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How NYT's Howell Raines Enables Journalistic Lying

How Howell Raines Enables Journalistic — And Presidential — Lying


By Dennis Hans

We learn in the May 11 New York Times that, since 1999, America’s newspaper of record has regularly published reporter Jayson Blair’s flights of fancy as straight news.

“He fabricated comments,” the Times reports. “He concocted scenes. He lifted materials from other newspapers. . . and selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.”

Blair now acknowledges “personal problems” and has expressed contrition. Let’s hope the 27-year-old gets his act together and leads, from this point forward, a long, happy, productive and honorable life.

Let us also thank Blair for humiliating an editor, Howell Raines, who richly deserves it. The Times executive editor has a history of enabling liars. In Blair’s case, Raines should have removed him from reporting duties long ago, when mid-level editors had already found many fallacious “facts” in Blair’s dispatches.

Fortunately, the countless lies Blair told in the pages of the Times didn’t have an impact on domestic and foreign policies. One cannot say the same about the other person whose lying has been enabled by Raines. That would be George W. Bush.

Raines’ one great accomplishment at the Times came in 1999 when, as editor of the editorial pages, he hired Paul Krugman, a professor of economics at Princeton, to write a twice-a-week column. Krugman is a bright, articulate moderate liberal who appealed to Times management for a number of reasons. An obvious one was his contempt for critics of the current brand of “globalization,” which seems to place corporate interests above all others. Times honchos knew that Krugman would give them a devasting one-two punch (the “one” belonging to Tom Friedman) to slime the arguments of those who question the IMF’s “structural adjustment programs” or the wisdom of impoverished nations slashing social services and privatizing everything.

Krugman took occasional swipes at globalization critics, but soon found an important topic that merited his undivided attention, one from which most of the media were averting their eyes: the mendacity of presidential candidate George W. Bush. Throughout the year 2000, Krugman wrote column after column exposing the flood of falsehoods in Bush’s speeches and debates.

Krugman wanted to inform readers that this wasn’t a case of Bush being misinformed or confused, but of Bush “lying.” Raines wouldn’t let him. As Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz reported Jan. 22 in a profile of Krugman, “Raines barred him from using the word ‘lying’ for the duration of the campaign.” ( http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A25169-2003Jan21¬Found=true)

Krugman told Kurtz, “I just resent being lied to. We've been lied to a lot, and I'm scared. I think we're talking about levels of irresponsibility here that have real consequences. . . . It's a very uncomfortable thing to question the honesty and motives of your leaders. . . . I'm saying that the men who are controlling our destiny are lying. Not many journalists or many people want to confront them."

Kurtz cited a number of critics of Krugman as well as defenders, including Democratic strategist James Carville, who said this: "He goes completely against the cognoscenti. The average dinner-party-guest editorial writer would say Bush has got some faults, but he's a straight-talking, honest guy. Krugman is just relentless in saying this guy lacks any honesty and integrity in everything he does. He says Bush is a fraud, and he never stops -- he says it over and over."

Raines qualifies, perhaps, as a below average “dinner-party-guest editorial writer.” His work on the editorial page, including suppressing the L-word, earned him a promotion to executive editor of the news pages of the Times. With Bush as president, Raines has continued his protection racket by publishing every major speech Bush has delivered — without alerting readers to the plethora of lies contained within.

Raines places no “Reader Beware” warning labels above the full text of Bush’s speeches. As for the Times’ news articles reporting and analyzing Bush’s speeches, I confess to not being a regular reader, so I’ll refrain from a definitive judgment. I’ll just say that the paper under Raines’ direction is known to be much, much tougher on Hootie Johnson of the Augusta Golf Club than on President Bush.

The obvious reason why Bush continues to lie about certain public policy issues is because he is rewarded for lying. Because the lies are not called “lies,” Bush garners far greater public support for policies and actions than he otherwise would have if the major managers in corporate media, such as Howell Raines, exposed both the lies and the liar.

If Bush had paid a severe price when he first started his public-servant lying — if he had suffered the credibility-destroying humiliation now being visited upon the young, troubled Jayson Blair — Bush would have stopped lying in an instant. He would have stopped as governor, as presidential candidate, or as president. Contrary to what some partisan critics maintain, Bush is a very sharp guy. Key advisor Karl Rove is even sharper. If they knew that any lie would exact a steep price rather than produce a rich political reward, Bush wouldn’t lie.

Raines helped Bush get away with lying during Campaign 2000 and he helped him get away with lying in the long, twisted buildup to the war in Iraq. (Click here for my dissection of 15 Bush administration “techniques of deceit” used to win support an attack on Iraq: http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0302/S00061.htm)

Now that Raines has taken steps to correct the inconsequential lies that Jayson Blair told in the Times, isn’t it time he corrected the consequential lies that Bush has told — and continues to tell — in the Times?

# # #

©2003 by Dennis Hans

Bio: Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, National Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The Black World Today (tbwt.com), among other outlets. He has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.


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