good guys, much as you might have respected them, were right about everything, or that the bad guys, much as you might have disdained them, never had a point. You did not, in other words, ever have to lie.

There is something to Bennett’s complaints about the increased partisanship in Big Media, and the consequent economic incentives to feed the dopes on your side only such “truths” (which are often lies) as they can handle. But to my way of thinking, part of the problem is that there never really was a time when these publications were without partisan hackery. I’ll take a particularly outrageous example from today, but my point is that the kind of deception I am about to describe should sound very familiar to you, and it’s not just a recent development.

A blockbuster (or least what is intended as a blockbuster) article from the New York Times begins with the following passage, which is a perfect example of how to tell a flat-out deceptive lie–using facts that, while cleverly worded in a Clintonian fashion, are mostly technically true:

On Feb. 10 last year, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. showed his eight colleagues how he intended to uproot the constitutional right to abortion.

At 11:16 a.m., his clerk circulated a 98-page draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. After a justice shares an opinion inside the court, other members scrutinize it. Those in the majority can request revisions, sometimes as the price of their votes, sweating sentences or even words.

But this time, despite the document’s length, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote back just 10 minutes later to say that he would sign on to the opinion and had no changes, according to two people who reviewed the messages. The next morning, Justice Clarence Thomas added his name, then Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and days later, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. None requested a single alteration. The responses looked like a display of conservative force and discipline.

In the months since, that draft turned into a leak, then law, then the rare Supreme Court decision that affects the entire country, reshaping elections, the practice of medicine and a fundamental aspect of being female.

The facts recounted here are, I assume, mostly true. The date and time Alito circulated the opinion, its length, and the amount of time the other justices in the majority took to respond are, I presume, mostly accurate.

But the picture painted here is a dirty lie, and everyone involved in this story knows it. I am talking about reporters Jodi Kantor and Adam Liptak, and every editor involved in the review and publication of this story. They are all liars. They want you to think things that are not true. That is their goal. It’s not a by-product of a sloppy process. Deceiving you is their ultimate aim.

Because the picture painted is that the justices immediately agreed to an opinion they could not possibly have read in such a short time. Therefore, these sleazy “journalists” would have you believe, all that mattered to them was the result.

The truth dribbles out slowly over the next several paragraphs–and there is enough there, if you read between the lines, to determine that the picture they paint is utter nonsense. But you have to keep reading, and you have to read attentively, and these “journalists” know that most people do neither.

A couple of paragraphs later, after a description of how Justice Barrett initially voted against hearing the case, we are told in paragraph six:

Those dynamics help explain why the responses stacked up so speedily to the draft opinion in February 2022: Justice Alito appeared to have pregamed it among some of the conservative justices, out of view from other colleagues, to safeguard a coalition more fragile than it looked.

Ah! Well, that’s a new fact, isn’t it? The wording there is sly–Alito “pregamed” the opinion to “some of” the conservative justices–but I’d bet my house that by “some of the conservative justices” they mean (but do not want to clearly say) “all of the justices that had voted in the majority.” As for the claim that Justice Alito had “pregamed” the opinion to those justices, that is apparently Kantor and Liptak’s way of trying to put a sinister spin on the fact that Justice Alito . . . showed the opinion to the other justices in the majority before officially releasing the draft.

That would sort of explain how they were able to respond so quickly, wouldn’t it?

But this “pregaming” thing . . . I mean, that sounds bad, right? Where does Alito get off “pregaming” the opinion? How dare he? That has to be wrong, doesn’t it? And certainly, it has to be something that was only done this one time–because of the slobberingly overeager desire of the mostly male justices to take women’s sacred rights from them! Right?

Well, again, let’s read further. At paragraph nine, after a discussion of the supposedly broad ideological swath of insiders who had spoken to Kantor and Liptak, and a further discussion of the difficulty in overturning this sacred right, we read this:

To dismantle that decision, Justice Alito and others had to push hard, the records and interviews show. Some steps, like his apparent selective preview of the draft opinion, were time-honored ones. But in overturning Roe, the court set aside more than precedent: It tested the boundaries of how cases are decided.

Wait . . . Justice Alito’s “selective” preview of the draft opinion was a “time-honored” step? Maybe I have forgotten what that term “time-honored” means. Let’s look it up in the trusty dictionary to be sure. Where is that? Ah, here we go:

time-honored
adjective
time-hon·​ored ˈtīm-ˌä-nərd

honored because of age or long usage
time-honored traditions

So showing a preview of the draft opinion to the justices in the majority is a tradition that has been in usage at the Supreme Court for a long time? And that’s what Alito did? And then once he had completed the draft, with feedback, those justices quickly signed on, because they had already read it and (perhaps) commented on it and had their feedback responded to?

Now go back and re-read the first four paragraphs of the article. I quoted them above. Go on; really do it. Read it. I’ll wait right here. I promise.

You back? Good. So you see all those “true” facts there? And the way that they were assembled in such a way as to convey to you a deliberate lie?

