The shame of the Times Bruce Bartlett July 4, 2006

The New York Times is very upset that it has been singled out for revealing a government program that tracks terrorists through financial transactions. The Times notes that the same story was simultaneously broken by the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, but so far they have not come in for the same criticism.

One reason for this disparate treatment is that the New York Times has no reservoir of goodwill to fall back on. Because of its past actions, people are disinclined to give it the benefit of the doubt when its judgment and patriotism are questioned.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Herbert L. Matthews, a Times reporter who virtually put Fidel Castro in power by excusing and covering up his crimes, and making him seem like the second coming of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln combined. But even more serious charges have long been leveled at another Times reporter: Walter Duranty, who covered the Soviet Union for the paper for many critical years in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The charge against Duranty is that he knew about Josef Stalin’s policy of deliberately starving the people of Ukraine to punish them for defiance, and intentionally kept this news out of the Times. It is likely that the glare of publicity on this monstrous crime in a paper as important as the Times probably would have caused Stalin to back off, potentially saving millions of lives. Adding insult to injury, in the view of many critics, is that Duranty received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in 1932, which the Times still proudly lists among those the paper has won.

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1 thought on “The shame of the Times

  1. Those attacking the New York Times may perhaps have forgotten the role that a free press exists to serve. In NEW YORK TIMES CO. V. UNITED STATES (1971), known as the famous “Pentagon Papers” case, Justice Hugo Black eloquently reminded us:

    In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell. In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly. In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam war, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.

    ..The word “security” is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment. The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic. The Framers of the First Amendment, fully aware of both the need to defend a new nation and the abuses of the English and Colonial governments, sought to give this new society strength and security by providing that freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly should not be abridged. This thought was eloquently expressed in 1937 by Mr. Chief Justice Hughes — great man and great Chief Justice that he was — when the Court held a man could not be punished for attending a meeting run by Communists.

    “The greater the importance of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government.

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