Bruce Bartlett

Say what you want about The New York Times, but it still makes more news than any other paper in the United States. By this, I don't mean in the sense of printing the news, as other papers do, but rather in the sense of news about the Times itself. Consider these recent items that made national news.

-- A new executive editor was appointed at the Times. Veteran reporter and editor Bill Keller was named to replace Howell Raines, who was forced out in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. The latter was a reporter who was fired for inventing facts in his stories.

-- Another reporter, Lynette Holloway, grossly screwed up a story about Steven Gottlieb, a music industry executive, in a business section story on July 7. A week later, the Times was forced to retract the whole thing.

-- The Times announced the appointment of David Brooks of The Weekly Standard as a regular op-ed columnist. He becomes the first explicitly conservative columnist on the page, which has long been dominated by foaming-at-the-mouth liberals like Paul Krugman and Bob Herbert. The current token conservative, Bill Safire, is really just a moderate Republican, which still puts him well to the right of everyone else at the Times.

It's hard to imagine any other paper in the United States generating this kind of news about its own activities. Probably only a small fraction of people who knew that Howell Raines was executive editor of the Times could even name his counterparts at The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. (For the curious, they are Paul Steiger and Leonard Downie Jr., respectively.)

The fact is that the Times is the 600-pound gorilla of American journalism. Despite recent setbacks, it still sets the tone for much of the rest of the media and can establish the national agenda on key issues. In recent weeks, congressional correspondent David Firestone made the nonrefundability of the child credit in the tax bill an issue in Congress by pounding the issue in the Times.

A key reason for the Times' influence is the depth of its resources. For example, it has 15 people just on its editorial board. Most papers get by with far fewer editorial writers. The Washington Post has nine and the Wall Street Journal has only seven. In areas such as foreign reporting, only The Associated Press has more correspondents, and the Times' business staff is exceeded only by The Wall Street Journal among newspapers.

Because of its dominant influence within the national media, the Times deserves much of the responsibility for how people view the press generally. Recent polls suggest that this view is not very positive.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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