I owe it to Ed Whelan to have brought this to my attention, and he says it better than I possibly could:

The article could easily have presented this clearly from the outset. E.g.: “Alito, consistent with a time-honored practice at the Court, meticulously worked out the draft opinion with his conservative colleagues before circulating it to the full Court. That enabled them to sign on promptly, without requesting any changes.” But as written it instead invites clickbait attacks on the justices in the majority.

If you follow the link to the clickbait attacks, you see a headline: “Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch reportedly responded to Justice Samuel Alito’s 98-page draft opinion on Dobbs in just 10 minutes, offering no edits.”

This is exactly what Kantor and Liptak and their editors want everyone in the country to think. It’s fundamentally a false picture of what happened. But they know most people will read those first four paragraphs and will be fooled. This will help delegimitize a court that the left has been trying its damnedest to delegitimize for years now.

And if you attack the reporters over their blatant dishonesty here, they will stare at you with innocent, wide-open eyes, blink politely a couple of times, and say: “The facts are all the piece.”

And they are. Kind of. It’s just the presentation of them that is deliberately deceptive.

Ed Whelan has other excellent criticisms of the story, and you should read his post for those. My point here is: these people have done this kind of thing for as long as I can remember. Contra James Bennett, there is nothing new about this kind of chicanery. I used to expose it all the time on this very blog, mostly at the L.A. Times. But I have also written many times about chicanery at the New York Times by the likes of Linda Greenhouse and, yes, Adam Liptak. I wrote posts about him in 2007, 2008, 2015, and 2016, and my posts about his journalism reveal him to be a man who is ignorant and dishonest. He has been the New York Times‘s main Supreme Court reporter since 2008, and before him was Linda Greenhouse, who was at the New York Times for 40 years and covered the Supreme Court for 27 of those years . . . and has never been anything but a relentless partisan hack.

Mr. Bennett, partisan hackery at the New York Times and other Big Media outlets like it is simply nothing new.

Moreover, this technique of starting out with a wildly misleading claim and then gradually backfilling the story with facts that totally undercut the initial claim has been around at least as long as I have had this blog (over 20 years) and almost certainly longer than that. I had a regular feature called The Power of the Jump that showed how the L.A. Times routinely fed you one version of events on the front page and tell you the inconvenient facts on the back pages, after the “jump”–where nobody reads.

My guess is, this Kantor/Liptak story will likely appear on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow, with the first four paragraphs prominently featured. I bet the jump comes before the sixth paragraph and certainly before the ninth.

But I guess we’ll see.

Anyway, I appreciate Mr. Bennett’s piece, I do. But it just isn’t honest about how bad all these papers have been for so many years. I think people who work inside these institutions are just blind to these kinds of things.

But the rest of us aren’t.

Weekend Open Thread

Filed under: General — Dana @ 11:11 am



[guest post by Dana]

Let’s go!

First news item

San Francisco takes another hit:

The San Francisco Giants have missed out on several marquee free agents in recent seasons, the latest apparently being Shohei Ohtani.

One franchise legend, recently retired star catcher Buster Posey, says the perception of the city may be playing a role in the team’s failures to land a game-breaking star in free agency.

“Something I think is noteworthy, something that unfortunately keeps popping up from players and even the players’ wives is there’s a bit of an uneasiness with the city itself, as far as the state of the city, with crime, with drugs,” Posey said in an interview with The Athletic.

“Whether that’s all completely fair or not, perception is reality,” Posey added.

Second news item

A former editorial-page editor at the New York Times has an insightful analysis about how things have gone wrong:

The Times’s problem has metastasised from liberal bias to illiberal bias, from an inclination to favour one side of the national debate to an impulse to shut debate down altogether. All the empathy and humility in the world will not mean much against the pressures of intolerance and tribalism without an invaluable quality that Sulzberger did not emphasise: courage.

. . .doing the work right today demands a particular kind of courage: not just the devil-may-care courage to choose a profession on the brink of the abyss; not just the bulldog courage to endlessly pick yourself up and embrace the ever-evolving technology; but also, in an era when polarisation and social media viciously enforce rigid orthodoxies, the moral and intellectual courage to take the other side seriously and to report truths and ideas that your own side demonises for fear they will harm its cause.

One of the glories of embracing illiberalism is that, like Trump, you are always right about everything, and so you are justified in shouting disagreement down. In the face of this, leaders of many workplaces and boardrooms across America find that it is so much easier to compromise than to confront – to give a little ground today in the belief you can ultimately bring people around. This is how reasonable Republican leaders lost control of their party to Trump and how liberal-minded college presidents lost control of their campuses. And it is why the leadership of the New York Times is losing control of its principles.

Read the whole thing.

Third news item

Yale condemns in the “strongest possible terms”:

Over the weekend, a Palestinian flag was placed on the menorah. Police said they do not know the identity of the person who put the flag there. . .

The incident came amid pressure on top universities to address a rise in antisemitic incidents in their communities.

“Yale condemns in the strongest possible terms the desecration of a menorah on the New Haven Green during the religious holiday of Chanukah,” Yale said in a statement Sunday.

“The placement of a Palestinian flag on the menorah conveys a deeply antisemitic message to Jewish residents of New Haven, including members of the Yale community,” the school said.

