Part 5—The Times and the fairy tale jet: Once again, we’ll suggest that you should consider what Howard Dean said.
He appeared on last Thursday’s Morning Joe. While there, he made an especially rude remark about the New York Times’ bombshell report and the newspaper’s general work:
DEAN (4/23/15): : First of all, I haven’t seen the story and neither have you, right?...I will say, there is an epidemic of really sloppy reporting that goes from the top to the bottom...I’d like to see what all the facts are here, because so far we haven’t really seen—Good God! When Howard Dean speaks to journalism classes, he uses the New York Times for examples of bad reporting!
SCARBOROUGH: Why don’t you read the story before accusing the New York Times of being sloppy?
DEAN: Because in general, the New York Times has been sloppy, particularly their political writers. I use the New York Times as an example in journalism classes because by the fifth paragraph in any political story...by the fifth paragraph, they’re substituting their judgment for news.
Needless to say, Joe Scarborough was upset by these inappropriate comments. As he continued, he scolded Professor Dean for his “reflexive attack” on the Times’ obvious greatness.
In truth, Dean’s statement was prophetic. As things have turned out, the New York Times’ sprawling bombshell report should be used in journalism classes as an example of what not to do in political reporting.
Our view? The bombshell report is a crowning example of the pseudo-journalism rules. To read the report, click here.
A professor could spend many weeks examining the various issues which are misstated, omitted or glossed in the bombshell report. For simplicity sake, we’ll offer two quick observations about the type of pseudo-journalism seen there:
No one is actually expected to read such lengthy reports: Presumably, very few people actually read the sprawling bombshell report. It’s long and murky and highly confusing. Unless we stick to skimming the surface, it’s hard to get clear about what is being said.
Presumably, very few people read such reports. Presumably, these reports are designed to signal, by their sprawling layout, that a bombshell has been dropped by the glorious Times.
From the headlines and the photo captions, readers will know who is being attacked, and on what general basis. As occurred last Thursday on Morning Joe, the nation’s pundits will take it from there, even as they openly say that they haven’t read the report.
These reports are examples of story-telling rather than news reporting: On a literary basis, the bombshell report to which Dean referred is primal story-telling. It presents heroes and villains in novelized form, often through the tools of insinuation and suggestion.
Basic facts are AWOL throughout. It isn’t clear that basic information has even been sought. When factual statements do appear, the facts may be misstated. Most basic facts are nowhere to be found.
You’re reading a type of fairy tale when you read the bombshell report. In its essence, it isn’t a real attempt at traditional “news reporting.” It’s an attempt at telling a tale to support a preapproved notion.
What do we mean when we say that such writing belongs to the genre of fairy tale? Consider what Jo Becker did the first time she told part of the story featured in last week’s bombshell report. This takes us back to 2008, the first time the New York Times took after Candidate Clinton and her ravenous husband.
Last week, Becker and Mike McIntire filed their bombshell report. In January 2008, Becker was joined by Don Van Natta as she told an earlier version of one part of the tale.
That too was a lengthy front-page report, running 2800 words. Below, you see the way Becker began. Warning! As a literary form, this is primal story-telling, a type of a fairy tale:
BECKER (1/31/08): Late on Sept. 6, 2005, a private plane carrying the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra touched down in Almaty, a ruggedly picturesque city in southeast Kazakhstan. Several hundred miles to the west a fortune awaited: highly coveted deposits of uranium that could fuel nuclear reactors around the world. And Mr. Giustra was in hot pursuit of an exclusive deal to tap them.You’ve just read the start of a front-page “news report”—rather, of an apparent news report which was more like a fairy tale.
Unlike more established competitors, Mr. Giustra was a newcomer to uranium mining in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic. But what his fledgling company lacked in experience, it made up for in connections. Accompanying Mr. Giustra on his luxuriously appointed MD-87 jet that day was a former president of the United States, Bill Clinton.
Upon landing on the first stop of a three-country philanthropic tour, the two men were whisked off to share a sumptuous midnight banquet with Kazakhstan's president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, whose 19-year stranglehold on the country has all but quashed political dissent.
Mr. Nazarbayev walked away from the table with a propaganda coup, after Mr. Clinton expressed enthusiastic support for the Kazakh leader's bid to head an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. Mr. Clinton's public declaration undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan's poor human rights record by, among others, Mr. Clinton's wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
Within two days, corporate records show that Mr. Giustra also came up a winner when his company signed preliminary agreements giving it the right to buy into three uranium projects controlled by Kazakhstan's state-owned uranium agency, Kazatomprom.
The villains were quickly signaled. They’d flown to a mysterious city on a luxurious jet.
One of them—he was inexperienced!—was seeking a coveted fortune. To make up for his cluelessness, he had flown in on his sumptuous jet with a powerful friend.
When the boys disembarked, they were whisked away to meet a tyrant, with whom they shared a midnight banquet. The word “sultan” was right in his name!
The tyrant scored a propaganda coup. You may not be fully surprised to learn what happened next:
BECKER (continuing directly): The monster deal stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest uranium producers in a transaction ultimately worth tens of millions of dollars to Mr. Giustra, analysts said.The financier wasn’t simply inexperienced; he had been running a shell company! Months later, Clinton got paid!
