September 29, 2000
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A story in the national section of today's Times about the presidential race in the state of Michigan reports that a Times/CBS poll "shows two-to-one backing" for school vouchers in the state, where there is a proposition about school vouchers on the ballot in November. The story describes George W. Bush as "an eager advocate of vouchers."
Hold on a minute. The Times devoted an entire story just yesterday to reporting that "On Tuesday afternoon, when asked if he supported vouchers, Mr. Bush sidestepped the issue by saying the decision should be left to state and local officials. And on Tuesday evening, when Larry King asked him on his CNN program whether he thought vouchers worked, Mr. Bush replied, 'I'm not positive.'" The story from yesterday also reported that "many polls suggest that the public is divided on the matter. A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted in July showed that 47 percent of voters supported the concept of taxpayer-financed vouchers, while 46 percent opposed it."
After writing that story in Thursday's paper, it's just strange for the Times, without any explanation of its shift, to come in on Friday with another story giving a sharply varying assessment of both popular opinion and Mr. Bush's posture on the issue.
Cheaper Drugs: The Times has been excoriating George W. Bush in its editorial columns for backing a tax cut that the Times claims helps the rich at the expense of the poor. Yet when it comes to drug pricing, the Times seems to think that it is a problem that the rich (Americans) are subsidizing the poor (Africans, Mexicans). An editorial in today's Times on a proposal to allow the import to America of lower-priced drugs from abroad says "the proposal is worth trying for the simple reason that American patients now bear the brunt of development costs for drugs that are used worldwide. Protected by patent laws and the prohibition against drug imports, American manufacturers charge high prices in the domestic market. The profits cover the cost of finding the next blockbuster drug. Having recovered development costs in the domestic market, manufacturers can sell abroad at low, government-set prices and still add to their profits. The proposed legislation would attempt to tilt the market in favor of American consumers." In other words, the proposed legislation would attempt to tilt the market in favor of the rich. It's strange that the Times would be against having the rich subsidize the poor when it comes to the medicine industry, but in favor of it when it comes to the structure of the tax code. One could almost imagine they have it in for the pharmaceutical industry.
Liberal Brookings: A story in the national section of today's Times about the energy policies of the presidential candidates refers to "the Brookings Institute, a liberal-leaning research organization." This is huge progress; traditionally the Times has labeled the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks as "conservative" while letting the left-wing tanks go unlabeled. Hold the congratulations, though. Another story in the national section, about a speech given by Al Gore at Brookings, referred to "the Brookings Institution, one of Washington's most prominent research organizations. It is a nonpartisan group that conducts research on a broad range of domestic and foreign policy topics." Aha. The unintended disclosure here is that the Times considers "liberal-leaning" and "prominent. . . nonpartisan" to be synonyms.
Minstrel Show: When General Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and J.C. Watts spoke at the Republican National Convention in Philadephia, the Times denounced them as "props" and described the event, in an editorial observer column, as a "minstrel show." At the time, Smartertimes.com expressed a certain skepticism about the Times's ability to accept with respect the political beliefs of black Republicans. It appears we spoke too soon. A front-page story in today's Times suggests that what the Times was objecting to was not the political views of the convention speakers but merely the appearance of any persons of color in the presidential campaign. The story refers to Al Gore's use of "audience members as props" and notes that "Mr. Gore's guests are demographically diverse," including a black and a Hispanic. We are still waiting for the editorialists to denounce Mr. Gore for his minstrel show, but we are pleased to note that the Times is bipartisan when it comes to describing minorities on the campaign trail as "props."
AOL's Wages: In a gushy article praising an offshore AOL help center that uses Filipino workers to respond to questions from American computer users, Times columnist Thomas Friedman reports that jobs at the center "pay about triple the local minimum wage, and come with a 10-kilo bag of rice each month, plus health care and one meal a day. The Filipinos here also get free Internet phone and Web access, which many use for hours after work because they don't have home phones." Well, we're just thrilled to hear that the benefits of globalization include jobs for Filipinos at triple the local minimum wage, but it would be nice if Mr. Friedman would tell us what exactly the local minimum wage is, in dollars. That way we could compare it to the wage that American workers would earn for performing similar tasks. Our bet is that, if these Filipino AOL workers can't afford phones in their homes, their wages are pretty low by American standards. We also wonder if they have the right to organize and bargain collectively in labor unions. There's probably a comparative advantage for AOL in locating these call centers overseas, but leaving out these two relevant facts makes the Times columnist seem more like a propagandist for globalization than a fair-minded observer. Granted, he's a columnist, but even propaganda is more convincing if it takes into account and respectfully dismantles the opposing arguments, rather than sneering at the opponents, as Mr. Friedman does, as "a rogue's gallery of Communists, anarchists, protectionist unions and over-fed Yuppies out for their 1960's fix."
"Even": "Even" is always a word to watch out for in news stories as an indication of bias. Check out this sentence from today's front-page news story on the approval of an abortion pill: "Beyond that, side effects like excessive bleeding are extremely rare in first-trimester abortions, and abortions are legal even into the third trimester of pregnancy in some states." It's strange to see, coming from the Times, but the word "even" there seems to be a nudge from the reporter to the effect of, "Gee, can you believe that in some states they allow the murder of unborn children even in the third trimester?" The sentence would have done fine with the word "even" excised.
Harvard: A day after running a photo of someone wrongly identified as the provost of Harvard University, the New York Times today messes up yet another reference to the college mockingly described by a columnist at the Sulzberger family's Boston cash-cow, the Globe, as WGU (World's Greatest University). A Public Lives profile in today's Times makes reference to "the Harvard School of Public Policy." There is no such school; Harvard's graduate school of public policy is called the Kennedy School of Government. The reference is in a quotation, but the right move for the Times would have been to make the words lowercase or to paraphrase.
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