Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- January 8, 2008

Kristolnicht: The Decline of The New York Times

Ernest Partridge
The Crisis Papers.

January 8, 2008

Have you ever been betrayed by a old and trusted friend?

If so, you might understand my rage at and disgust with The New York Times.

While I gave up on the Times some time ago, I can’t allow the latest outrage, the hiring of William Kristol as the newest Times columnist, to pass by without complaint.

The New York Times and I go way, way, back. Since before I was born, my parents subscribed to the Times. Throughout college, graduate school, and early career, the NYT was my gold-standard of journalistic accuracy and integrity. It was reputed to be “the newspaper of historical record,” and I believed it. When, in the sixties, I lived in Manhattan and taught at the City University of New York, I would eagerly await the Saturday night appearance of the Sunday edition, which I would then take home, spread out on my bed, and devour.  (See also my
All The News that Fits the Bush Agenda).

All the News That Gives Us Fits.

Had you been reading the Times for the past two decades, you would have learned:

  • That Bill and Hillary Clinton were involved in a crooked land deal, dubbed “Whitewater.”

  • That Chinese-American nuclear scientist, Dr. Wen Ho Lee, was probably spying for the Peoples Republic of China.

  • That Al Gore was a “serial liar” who had claimed, among other things, to have “invented the internet” and to have “discovered Love Canal.”

  • That Bush would have won Florida and the 2000 election, regardless of the Supreme Court decision, Bush v. Gore.

  • That Saddam Hussein was importing aluminum tubes to manufacture weapons-grade uranium.

  • That Saddam Hussein was stockpiling and prepared to use weapons of mass destruction.

All this was published as news, not as opinion. And it was false. All of it!

Had you searched elsewhere for news – the independent and foreign press, and the internet, you would have discovered:

  • That the GOP slanders against Al Gore were all groundless.

  • That the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" conducted a baseless smear against John Kerry, and conversely, that Kerry’s military record and his medals were authentic.

  • That George Bush was absent without leave from his military obligation with the Texas Air National Guard.

  • That Bush likely violated securities law as an executive and investor with Harken energy.

  • That there is compelling evidence that the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections were stolen by the Republicans through election fraud.

  • That, according to "The Downing Street Memos," prior to the outbreak of the Iraq war, Bush and Blair were willing to "fix the intelligence" to fit the pro-war policy.

None of this was prominently included among what The New York Times proclaims as “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

To its credit, the Times reported that the Bush Administration violated the FISA laws on wiretapping of US civilians. However, the NYT held the story past the 2004 election, an editorial decision which might have affected the outcome.


And now, to top it all off, they’ve hired Bill Kristol – notorious neo-conservative, Co-Founder of PNAC, propagandist, war-monger, demonstrable liar.

This editorial decision has set off an avalanche of complaints and cancelled subscriptions. Some by writers who frequently contribute to the Times.

A sample:

  • Erica Jong: “As a believer in free speech and the First Amendment, I understand the argument that all points of view be represented in your Op-Ed pages. But in fact, they are not. There is only one regular woman columnist (and one on your blog), no feminist spokesperson who questions the status quo, no anti-war columnist, no columnist who speaks for the rights of children or questions the priorities of the military industrial complex....  Why give more space to one who already has plentiful outlets and is not a questioner but a confirmed propagandist?”

  • Jane Smiley:   “I cannot imagine why the Times has hired Kristol . Kristol is not merely some right wing loose cannon like David Brooks or even William Safire, and his hiring by the Times is not a free-speech issue. Kristol has plenty of opportunities to speak, and if he didn’t he could blog, like the rest of us.  Kristol is a war-monger and a hate-monger, and his lies has been exposed over and over in the last four years... In Iraq alone, Kristol has the blood of hundreds of thousands on his hands. He is unrepentant and eager for more...  You would have thought that remorse for the Judith Miller debacle would have taught [The New York Times] something, but clearly not. Sadly.”

