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- The New York Time Hard Fall

RAINES' HARD FALL

June 6, 2003 -- The unprecedented resignations of The New York Times' top two editors yesterday may have been inevitable, but they were no less stunning.
Question is, do those who run the Times truly understand all of the reasons that brought about this astounding turn of events?

Because the controversy over Jayson Blair's long-undetected trail of plagiarism and outright fabrication is just one factor - and not even the most important one, at that.

Certainly the apparently forced resignations of Executive Editor Howell Raines and his top deputy, Managing Editor Gerald Boyd, had a lot to do with the way they mishandled the Blair fiasco - and their earlier culpability in pushing Blair's career while ignoring pointed warnings from other Times editors about the 27-year-old's problematic reporting.

Since then, the paper has suffered other embarrassments:

* The resignation of reporter Rick Bragg following his suspension for misusing uncredited freelancers - a venial sin in the grand scheme of things; and,

* Op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd's substantially more egregious and clearly deliberate misquotation of President Bush in a way that made him look ignorant about al Qaeda's dangers.

Raines' admittedly haughty and arrogant management style doubtless also was a key contributing factor: In the 21 months of his editorship, the Times suffered an astonishing exodus of top journalistic talent to other papers.

But the Times' biggest credibility problem has nothing to do with Raines' personal style or its reporters' ethical lapses.

It has to do with a longstanding problem that has become glaringly unavoidable during the tenure of Publisher Arthur Sulzberger: The Times lets its ideological heart bleed all over its news pages - even as it pretends to grind no political axes.

It has a perfect right to do this, of course; any newspaper has.

But The New York Times has been long - and correctly - regarded as America's paper of record; for better or worse, its pages still set much of the national news agenda.

It was no accident, in other words, that the Times' defeatist approach to Operation Iraqi Freedom established a tone for so much of the mainstream press' war coverage.

And when the Times adopted as its cause celebre Augusta National Golf Club's refusal to admit women - even to the point of killing two pieces by Times columnists who disagreed - much of the media trotted right along.

Indeed, both the paper's news pages and editorial pages daily castigate Republicans and demonize conservatives - often dishonestly so.

Case in point: The Times' front-page story last week of how cruel Republicans had secretly robbed low-income Americans of their child-care tax credit, which simply ignored the fact that those affected were people who already pay little or no taxes.

Or the paper's recent Page 1 polemic disguised as a news story that argued in favor of tax hikes by claiming that New Yorkers "don't pay the highest taxes."

In fact, as we noted at the time, New York City's taxes are the highest in the nation, especially at the $100,000-a-year- plus income levels.

Certainly, such blatant distortions have much to do with the Times' most recent circulation losses - a phenomenon almost unheard of during a war.

But Howell Raines, ever the ideologue, refused to acknowledge that the paper's critics might possibly have a point - even angrily accusing them, ironically, of practicing "disinformation" in order to advance "a different kind of agenda."

Now he's out.

And now the Times is at a watershed moment: Beyond its internal management problems, will it address its basic credibility problem - its disingenuous approach to the news?

Again, the Times has a right to print what it chooses.

But its decisions have consequences.

As yesterday's events proved.
 






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