Recalibrating the New York Times

We here at Wizbang! are a pretty laissez-faire group. For the most part, we all write what we want, when we want, utterly independent of each other. And rarely do we address each others’ writings directly. I can recall one time Paul did publicly disagree with me, and in that case I reconsidered and decided he was right. It took a bit of time and a couple of false starts, but in the end I had to admit I was originally utterly talking out my ass, and I thank Paul for correcting me.

In that spirit (and with just a hint of glee), I have to quibble with Paul in his defense of the New York Times last week. His basic argument seems to be an application of one of my favorite aphorisms — “never ascribe to malice that which can be ascribed to incompetence” — but I think that to apply it so broadly in this case is giving them too much credit, in the light of far more evidence.

I’m no gun expert, but I’m going to use a firearms metaphor here. Suppose the New York Times was a rifle. If they were merely inaccurate, as some say to defend their numerous errors, then one would expect the target to be pretty evenly perforated. Bullet holes would be scattered all over the place. But that’s not the case here.

Take a look at some of the more egregious New York TImes “mistakes” of the past few years. The Katrina refugee story Paul cited. The coverage of Katrina itself. Their role in the Texas Air National Guard fake memos story. The discussion of Marines and body armor. Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, stealing documents from the National Archives. The “tons of missing explosives in Iraq” story. Their analysis of the 9/11 commission. And so on. And so on.

There is a common thread between all these stories? In every single case, it’s not just that the story was wrong. it was that in every single case, the wrong story slammed — directly or indirectly — the Bush administration.

I challenge anyone — anyone — to find a New York Times story that was wrong and reported something favorable to the Bush administration.

Going back to my gun analogy, imagine that target again. Instead of the holes being scattered all over the target, they are all clustered six to eight inches to the left of the center. That’s not an inaccurate gun, it’s an improperly aligned gun. All it takes to “fix” it is a little recalibrating.

The Times has long had the reputation of being THE standard of journalism. They are a “master marksman,” in my metaphor. They’ve been shooting for a long time. So why haven’t they noticed their mistakes all seem to have this common thread?

If I saw an expert shooter who blew away target after target, each time missing the center and instead clustering his shots off to one side, I’d have no choice to conclude that it was a deliberate choice: for whatever reason, the shooter was deliberately missing the bullseye and arbitrarily picking another part of the target. Because a good shooter would correct or compensate for a misaligned gun, not just keep plugging away.

The Times has had years and countless prime examples to notice and observe its own reporting, and has made absolutely no effort to do so. I am left with no choice to conclude that they are not being inaccurate, but rather know exactly what they are doing — and don’t mind it in the least.

It’s not a happy conclusion to reach, but I really don’t see any other explanations. We’ve long past the limits of the “never ascribe to malice” aphorism. We reached the “once can be an accident, twice a coincidence, but three times is a trend” point ages ago.

(Update: DUH. I originally considered this piece last week, but decided against it. It was Kim’s piece of last night that made me reconsider.)

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