What is the New York Times promoting?

Posted: May 29, 2002 12:00 AM
"Personnel is policy" is an old axiom in politics. It also applies to the world of journalism, as evidenced by recent developments at The New York Times, which has been trending even further left with recent appointments. First, the Times promoted crusading liberal editorial page editor Howell Raines, who once publicly mourned that "the Reagan years oppressed me," to editor-in-chief. Now, Richard Berke, the paper's national political correspondent since 1993, is being promoted to Washington editor, the No. 2 job in a bureau of more than 50 people. On one level this is to be expected. After all, the paper's No. 1 executive in Washington is Jill Abramson, who became a star in the early 1990s for attacking Supreme Court Clarence Thomas as a sexual harasser in the liberal news pages of The Wall Street Journal and in the book "Strange Justice." Richard Berke fits nicely on this team. He most recently achieved notoriety in conservative circles for the silliest and most shameless front-page Gore-planted hit piece of the 2000 campaign. The Sept. 12 piece, headlined "Democrats See, and Smell, Rats in G.O.P. Ad," made a big deal out of one-thirtieth of one-second of a commercial, where the word "rats" flashed on screen as the word "bureaucrats" went by. That night, it topped newscasts at ABC, CNN and MSNBC, and earned stories on CBS and NBC. The New York Times decided to make the "rats" story front-page news only when the Gore campaign called them. As Berke explained on PBS, the Gore campaign invited him over and played the ad for him over and over again. He recounted how he failed to find the newsworthy angle but did agree to show it to his editors. It was they, he claimed, who found it shocking, and so he wrote a "dispassionate" story on nasty Republican commercials. But there was nothing dispassionate about Berke's piece. It was intended to describe Republicans as uniquely extreme, uniquely uncivil, uniquely repulsive. Earlier this year, our dispassionate journalist was at it again, eagerly highlighting how "Gray Davis is just salivating at the opportunity to paint" the "very conservative" California Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon "as anti-abortion, anti-environment, anti-gun control, anti-everything, which just doesn't sit well with the California electorate." He also suggested U.S. troops in Afghanistan could become another Vietnam. In January, he waited until the fourth paragraph of a story headlined "Poll Finds Enron's Taint Clings More to G.O.P. Than Democrats" to note that it had found an 82 percent approval for President Bush. So much for the taint. But there's another event from 2000 that underscores why Berke's promotion is different than the usual liberals-promote-liberals plan. At that spring's annual conference of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the openly gay Berke rejoiced at the strides homosexuals have made in the nation's newsrooms. He told the crowd "there are times when you look at the front-page meeting [of the Times] and ... literally three-quarters of the people deciding what's on the front page are not-so-closeted homosexuals." This trend is not accidental. It is publicly promoted by Times publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger. The Times not only goes to gay-journalist conventions with recruiting booths, they're putting openly gay stars at the top of the decision-making mountain. You better believe those decisions have political impact. When George W. Bush campaigned in 2000, trailed daily by openly gay reporter Frank Bruni, and also analyzed by openly gay national correspondent Rick Berke, what effect did that have on how he handled homosexuality on the stump? One could argue it thoroughly intimidated him. He barely mentioned it then, and he's barely touched on it up to this day. And the intimidated attitude continues. When social conservatives push against same-sex marriage, the ACLU marches around with press releases quoting Dick Cheney pooh-poohing any resistance. The tiny splinter of gay activist Log Cabin Republicans are getting special meetings at the White House, while GOP House and Senate campaign officials kiss their rings and tell them how important they are. This wouldn't happen if Republicans weren't petrified with being tagged "anti-gay" by the media elite, which is a very short step from being labeled "far right." The Berke promotion doesn't signal that the Times is promoting excellence. It signals that they're promoting their newspaper as an aggressive liberal lobbying tool not only to prevent Republican campaign victories, but to pave a smooth and silky path for cultural relativism as well.