New York Times executive editor Howell Raines shares, with his fellow liberal Southerner Al Gore, a talent for driving his opponents batty. Conservatives and a few not-so-conservatives have been conducting a journalistic jihad against Raines ever since he decided that dissension within the military, within the Republican Party in Congress and within the Republican national security establishment–many of whose members served in the first Bush Administration–about George Bush’s decision to pursue a pre-emptive war against Iraq constituted a genuine news story. (Conservatives apparently hoped to be able to launch wars against whomever they please without any discussion, except those sanctioned from above and officially leaked to Bob Woodward.)
The latest right-wing bee-in-a-bonnet controversy for Raines concerns the paper’s coverage of the Cro-Magnon men-only admissions policies of Augusta National Golf Club. It was aptly described by the Toronto Star‘s Antonia Zerbisias as “a dust-up over how a rich white man’s club won’t let rich white women join, and how CBS still plans to showcase the course when it hosts the Masters, a tournament starring Tiger Woods who, as a black man, should know better than to play at a place which discriminates.”
So far the Times treatment of the controversy has elicited coverage and criticism in the Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, USA Today, Newsweek, Slate, the New York Daily News, the New York Observer and just about everywhere in the blogosphere. To the uninitiated, it’s hard to understand why all the tsuris. As a citizen of the Free World, I consider it my God-given right to ignore any newspaper story I damn please. Of the thirty-three stories on the Augusta controversy the Times published as of December 3, I noticed maybe two of them and read zero. The anger, moreover, is curious because Times coverage has hardly been out of whack with the rest of the nation’s newspapers. As of December 3 it had published four fewer stories than the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s thirty-seven, where Augusta is a local story, and just slightly more than the Los Angeles Times (twenty-seven pieces), USA Today (twenty-four) and the Washington Post (twenty-two).
Conservatives see a plot on Raines’s part to turn the nation’s newspaper of record into an adjunct of The Nation. This is just silly. On any given day one can find reports in the Times that gladden a liberal’s heart alongside those that infuriate it. There is bias evident in the paper every day, but it’s conservative as often as liberal. To give one tiny instance, during the height of the Augusta flap, the paper ran a 2,500-word front-page story on the National Bureau of Economic Research terming it “nonpartisan” and the “nation’s premier economic research organization,” without mentioning that it enjoys $10 million in conservative philanthropic underwriting from the likes of the Bradley, Olin, Scaife and Smith Richardson foundations. (Thanks to Rob Levine of mediatransparency.org for that tidbit.)