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8 April 1999

Life in this celebrity press corps: The New York Times (pretty much) gets it right!

Synopsis: Ignoring the hoo-hah about farm chores and movies, the New York Times (pretty much) got it right.

Inventors of Paper Clips and Tall Tales
Frank Bruni, The New York Times, 3/13/99

Following Baby-Size Issues Into Voters’ Hearts
Richard L. Berke, The New York Times, 3/21/99

Saving Private Gore
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 3/24/99

We’d had several weeks of nonsense and hoo-hah, devoted to farm chores and Love Story rehash. It was a dispiriting look at how silly it gets in the world’s most important public discourse.

But within the great engines of the national press, one valiant paper turned its back on the mob. Towering over the madding crowd, the New York Times (pretty much) got it right!

The Gore Internet flap had begun on March 9, when Gore was interviewed on CNN by Wolf Blitzer. And Gore’s statement had seemed so mundane at the time it provoked no questions at all from his host. No journalist mentioned it for the next two days--Gore’s statement produced absolutely no comment. Indeed, when Greg Pierce reviewed the chat in the Washington Times (March 11), he didn’t say a word about Gore’s monstrous comment.

But on that same March 11, Dick Armey got busy, faxing out GOP spin. And soon the press corps was deeply worried about the troubling thing the VP had said.

The New York Times did its best to ignore it. On March 13, Frank Bruni checked in with a humorous story about the jokes the flap had produced. We’d have preferred an analytical piece, reviewing Gore’s actual history with the Net. And the Times piece could be scored for suggesting something false--that this was all just a big friendly rib-tickler.

But the Times avoided what others did not--avoided repeating Dick Armey’s spin about the “history” (alleged) of the Net. Armey had faxed out tendentious claims; the press corps busily typed them up. In refusing to pass on this silly, strained spin, Frank Bruni and the Times got it right.

Next we encountered the major flap about the veep’s crucial “farm chores” comment. Senator Bradley lodged the charge that Gore had spent his life right here in Washington. In response, Gore dared to make an innocuous statement, describing events the press had reported for the course of the past dozen years.

This time, Jim Nicholson himself got busy faxing, and the press again started to type. Soon the Weekly Standard was calling “preposterous” a claim its own New Yorker cite proved, and the Washington Post was busy concocting softened versions of the (apparently false) spin.

This time, the New York Times just took a pass, never deigning to mention the matter. The Times refused to get tangled up in the latest inane fol-de-rol. Example: Rick Berke did a piece on 3/21, critiquing a few of Gore’s “baby-size issues.” And--incredibly--Berke didn’t mention the farm chores at all, in the course of his full-length critique!

Here at THE HOWLER, the analysts cheered! And we toasted him--Rick Berke got it right!

To be candid, the Times does publish Maureen Dowd, and there she was, on 3/24, scoring Gore’s “itsy-bitsy” issues. Of course, Maureen Dowd kvetching about trivialization is like Mickey Mouse complaining about rodents. But Dowd did feel the need to recite the whole litany of current spin-topics:

DOWD: Recently the Vice President has repeated the mistake he made with “Love Story” and drawn ridicule by boasting the he was the father of the Internet and a master at cleaning hog waste and plowing farmland with a team of mules.

You can’t cram it all in much better than that. But the Times news division had caught our eye, refusing to be drawn into nonsense and hoo-hah, keeping its focus on major issues, actually dealing in news. We’d have liked it better if they’d protected the discourse by taking the measure of Bill Kristol’s wild conduct. Again: when major journals just make stuff up, we do think that that’s a news story.

But refusing to swim in a sea of spin, the Times held itself apart and above. Refusing to traffic in bullroar and blather, the New York Times (pretty much) got it right.

Visit our incomparable archives: Enjoy every episode in our “x gets it right” series:

E.T. and Coop get it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/98
Joe Klein gets it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/4/98
Capital Style gets it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/30/98
The Hill gets it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/9/98
Leno gets it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/10/98
Shapiro gets it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/23/98
Hume gets it right: THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/8/99