September 13, 2001
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On the second day of its coverage of the attack on America, the New York Times is beginning to show some rough spots.
One sign of the trouble is a mindless ganging up on President Bush. A front-page news article in today's Times complains that the specific and credible threat against the president was not made public in the middle of the threatening situation. "Neither Mr. Rove or other officials explained why this information was not made public on Tuesday. Partly because it was not, Mr. Bush was criticized for spending the day traveling a zigzag route." The article goes on to say that "On television, in newspapers and in animated discussions in offices across the country, Mr. Bush's conduct was compared unfavorably with that of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, who went to the scene of the attacks in Lower Manhattan; to John F. Kennedy, who stayed in Washington throughout the Cuban missile crisis of 1963, when many feared that nuclear war was imminent, and to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who remained at the Pentagon after it was hit and for a time helped in the evacuation of the dead and wounded."
If Mr. Rove and others haven't "explained" why this wasn't made public Tuesday, it is because no explanation is really necessary. Does the Times really think that it would have helped the situation if, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon having been hit, Karl Rove had gone on television or called the New York Times and said, "Oh, by the way, we are zig-zagging the president around the country because we have received specific and credible evidence that he is next"? It might have panicked the population. It also might have compromised intelligence and security sources and methods, as well as the ongoing investigation -- the Pentagon was reportedly furious yesterday when the White House press secretary announced that the president had been targeted, and Secretary Rumsfeld went out and gave a stern speech about the importance of keeping classified information secret.
The reference in the Times news story to the unfavorable comparison with Mayor Giuliani "in newspapers" is particularly choice. Talk about your self-fulfilling prophecies. The Times criticizes Mr. Bush, then writes a front-page news article about how newspapers are criticizing Mr. Bush.
But the front-page article is just the beginning. There's a "Metro Matters" column asking "shouldn't the president have made it his business to plant his feet in New York City by now?"
There's an editorial referring to the "disturbing" fact that the president did not field questions on Tuesday. The nation is under terrorist attack. The president's life is being threatened. The Times editorialists want Mr. Bush to stop during the 12 hours following the attack and hold a press conference?
And there's an entire separate freestanding news article asserting that "Democrats and Republicans began to question why Americans had seen relatively little of the president in the immediate aftermath of the crisis." That article reports only that Mr. Bush "only briefly" mentioned New York in his address to the nation Tuesday and "did not offer any condolences in that speech specifically to New Yorkers.
Meanwhile, with all the criticism, nowhere does today's Times find room to report that Mr. Bush at 5:53 p.m. yesterday while visiting the Pentagon, said, "We're here to say thanks to not only the workers on this site, but the workers who are doing the same work in New York City."
It's enough to make Smartertimes.com agree with the comment by Senator Schumer about Mr. Bush, a comment buried at the bottom of one New York Times article today: "we don't need people taking shots at him right now."
The Times coverage is starting to fray in other ways, too.
There are inconsistencies. A front page article reports, "Officials said that a breakthrough came when a witness alerted authorities to a rental car parked at Logan International Airport in Boston. The vehicle yielded an Arabic-language flight manual and other documents that contained a name on the passenger list of one of the flights." But an article from Boston inside the Times reports, "The Boston Herald reported this morning that the car contained flight training manuals in Arabic and had been used by at least some of the hijackers, but neither the F.B.I. nor the Boston police would confirm the report." One Times article, in other words, attributes the information to "officials"; the other attributes it to the Herald and says some officials refused to confirm it.
There is sloppy editing. A front-page article reports, "The eyes of Joe Lashendock, an ironworker, had tears in his eyes as he recalled assisting in the rescue . . . " Another front-page article reports that "Macy's Herald Square, the world's biggest store, was open, but the aisles were thin in the late morning." The aisles were thin? Is that because there weren't many people shopping there, or because the racks of clothing were placed close together?
There is repetition of idiotic cliches. The lead, front-page article refers to "a faceless enemy." This business about a "faceless enemy" is rubbish. There is a photograph of the face of Mohammed Atta on page A4 of today's Times. There is a drawing of the face of Osama bin Laden on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal. An editorial in today's New York Times refers to "the handful of governments that sponsor or aid international terrorist groups," including "Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and North Korea." (The Times mysteriously omits Cuba from the list.) The leaders of those countries have faces.
And there is the usual maddening softness on Yasser Arafat. A front-page news article reports unchallenged that Mr. Arafat "angrily rejected accounts that some Palestinians had rejoiced over the attack." Asked about televised pictures, the Times says, Mr. Arafat insisted that "it was less than 10 children in East Jerusalem, and we punished them." Another article inside the Times says "It is unclear how this assertion could be squared with photographs suggesting that there were more people." But the front-page article lets Mr. Arafat have the last word, also ignoring the fact that the celebrations took place in Nablus as well as in Jerusalem. Nowhere in the Times is there any mention of the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization threatened the life of an Associated Press freelance cameraman who taped the Nablus demonstrations.
Letter to the Editor: Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history at Emory University, writes to Smartertimes:
"It was a horrible irony that on the day of the worst terrorist attack in American history, the NYT saw fit to publish a goofy interview with ex-Weatherman Bill Ayers, married to a fellow terrorist Bernardine Dohrn, which begins with the startling declaration by Mr. Ayers that 'I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough.' Among other bombs the Weatherman, and Mr. Ayers, set was one that struck the Pentagon. In his dishonest memoir, 'Fugitive days,' Mr. Ayers mourns the death of his girl friend and two other Weathermen, killed when a bomb they were making accidentally exploded in a New York townhouse. The Times neglects to tell its readers that the bomb being prepared was an anti-personnel bomb, desigend to kill soldiers at Ft. Dix. He insouciantly brushes off his and his wife's comments from the late 1960s and 1970s applauding the Manson murderers and urging people to kill others as just a joke. And he 'doesn't want to discount the possibility' that he would do it all over again."
"One assumes that the NYT would not offer us a fawning interview with the KKK men who blew up a Birmingham church in the early 1960s, complete with a dramatic photo of the mellowing ex-bomber with his glamorous wife."
"And, one assumes that no educational institution in the United States would think of making such a despicable human being a distinguished professor -- of education, no less, as Mr. Ayers is, at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Perhaps some in the news media can use him as an expert talking head in the coming weeks. He's quite knowledgeable about bombing and terrorism and he shares with the perpetrators of yesterday's violence, a hatred a American capitalism and the military-industrial complex, and a deep contempt for the American people. "
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