Just months after the Kazakh pact was finalized, Mr. Clinton’s charitable foundation received its own windfall: a $31.3 million donation from Mr. Giustra that had remained a secret until he acknowledged it last month. The gift, combined with Mr. Giustra’s more recent and public pledge to give the William J. Clinton Foundation an additional $100 million, secured Mr. Giustra a place in Mr. Clinton’s inner circle, an exclusive club of wealthy entrepreneurs in which friendship with the former president has its privileges.
Anyone can understand the meaning of that story. Its insinuations would be obvious to an alert third-grader. On the adult level, they include the suggestion that Clinton “undercut” American interests in order to get his pay.
What were the actual motives of the players in that uranium deal? We don’t have the slightest idea—and a person certainly can’t find out by reading that “news report.”
That said, there is no question how Clinton and Giustra were being portrayed. We’ll offer two points to help you see how far a scribe like Becker will go to nail down preferred portrayals.
Through the language of story and tale, Becker makes a plain insinuation: Clinton flew in on Giustra’s jet to help his pal score a big deal, for which Clinton later got paid.
How sad! It wasn’t until paragraph 31—paragraph 31!—that Becker let readers see this:
BECKER: The publicly stated reason for the visit was to announce a Clinton Foundation agreement that enabled the government to buy discounted AIDS drugs.That appeared in paragraph 31, in case anyone was still reading.
Presumably, Becker postponed this information because it would tend to cast Clinton in a favorable light. It would also undermine her tale’s preferred framework, in which readers are given the idea that Clinton flew in to help his clueless pal score a deal, from which he took a cut.
Rubes, Clinton announced a philanthropic agreement during his (very) brief stay in Almaty! But even when Becker finally let readers be exposed to this fact, she suggested, through her insinuative language, that this “publicly stated reason” was in fact a ruse.
What were Clinton’s motives that day, if any? We don’t know, but Becker’s motives seem abundantly clear. This kind of slippery, delayed disclosure was also found in last week’s bombshell report, where you get to read a key denial if you read to paragraph 67.
This sort of con game typifies the work of the New York Times. We’d say Professor Dean is excessively kind if he describes such as work as “sloppy.”
We wouldn’t call it “sloppy” at all. We’d say this sort of work by the Times seems to be highly practiced.
Becker buried a basic fact in paragraph 31. It appeared long after most people would have stopped reading. When it did appear, she plainly suggested that the “philanthropic announcement” was really just a ruse by Clinton. People like Becker will do many things to tell you the story they like.
As Rolling Stone has taught us, people like Becker will do such things to tell you the story they like. They may even misstate basic facts.
Consider the ride on that sumptuous jet, which played a key role in that tale.
In Becker’s simple-minded tale, Clinton’s ride on that sumptuous jet plays an obvious role. The sumptuous jet was right there in paragraph one.
But uh-oh! After the 2008 election was over, Giustra pushed back against several of Becker’s insinuations and claims.
Robert Lenzner of Forbes magazine did a report about Giustra’s objections. Among other matters, he reported that Becker had been mistaken about the ride on that jet:
LENZNER (1/12/09): The Times claims that Clinton and Giustra arrived together in Kazakhstan on Giustra’s plane on Sept. 6, 2005. But the manifest of the Chartright Air Group shows a flight date for Giustra’s jet of Sept. 2, 2005, and the list of seven passengers did not include the former president. It did include Amed Khan, Clinton’s advance man. In fact, Clinton arrived in Kazakhstan four days after Giustra, on Burkle’s plane, and stayed less than a day.Oops! Lenzner had seen the manifest for Giustra’s flight to Kazakhstan. It showed Giustra arriving on September 2, four days earlier than Becker had reported.
According to Giustra, he had spent those four days negotiating the uranium deal. Clinton flew in on September 6, the date on which Becker had said the two men arrived together.
The fairy tale becomes less perfect if these are the actual facts. The hapless novice arrives by himself and spends four days working his deal. Clinton arrives for just a few hours, during which time he announces the philanthropic arrangement—the arrangement Becker hid until paragraph 31 of her disguised fairy tale.
Lenzner had seen the manifest. Even as he addressed other points from Becker’s report, he said she got the alleged plane ride wrong.
As far as we know, no one ever disputed Lenzner’s account. Forbes is a rather well-known publication.
But so what? Last week, in the bombshell report, Becker had the boys on the jet again!
BECKER AND MCINTIRE (4/24/15): The path to a Russian acquisition of American uranium deposits began in 2005 in Kazakhstan, where the Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra orchestrated his first big uranium deal, with Mr. Clinton at his side.The boys were together again, on Giustra’s jet, undercutting American interests.
The two men had flown aboard Mr. Giustra’s private jet to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where they dined with the authoritarian president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev. Mr. Clinton handed the Kazakh president a propaganda coup when he expressed support for Mr. Nazarbayev’s bid to head an international elections monitoring group, undercutting American foreign policy and criticism of Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record by, among others, his wife, then a senator.
