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.

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

  1. Hi. I got mad.

    Patterico (a304f7)

  2. Most discussion of Dobbs is anything but dispassionate. I understand how the Left gets hyperbolic about state actions and the prospect of federal abortion bans, but the Dobbs decision was 50 years in the making. The arguments and legal analysis were no great mystery.

    In reading the initial paragraph from the NYT, I assumed it was a final editing pass that was reviewed without further comment. I mean, who would think the co-signers of the biggest judicial decision of the era wouldn’t carefully review it to make sure it was locked down and stated clearly? I get how some might take the bait…but it’s just partisan nonsense.

    AJ_Liberty (1aa918)

  3. Remember NYT never ran a stand alone story on AOC’s run against crowley in 2018 primary race. NYT is corporate establishment democrat just as NY Post is murdoch conservatism. As I have said before, in the late 1950’s the media was to pretend to be non-partisan to counter communist propaganda that they were yellow journalism capitalist tools like capitalists funding sports pages to get the workers away from politics and promoting wars. With the rise of trump the corporate establishment deep state were told to take the gloves off and go after trump so they could continue to control the with corporate stooges like clinton and biden. See the history of pulitzer and hurst if you don’t know.

    asset (a70bcf)

  4. A more recent example is how the NYT mischaracterized the bombing of that hospital in Gaza City, showing a photograph that wasn’t the hospital, falsely describing it in “ruins” and “rubble”.

    Paul Montagu (d52d7d)

  5. Well, its maddening and you are a passionate person when it comes to truth and lies, so its a match

    steveg (97abdc)

  6. Politicians used to pay journalist to write positive articles about them and probably still do. From calling washington a king and a despot, jefferson in league with satan, lincoln a tyrant, pushing america into the spanish-american war and calling roosevelt and eisenhower communists while chicago tribune committing treason in ww II to dewey defeats truman the press has been bias and until recently anti-semetic. (maybe still)

    asset (a70bcf)

  7. Judging from the pro-abortion people I talk to, they have done a very good in getting people to believe (feel?) that abortion was always legal and it was Dobbs that changed the historical norm.

    nk (bb1548)

  8. a very good *job*

    nk (bb1548)

  9. Hi. I got mad.
    Patterico (a304f7) — 12/15/2023 @ 7:13 pm

    As well we all should! Excellent post, sir. Thank you.

    felipe (5e2a04)

  10. nk (bb1548) — 12/16/2023 @ 5:27 am

    Yes, I agree.

    felipe (79693d)

  11. But but but … this is the first time EVER that the Court has been outside the mainstream of American thought. I know because Linda Greenhouse told me so implied it.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  12. Judging from the pro-abortion people I talk to, they have done a very good in getting people to believe (feel?) that abortion was always legal and it was Dobbs that changed the historical norm.

    It was legal for 50 years and for most people that IS forever.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  13. Judging from the pro-abortion people I talk to, they have done a very good in getting people to believe (feel?) that abortion was always legal and it was Dobbs that changed the historical norm.

    A lot of that can be traced back to the lies spun by academic historians during the pre-Roe era, which willfully misread public records to draw the ridiculous conclusion that abortion was mostly legal in Colonial America, at least until the unborn child began moving around in the womb (what used to be called “quickening”), and only started to be restricted in the next century when it abortion was thought to be dangerous to the life of the mother, not to that of the unborn child. Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a fantastic piece on how that has perverted the abortion debate in academia and the media ever since.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  14. And by the way, it’s great to see the boss with one of his well-crafted posts yet again destroying the pretensions of our rancid media establishment, especially when he reminds us of all the great work he has done in that regard throughout the history of this blog. It’s why I started reading this blog all these years ago.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  15. Patterico, thanks for this. You have such an incisive and pointed way of writing. It’s like you’re a prosecutor or something.

    norcal (2d6c64)

  16. 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.

    It’s not on the front page of either the Friday or the Saturday New York Times (issues 60,003 and 60,004)

    Maybe they’re saving it for Sunday – or maybe they realize there is some trouble with the article. Is it too much to hope for that they read your blog, or somebody pointed it out to them?

