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Missed pitches

New York Times valentine or strikeout?

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At a memorial service for Eugene Peterson last November, his son Leif said the pastor/author for 50 years had one main message: “God loves you. He’s on your side. He’s coming after you. He’s relentless.”

I alternate New York Times (NYT) and Washington Post subscriptions because reading either of them illuminates the “progressive” agenda—and for two years their main message has been: We hate Donald Trump. We’re coming after him. We’re relentless.

On Jan. 14 I read the entire NYT because that day I was teaching a “webinar” about current journalism for 1,000 Colson Center sign-ups. I wanted to suggest they find an excellent NYT story that day or during the following weeks, and on Feb. 14 send a complimentary Valentine’s Day email to the reporter. Sadly, the NYT that day merely offered more justification for criticism. Since Feb. 14 is also when many major league teams begin spring training, maybe “three strikes—you’re out” is a truer metaphor.

Strike one: the NYT’s lead story, headlined “BOLTON’S REQUEST TO COUNTER IRAN ALARMS PENTAGON.” It included 10 references within the article designed to make readers believe they were taking in well-grounded fact rather than sky-is-falling concerns: “Senior Pentagon officials … Defense Department and senior American officials … these officials … a senior American official … a senior administration official … the senior American official … a former senior administration official … the senior American official … these officials … a senior administration official.”

How easy it is for a journalistic bureaucracy to vilify, damage, and destroy people with an almost irrational vindictiveness.

Maybe the whole Pentagon was alarmed, but maybe not: Despite the headline, only the first two murky references involved Defense officials, and after that we had only the opinion of present or former non-Pentagon officials. WORLD does not run negative stories based entirely on “anonymice,” off-the-record sources that often nibble at truth but may also spit out falsehood. We’ll use pseudonyms for sources in totalitarian countries who might otherwise be killed or imprisoned, but a story as ungrounded as the NYT’s is likely to include big doses of journalistic ventriloquism.

Strike two: The second story at the right top of the Jan. 14 front page, “Trump Faces ‘Nonstop’ War for Survival,” had a problem different but equally severe. Here’s the lead: “So it has come to this: The president of the United States was asked over the weekend whether he is a Russian agent. And he refused to directly answer.”

With those sentences the NYT both split an infinitive and split from its own history: In the late 1940s and 1950s it attacked the House Un-American Activities Committee (and Sen. Joseph McCarthy) for asking whether writers and others were or ever had been members of the Communist Party USA—which certainly was a Russian agent. The NYT in 1973 called such questioning a “disgrace” and a lesson in “how easy it is for a governmental bureaucracy to vilify, damage and destroy people with an almost irrational vindictive[ness].”

The Jan. 14 NYT front page story quoted Trump calling the question to him “the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked.” But a reader needed to turn to that same day’s editorial page to read that Trump did answer the question directly: “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you asked that question, because it’s a whole big fat hoax.”

We may find out more about a Trump-Russia connection later this year. It’s disgraceful not for reporters to ask the question but to pretend they know the answer. How easy it is for a journalistic bureaucracy to vilify, damage, and destroy people with an almost irrational vindictiveness.

Strike three: NYT reporting about difficulties at the U.S.-Mexico border contradicted its previous stories. The problem: Poor, sick immigrants released from government detention are overwhelming local governments and charities. That sounds like a crisis, but previous NYT reporting had made Trump’s border concerns sound as though he was manufacturing a crisis. The NYT reported that California was doing little to help—but previously it had portrayed California as heroic for its sanctuary cities.

Some local newspapers aren’t as leftist as the NYT, and it’s still a good idea to take a reporter to lunch, but your valentine may have to refer to things unseen. I do want to end with a valentine to someone our readers may have met over the phone: June McGraw retired on Jan. 31 after 37 years as a WORLD administrative assistant. She’s been relentless in doing good.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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