Within days of the visit, Mr. Giustra’s fledgling company, UrAsia Energy Ltd., signed a preliminary deal giving it stakes in three uranium mines controlled by the state-run uranium agency Kazatomprom.
In a public statement last week, Giustra corrected the record again, about the ride on the sumptuous jet and about other matters. “The reporter, Jo Becker, wrote a similar piece in 2008, which was eventually debunked by Forbes,” the inexperienced financier wearily noted.
You’re right! The boys’ alleged ride on Giustra’s jet played a fairly minor role in last week’s bombshell report. Back in 2008, the “luxuriously appointed MD-87” had been cast in a starring role in Becker’s opening paragraph.
The role of the fancy jet was scaled back last week. That said, do people at the New York Times ever fact-check anything? Do they ever interview anybody?
Do they ever get anything right? Beyond that, does anyone care?
Becker was contradicted six years ago, in a major publication. Despite this fact, the whirlwind jet ride was there again in last week’s bombshell report.
Question: Is it possible that Becker is right in this long-running claim? Is it possible that the boys really did fly in together on that fancy jet?
We don’t have the slightest idea! That said, the facts, they may be a changin’, based on this report in yesterday’s New York Times.
Yesterday, McIntire and Becker composed a densely-worded, 1600-word assemblage of additional insinuations. To our eye, much of the piece is a masterwork of deception as the scribes work to avoid an admission they don’t want Times readers to hear.
We may show you that later. For now, we’ll only note that the facts, they may be a-changin’. This is the way the Almaty adventure was now being described:
MCINTIRE AND BECKER (4/30/15): [In January 2008], The Times reported that the $31.3 million donation came after Mr. Clinton accompanied Mr. Giustra to a dinner with the president of Kazakhstan; days after that dinner Mr. Giustra finalized a lucrative uranium mining deal in the Central Asian republic.In that account, Clinton merely accompanied Giustra to the dinner. That may represent an editing decision based on a desire for brevity. But the Times is a master of the non-correction correction, in which earlier errors go unacknowledged as mistaken claims get changed.
More than a week has passed since Giustra lodged his second correction. People are aware of the Times' apparent error, but does anyone actually care?
On last Thursday’s Chris Hayes show, Michelle Goldberg said this about the Times’ bombshell report. She knew about the apparent error, but basically stuck to the script:
GOLDBERG (4/23/15): In fact, the evidence of the New York Times story I think is a little bit weaker than it appears.“What were they hiding?” Goldberg asked, as The Puppy burst with excitement.
You know, some of this stuff about Kazakhstan came out in a 2008 story in the New York Times, and then there was a piece in Forbes debunking some of that, particularly the allegation that Clinton had flown in with this, the Canadian mining magnate whose name I’m not going to pronounce correctly, and so—
But in fact, they hadn’t flown in together, at least according to Forbes, which got his flight manifest. Clinton was flying with Ron Burkle. The mining magnate was already in Kazakhstan. You know, not that this makes him look so much better, but it does suggest that this wasn’t him kind of him bringing Clinton along to sweeten the deal.
So already, some of the facts, I think, are like I said a little bit weaker than the Times presents them.
The one thing in the piece that I think the Clinton camp has to explain—I think it looks really bad that they haven’t even tried to explain—is the fact—
GOLDBERG: Right. They had an agreement with the Obama administration to publicly disclose these donors and they didn’t. And so not only is there the kind of questionable, what were they hiding, but they just, on their face of it, violated what was a clear rule.
Note the way your world works. Goldberg cited the apparent error about the jet plane, which Giustra had again corrected.
Even though she works for The Nation, Goldberg hadn’t contacted the New York Times to see if they were acknowledging making a basic error for the second time, even after it has been corrected by Forbes.
Professional journalists don’t do such things. Instead, Goldberg continued after the target. She said correction of the apparent error didn’t “makes [Giustra] look so much better.”
Didn’t make him look so much better than what? During this discussion, no one had even attempted to describe anything Giustra ever did wrong, and no one ever would.
His basic guilt was simply assumed. You see, he’d been targeted in a sprawling report by the New York Times! Two separate times, Hayes called it “a bombshell report.”
To Goldberg, Giustra’s guilt had been lessened, though only a bit, because the Times got the plane ride wrong. This is the way our “progressives” function as the press corps works to return the GOP to the White House.
As you can see in the passage above, Goldberg and Hayes then raced ahead to say that the Clinton camp needs to explain disclosure issues raised in the bombshell report.
On Sunday, the Clinton camp did that. Yesterday, McIntire and Becker seemed to be working extremely hard to keep you from knowing that they had fouled up in that area too.
Hayes was a nightmare last Thursday night. Goldberg was little better.
They had scanned the fairy tale which posed as a news report. Goldberg couldn’t pronounce the name of the mining magnate, but she somehow seemed to know that he must have done something wrong.
Our advice? Read Jo Becker’s front-page piece from 2008. Warning! You’ll have to read to paragraph 31 to learn why Clinton was in Almaty.
On a literary basis, can you see that you’re reading a fairy tale, not a traditional news report? If you can’t, you may not understand the way your “press corps” works.
Still coming: Professor Dean’s final exam