Nothing To Bragg About -- May 27, 2003
By: Clay Waters

Times Watch for May 27, 2003

Nothing To Bragg About

Times reporter Rick Bragg, known for his literary evocations of Southern culture from the joys of iced tea to the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., is serving a two-week suspension and might not be coming back.

An Editors Note on Friday chides Bragg for an article on the lives of oystermen that appeared under his byline last June. The article was datelined Apalachicola, Fla., but the Times discovered Bragg did no actual reporting in the area and relied heavily on the legwork of uncredited local freelancer J. Wes Yoder, Braggs intern at the time. Cynics like Mickey Kaus and Andrew Sullivan interpreted the Times timing of the Editors Note (published the Friday before Memorial Day) as a case of burying bad news at the start of a holiday weekend.

Eric Umansky points out in Slates Todays Papers column: There's nothing necessarily wrong with reporters getting helping from youngsters. But, duh, readers should be told when freelancers, interns, or whomever are reporting significant parts of a piece. It's not hard. The LAT, WP, USAT and others often use additional reporting tags at the end of their articles. Why doesn't the NYT?

Mickey Kaus writes: I suspect that what Bragg did was a worse case of stringer abuse than is typical, but that isn't the issue. The issue is whether the Times is routinely deceiving its readers into thinking that its stories have the credibility safeguard of a bylined reporter who has actually done the reporting in the story.

Apparently, the Times philosophy of standing up for the little guy doesnt include giving him a byline.

Jack Shafer, a Slate writer whos been gentler than most on the Times and executive editor Howell Raines, goes ballistic on Bragg.

Shafer says: It's dishonest for a writer like Bragg--who prides himself in brushing literary lacquer to the down-home details he harvest--to publish under his byline sights, sounds, and scenes collected by somebody else. Shafer concludes: Bragg filed a fraudulent dateline, composed a piece in his own literary voice about things he didn't see, and violated several Times policies about byline integrity.

Bragg isnt suffering in silence. In an interview with Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz, Bragg says he considers himself a scapegoat for the Times Jayson Blair woes, and decries the "poisonous atmosphere" at the paper. Kurtz reports: The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter says he will quit in the next few weeks.

Willie Horton Republicans Rough Up Softball Democrats

The Times ran two front-page stories by Washington reporter Adam Clymer over the Memorial Day holiday, focusing on the state of the two major political parties.

Clymer took on the Republicans on Sunday. In Buoyed by Resurgence, G.O.P. Strives for an Era of Dominance, Clymer wrote: Another reason to take Republican aspirations seriously is that Republicans live by the adage of the satirist Finley Peter Dunne's Mr. Dooley, Politics ain't beanbag. They have built their strength in the South by appealing to white resentment of civil rights policies, and sometimes by discouraging voting by blacks, as they did last year in Louisiana's Senate runoff, which the Democratic incumbent, Mary L. Landrieu, won anyway by a margin of four percentage points.

Clymer cites no evidence to support his claim, and in any case blacks were far from discouraged from voting--Landrieu won due to high black turnout. (Landrieus campaign also benefited from spreading a thinly sourced allegation that Bush planned to flood the United States with cheap sugar from Mexico at the cost of Louisianas sugar industry, a tactic Clymer could have easily assailed as nativist if done by Republicans.)

Clymer continues: When it comes to hard-hitting campaign advertisements, [Republicans] have used everything from Willie Horton's image to the suggestion that Senator Max Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, was unconcerned about national security.

Of course, it was future Vice-President Al Gore, not then Vice-President George Bush, who first brought up the issue of Mass. Gov. Michael Dukakis furlough program for violent criminals during the 1988 Democratic primaries. Clymer also fails to mention that the Veterans of Foreign Wars (who should know) endorsed Rep. Saxby Chambliss over Sen. Cleland in the Georgia Senate race.

On Monday it was the Democrats turn, and Clymer pictures the Democrats as a put-upon party. Democrats Seek a Stronger Focus, and Money provides self-serving excuses for why why the party isnt winning: Republicans are portrayed as ruthless, while Democrats are just too soft and sophisticated. Democrats these days lack the killer instinct that it takes to sell blunt, demagogic messages, Clymer writes. As Bob Shrum, a prominent consultant for 30 years, said: It's probably a weakness that we're not real haters. We don't have a sense that it's a holy crusade. We don't have a sense that it's Armageddon. Or, as Mr. Gore's former campaign manger, [Gore campaign chief Donna] Brazile put it: They play hardball. We play softball.

As reported in the Nov. 20, 2000 MRC CyberAlert, this is the same softball Donna Brazile who during the post-election described 2000 Florida voting: In disproportionately black areas, people faced dogs, guns and were required to have three forms of ID.

For the rest of Clymers story on the Republican Party, click here.

For the rest of Clymers story on the Democratic Party, click here.

The Krugman Crack-Up

In Stating the Obvious, Times columnist Paul Krugman takes up residence upon the grassy knoll of contemporary conspiracy-mongering, accusing the Bush administration of setting out to deliberately wreck the American economy with a fiscal crisis in order to do away with the social and economic system we have.

Krugman writes: Not long ago, to suggest that the Bush administration's policies might actually be driven by those ideologues -- that the administration was deliberately setting the country up for a fiscal crisis in which popular social programs could be sharply cut -- was to be accused of spouting conspiracy theories. Yet by pushing through another huge tax cut in the face of record deficits, the administration clearly demonstrates either that it is completely feckless, or that it actually wants a fiscal crisis. (Or maybe both.)

Apparently, turning America into an economic basket case is part of Bushs plan to win the good graces of voters in 2004.

Krugman continues: The government can borrow to make up the difference as long as investors remain in denial, unable to believe that the world's only superpower is turning into a banana republic.The people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need.

For the rest of Paul Krugmans conspiracy column, click here.

Elsewhere on the Web today:

Charles Murtaugh notes Times columnist Bob Herbert did something unprecedented on Monday: See Story

Paul Beston says a Times Magazine piece on campus conservatives embraces the idea of conservatism as cult: See Story

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