But what will they actually *do* about it??

Fourth news item

When enough is enough:

When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ignited into war, back in Moscow, a young Russian who now goes by the name of Karabas was plunged into despair. Shocked by images of what was happening to Ukrainians in Russian-occupied areas, he decided to act — against Russia, his home and country. . . It took him almost a year to make it happen.

Today, he is part of the Siberian Battalion, a unit made up of Russians who have joined Ukrainian military ranks to fight against their homeland, hoping someday to help oust Russian President Vladimir Putin. Its members hail mostly from ethnic minorities from Russia’s far east. . .

Unlike other volunteer units in Ukraine that have Russian nationals…the Siberian Battalion is officially part of the regular Ukrainian army.

Fifth news item

Considering his close ties to Putin, this can’t be a surprise to anyone:

Hungary has blocked €50bn ($55bn; £43bn) in EU aid for Ukraine – just hours after an agreement was reached on starting membership talks. “Summary of the nightshift: veto for the extra money to Ukraine,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said after Thursday’s talks in Brussels.

According to the report, Russia was impressed by Orban’s actions.

Sixth news item

Navalny has ‘gone missing’:

Allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny said his lawyer was told in court on Friday that he had been moved from the penal colony east of Moscow where he has been serving time but was not told where he was taken.

The disclosure that Navalny was moved out of Penal Colony No. 6, in the town of Melekhovo in the Vladimir region, came at a hearing on a lawsuit he had filed against officials at the maximum security facility. The hearing was adjourned after that.

The whereabouts of Navalny, 47, have been unknown since his lawyers lost touch with him after Dec. 6.

Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said the politician’s lawyer was told in court that the politician “left the Vladimir region” on Monday.

Seventh news item

Has anyone checked the bathroom??:

A binder containing highly classified information related to Russian election interference went missing at the end of Donald Trump’s presidency, raising alarms among intelligence officials that some of the most closely guarded national security secrets from the US and its allies could be exposed, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Its disappearance, which has not been previously reported, was so concerning that intelligence officials briefed Senate Intelligence Committee leaders last year about the missing materials and the government’s efforts to retrieve them, the sources said.

In the two-plus years since Trump left office, the missing intelligence does not appear to have been found.

The binder contained raw intelligence the US and its NATO allies collected on Russians and Russian agents, including sources and methods that informed the US government’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to help Trump win the 2016 election, sources tell CNN.

The intelligence was so sensitive that lawmakers and congressional aides with top secret security clearances were able to review the material only at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where their work scrutinizing it was itself kept in a locked safe.

Eighth news item

Why the U.S. must continue to aid and support Ukraine in their battle against Russia:

When we spoke this week, she [Fiona Hill] made clear that the decision of whether Ukraine wins or loses is now on us — almost entirely. As Congress debates how much more money to authorize for Ukraine’s assistance amid growing Republican opposition, she says that what we are really debating is our own future. Do we want to live in the kind of world that will result if Ukraine loses?

Hill is clear about her answer. A world in which Putin chalks up a win in Ukraine is one where the U.S.’s standing in the world is diminished, where Iran and North Korea are emboldened, where China dominates the Indo-Pacific, where the Middle East becomes more unstable and where nuclear proliferation takes off, among allies as well as enemies.

“Ukraine has become a battlefield now for America and America’s own future — whether we see it or not — for our own defensive posture and preparedness, for our reputation and our leadership,” she told me. “For Putin, Ukraine is a proxy war against the United States, to remove the United States from the world stage.”

Ninth news item

Just horrible:

Three hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza were mistakenly killed by friendly fire, the Israeli military said in a statement Friday.

During combat operations in Shejaiya, a dense neighborhood in Gaza where fighting has been taking place, the Israeli military said troops mistakenly “identified three Israeli hostages as a threat.”

Troops fired at the three and they were killed, the IDF said. The Israeli military said the bodies have been returned to Israel and the identities of the three were confirmed.

A spokesman said that an investigation into how this happened is currently underway. Hamas fighters have been wearing civilian clothing and perhaps that played into it. They don’t know whether the hostages were intentionally exposed to IDF fighters along with the Hamas fighters, all in civilian clothing. He confirms that the three hostages were above ground and in close proximity to one of the IDF units in the area. One thing we know for sure is that Hamas will use anything and anybody to advance their mission goals.

Tenth news item

Plots for anti-Semitic attacks throughout Europe foiled by authorities:

Seven people have been arrested in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands on suspicion of planning terror attacks on Jewish institutions in Europe.

On Thursday, German officials said they had arrested four suspected Hamas members who were planning a terror attack against Jewish institutions in Berlin.

On the same day, Danish officials announced arrests related to separate terror offences.

German prosecutors said that three suspects detained in Berlin and another in the Netherlands were members of Hamas.

MISCELLANEOUS

On Sunday, Sen. Mitt Romney said he did not “see any evidence” that would justify impeaching Biden. “I think before you begin an impeachment inquiry, you ought to have some evidence, some inclination that there’s been wrongdoing,” Romney said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Have a good weekend.

–Dana


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