    The New York Post has an article about this on page 24 whose headline is about Amy Coney Barrett initially not wanting to take up the case:

    https://nypost.com/2023/12/15/news/justice-barrett-opposed-taking-up-case-that-overturned-roe-v-wade-report

    It says this wss Kavanaugh’s idea to postpone it to the 2021-22 term. And Roberts voted not to take it up,

    In the printed paper the New York Post headline goes:

    ROE v, ‘NO WAY!’

    Barrett didn’t want case

    It has nothing about the spin about the other justices signing on to Judge Alito’s opinion without reviewing it.

    Sammy Finkelman (c2c77e)

  17. Tempest in a teapot. Liberal establishment whining so they don’t have to act. Who cares how long it took. The left believes in direct action. Corporate establishment democrat party is told by their masters to just whine and complain. This is why the left is slowly taking over the democrat party from the squishes.

    asset (a59e08)

  18. @1

    Hi. I got mad.

    Patterico (a304f7) — 12/15/2023 @ 7:13 pm

    Excellent take down.

    Old school media is known to frame the conversation differently using the same set of facts.

    It’s how we get this:
    When GOPs are wrong, the story is how wrong the GOP is.

    When Democrats are wrong, the store is how GOP “pounce” on the story.

    whembly (5f7596)

  19. Maybe they’re saving it for Sunday

    It was on the left side of the front page Sunday above the fold in three columns in space normally occupied by four) The top half of that side is taken up with a picture of the members of the Supreme Court in the 2021-22 term, with comic book style rectangles saying something about each justice.7

    The same picture (overwritten with right words in white lettering) is on the top half of page 17 and the text below is in 3 columns (where normally a page of the New York Times has 6 columns [since 1976 when it was reduced from eight.] The New York Times does not normally run such big pictures, especially ones that don’t tell you anything. It’s more fitting for the cover of a magazine. It’s probably designed to be reprinted.

    The story continues on page 18, 19 and 20, with four columns to a page with the top of all 3 pages containing a timeline and entitled The path to a decision

    The point of it is how Justice Alito (according to the New York Times) strategized the overturning of Roe v Wade.

    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.

    The jump comes in the middle of the 5th paragraph, after the words:

    …The story of how this happened has seemed obvious: The constitutional right to abortion effectively died with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom President Donald J. Trump replaced with a favorite of the anti-abortion movement, Justice Barrett. [end of 4th paragraph]

    But that version is far from complete. Justice Barrett, selected to clinch the court’s conservative supermajority and deliver the nearly 50-year goal of the religious right, opposed even taking up the case.
    When the jurists were debating Mississippi’s request to

    Continued on page 17

    The white lettering atop the second and larger printing of the picture of the Supreme Court goes:

    BEHIND
    THE SCENES
    AT THE
    DISMANTLING
    OF ROE

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  20. The comic book style captions for each justice on the front page are:

    SAMUEL ALITO JR> wanted to move quickly and hear the case a term earlier.

    BRETT M. KAVANAUGH was courted for a game changing vote.

    CLARENCE THOMAS had to be hospitalized in the last lap of the case.

    ELENA KAGAN wanted a joint dissent read aloud -but was turned down.

    JOHN G. ROBERTS JR. made a last-ditch attempt at compromise.

    NEIL M.GORSUCH signed off on a 98-page draft opinion in 10 minutes.

    STEPHEN G. BREYER considered eroding Roe in order to save it.

    AMY CONEY BARRETT favored hearing the case – then changed her mind.

    SONIA SOTOMAYOR sent a lament to colleagues as Roe began to fall.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  21. It is being appealed to a higher court the people and in red states that wont allow the people to vote the street.

    asset (1c150b)

  22. Kevin M (ed969f) — 12/16/2023 @ 8:41 am

    t was legal for 50 years and for most people that IS forever.

    Under 50, which may be the target audience (or maybe somewhat younger) of Planned Parenthood.

    I think that lately, Planned Parenthood has been arguing as if Roe v Wade did not overturn state abortion laws. Although that’s a bit hard to miss.

    Sammy Finkelman (1d215a)

  23. > the Dobbs decision was 50 years in the making.

    Yes. Conservative legal activists spent half a century trying to get the law changed by arguing that the decision should rest with the states.

    The fact that many of those same people now support a federal abortion ban makes it clear that for half a century *those specific individuals* were lying.

    Which activists on the left knew all along, but were not believed.

    aphrael (71d87c)


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