  • D.S. Negroponte: “It is not that Bill Kristol has an ‘opinion’ with which I disagree. Bill Kristol is a strategist posing as a columnist.  The Times shouldn’t be giving him free space to push his agenda, and that of his employer, [The American Enterprise Institute].  Bill Kristol was an architect of the propaganda campaign for the failed Iraq war and the failed surge.... Kristol is a lying propagandist who poses as a writer/editor on television. His fondness for Leo Strauss says to me that he openly espouses and glorifies the use of deception in public life... Public revulsion at the man has nothing to do with a rejection of free discourse, and everything to do with wanting to protect it.”

The response by NYT Op-Ed Editor, Andrew Rosenthal, has been pathetically weak and hackneyed: “Mr. Kristol ... is a columnist and magazine editor, with views that clearly bother you. I disagree with many of his views, as well as many of the other views expressed on our Op-Ed page. It is not my job to print only those with whom I agree. It is my job to give readers [as] broad a spectrum of views to read as we can manage.”

This excuse is ludicrous on its face. Rosenthal seems to regard the Op-Ed page of The New York Times as equivalent to a Hyde Park soap box, a village bulletin board, or the internet – the latter open to anyone with a computer and a modem. Anyone can play, and we don’t exclude opinions just because we don’t always agree with them.

Gimme a break!

In fact, the Op-Ed page of The New York Times is the most valuable and exclusive journalistic real-estate in the United States, and arguably the world, however much it may have been devalued by this most recent addition. Space on the NYT Op-Ed page was at one time earned through merit: like a Pulitzer Prize, casting in a Broadway play, or a place in the New York Yankees lineup.

The publication of a Kristol column in The New York Times is as incongruous as the Yankees putting in the line-up, a player with a 000 batting average whose fielding errors frequently lose games.  This approximately describes Kristol’s performance as a prognosticating pundit. He is strictly Bush league material (pun intended).

During my career I have refereed hundreds of submissions to scholarly journals. These journals insist that the referees set high standards, since only a very few submissions are accepted for publication. None of these journals allow what Rosenthal would have us believe is the NYT Op-Ed standard: “It is my job to give readers [as] broad a spectrum of views to read as we can manage.”

No, Mr. Rosenthal, it is your job to give your readers intelligent, informed, cogent commentary, from columnists with a proven record of factual accuracy, foresight and integrity. William Kristol fails on all counts. The New York Times can pick from a field of thousands of outstanding conservative scholars and journalists.  Kristol is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the best that you can do.

Andrew Rosenthal and The New York Times will likely weather the immediate storm of protests and cancellations provoked by Kristol’s addition to the Op-Ed page. But this outlandish and misguided editorial decision can only continue the decline of a once-magnificent newspaper. That decline will accelerate if, along with falling circulation, many additional outstanding writers such as Erica Jong and Jane Smiley, refuse to publish in the Times.


The news is not all bad.  Paul Krugman, Frank Rich, Bob Herbert remain on the NYT Op-Ed page. And just last week, the Times editorial page published a searing indictment of the Bush Administration, “Looking at America.”  In addition, last Sunday the NYT Magazine published one of the first mainstream media investigations into the election crisis, Clive Thompson’s “Can You Count on Voting Machines?”   Though much less than what the “black box voting” critics would want  (the author refuses to deal seriously with the issue of whether the 2000, 2002 and 2004 elections might have been stolen), it is at least a breakthrough.

To get back on track toward a reinstatement of its former greatness, The New York Times need only look to the past, and to the standards that at one time it scrupulously enforced. A restoration of its former reputation will lag behind these reforms, as it must, for the Times must prove itself anew.

There is no need for The New York Times to compensate for its recent swerve to the right by becoming a mouthpiece for the progressive Democrats. Just the facts – “All the news that’s fit to print” – will nicely suffice.

After all, as Stephen Colbert correctly observes, “reality has a liberal bias.”

Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge


Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications

Conscience of a Progressive:  A book in progress. 

Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".   His e-mail is: gadfly@igc.org .






Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .