Raines of Error: Howells 21-Month Times Editorialship -- June 5, 2003
Times Watch for
June 5, 2003
Raines of Error:
Howells 21-Month Times Editorialship
Howell Raines served as executive editor of the New York Times from
September 2001 to June 5, 2003.
Prompted by the elevation of Howell Raines to executive editorship of the New
York Times, after years as editor of the papers liberal editorial page,
Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson asked a
now-prophetic question in his column of August 29, 2001: "Does anyone
believe that, in his new job, Raines will instantly purge himself of these and
other views?" Raines management of the Times over the next 21 months would
give Samuelson and other skeptics a most affirmative No.
One of the first signs something was awry at the Times came on Nov. 18, 2002,
with a Times editorial suggesting three-time Masters golf tournament winner
Tiger Woods boycott Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters, for its
refusal to admit women as members. The Times anti-Augusta crusade eventually
got the attention of Newsweek when in December reporter Seth Mnookin wrote
The Changing 'Times, a two-page story including the subhead: A
hard-charging editors crusading style is coloring the Gray Ladys
reputation. Mnookin noted that Raines paper had run 32 stories on whether
the Augusta National Golf Club would admit women.
Raines Augusta crusade soon caused the paper even more grief. New York Daily
News columnist Paul Colford
revealed Dec 4, 2002 that the Times had spiked columns by two sports
columnists who had written columns disagreeing with the Times editorial stand
on Woods. (After outcry, the columns were eventually run in revised form.)
Bloodied but unbowed, Raines continued to
deny liberal bias in 2003, accusing instead his critics of a
disinformation effort of alarming proportions to convince our readers
that we are ideologues while accepting an award at a National Press
Foundation's awards dinner Feb. 20. Raines worried those of us who work for
fair-minded publications and broadcasters have been too passive in pointing
out the agendas of those who want to use journalism as a political tool,
meaning conservatives. Raines also denounced the attempt to convince the
audience of the worlds most ideology-free newspapers that theyre being
subjected to agenda driven news reflecting a liberal bias. Rejecting any
culpability for why anyone would perceive a liberal bias, Raines accused those
who document liberal media bias of being advocates for biased journalism.
The beginning of the end for Raines may have come in late April, when a
reporter for a San Antonio newspaper noticed that a Times story by a reporter
named Jayson Blair was almost identical to one she had written the week
before. Accused of plagiarism,
resigned, causing a firestorm and involving the paper in more negative
On May 11, the Times ran an exhaustive, 7,200-word mea culpa titled Times
Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception, documenting
fabrications. But Publisher Arthur Sulzberger raised eyebrows when he was
quoted as saying: The person who did this is Jayson Blair. Lets not begin to
demonize our executives -- either the desk editors or the executive editor or,
dare I say, the publisher."
As the New York Sun commented: Far be it from us to suggest how the publisher
of the New York Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., ought to run his business,
even if his editorial columns have spent much of the past year telling others
how to run theirs.
The scandal encapsulated what many considered Raines autocratic refusal to
listen to his staff, and his propensity for playing favorites. At a Times
staff meeting held May 14, he admitted that as a white man from Alabama, he
may have given Jayson Blair one chance too many
because Blair was
black, an admission that did little to invite confidence. In fact, Raines
had specifically boasted of
in front of the National Association of Black Journalists in 2001, saying:
This campaign has made our staff better and, more importantly, more diverse.
Then came the controversy over feature writer Rick Bragg, who
complaints that hed gotten too much help from uncredited freelancer
On May 14, Times
Watch revealed that Maureen Dowd had dishonestly quoted President Bush to
make him look wrong about the dangers posed by Al Qaeda terrorists. The Times
ran no correction (Dowd merely reprinted the Bush quote accurately in a later
column), although several papers who had picked up the column did.
The last words of Raines February speech to National Press Foundation turned
out to be predictive: Your award says tonight, says to me that you think we
had a good newspaper last year. Were gonna try to make it better in 2003.
With Raines resignation, the Times has come closer to achieving that goal.
See Howell Raines
Cripples the Fake Passport Industry
The Times is getting creative at finding the
downside in post-Saddam Iraq. The papers stories alleging mass looting of
artifacts may have been vastly overblown, but reporter Sabrina Tavernise has
found a unique angle.
In the post-Saddam era, fewer Kurds are trying
to flee Iraq. But instead of writing about the Kurds relief from repression
and fear, Tavernise ponders how the development is hurting the fake passport
trade. Thats the subject of her Thursday story, Thriving Kurdish Trade in
Fake Passports Slumps as Fewer Choose to Flee the Region.
A man known as Sarhang used to do a bustling
business in fake passports on the border of Iraq and Iran. But now, two
months after the war, things have changed, Tavernise writes. Sarhang's
business has dropped off precipitously. There are no clients for his wares. He
spends his days in the empty shop playing a Sony PlayStation. Kurds, it seems,
are now choosing to stay at home. A caption for a picture accompanying the
story reads: In the central market of Sulaimaniya, Iraq, in the
Kurdish-controlled zone of Iraq, shops that used to sell false passports to
people trying to flee to other countries have fallen on hard times.
Its nice for the Times to sympathize with
struggling entrepreneurs in Northern Iraq, but a little perspective would seem
to be in order: If people are choosing not to flee a country, isnt that a
For the rest of Sabrina Tavernises story on
TimesWatch Director, Clay Waters, with TimesWatch feedback at