Part 2—The dying man’s last few nouns: We haven’t studied her work. But it seems to us that Margaret Sullivan has done respectable, serious work in her stint as New York Times public editor.
Respectable, serious work tends to stand out at the New York Times, which is more likely to run by undisciplined gossip rules.
Respectable doesn’t mean perfect, of course. This past Sunday, Sullivan was discussing the Times’ most recent front-page debacle—a recent report which falsely claimed that a criminal referral had been lodged against Candidate Clinton.
In her column, Sullivan seemed to suggest that the New York Times may be conducting something like a “vendetta” against this particular candidate. In the passage shown below, she let a Times honcho respond.
The honcho in question was Dean Baquet, the Times’ executive editor. In this passage, we see the fog which often surrounds the working of minds at the Times:
SULLIVAN (8/2/15): I agree with this sentiment from a reader, Evan Hannay, who is troubled by some of the Clinton coverage: “Hillary deserves tough questions when they are warranted. But it is undeniable that she is already facing significantly tougher coverage than any other potential candidate.” He thinks The Times should make “a promise to readers going forward that Hillary is not going to be treated unfairly as she so often is by the media.”Say what? Did Kirkpatrick’s front-page report shows that the Times has, on balance, been fair in its Clinton coverage?
Last Thursday, I handed Mr. Baquet a printed copy of Mr. Hannay’s email and asked him to address it.
To that end, he told me that he has urged reporters and editors to focus anew on issues stories. And he pledged fairness. “I’m happy to make a promise that she’ll be treated fairly,” he said, though he added, “If you look at our body of work, I don’t believe we have been unfair.” One testament to that, he said, was an investigative piece written by David Kirkpatrick shortly after the 2012 Benghazi attacks, with conclusions seen as favorable for Mrs. Clinton, who was then secretary of state. It came under heavy attack from the right.
Let’s start with a basic fact. Kirkpatrick’s report appeared in December 2013. That was almost sixteen months after the Benghazi attacks.
We don’t know why Sullivan and, apparently, Baquet thought the report had appeared “shortly after” those attacks. That said, New York Times editors are famous for the slippery ways they sidestep criticism of their work, which is routinely clownish. And basic facts are often reshaped at this horrible newspaper.
Might we make a second point about the Kirkpatrick report, which is alleged to show that the Times has been fair to Candidate Clinton? The report, which was detailed and important, consumed a mammoth 7324 words.
Clinton’s name wasn’t mentioned, not even once, in the lengthy report. Is this really the best example of the Times’ manifest fairness?
So it goes at the New York Times, even from the famous paper’s occasional serious player. Elsewhere, the clowning tends to be prevail.
How constant is the clowning at the New York Times? Consider events on Sunday’s front page, even as Sullivan tried to address the famous newspaper’s previous front-page debacle.
Good lord! On the last page of the Sunday Review section, Sullivan devoted 1000 words to that prior debacle. But on the front page of the Sunday Review, and on the front page of the whole darn newspaper, Maureen Dowd and Amy Chozick were creating the latest debacle in a pair of pieces which totaled 2600 words.
Once again, their peculiar work raises obvious questions about the way the glorious Times is covering Candidate Clinton. The journalistic foolishness started in Dowd’s column, which appeared on the front page of the Sunday Review.
Technically, Dowd’s piece was an opinion column. In theory, that doesn’t mean that the writer in question is allowed to invent key facts.
It shouldn’t mean that the writer in question gets to introduce key facts without any attempt at sourcing. But that’s exactly what Dowd did, as if to say, “What else is new?”
Dowd’s column was longer than Sullivan’s piece—and it had a superior front-page placement. It also broke all the basic rules about the assertion of facts.
Dowd started with 320 words comparing Candidate Clinton to Tom Brady. In the process, Dowd showed that she can write distorted, prejudicial summaries of sports-related topics too.
Midway through her column, Dowd wasted a bit more time, making the absurd suggestion that Howard Schultz, the Starbucks titan, should enter the White House race. Dowd became the queen of the Times by writing pure nonsense like this.
Obvious padding to the side, Dowd’s column was built around a melodramatic claim. Before his recent death, she said, Beau Biden, the vice president's son, had urged his father to enter the White House race.
Diddling herself as she lay on her shag, Dowd took us right to the dying man’s bed. She quoted the dying man’s words to his father. She took us inside the head of the dying man’s dad, telling us what he thought about the words his dying son had said.
Dowd gave the world a moving tale. There was absolutely no attempt at attribution or sourcing for her various melodramatic claims.
This passage followed her puzzling rumination about potential Candidate Schultz. Does it give you any idea how Dowd knows the various things she reports here?
DOWD (8/2/15): Joe Biden is also talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in. The 72-year-old vice president has been having meetings at his Washington residence to explore the idea of taking on Hillary in Iowa and New Hampshire.Is the news really a novel? At no point does Dowd explain how she’s able to quote both Bidens. Or how she’s able to explain what Joe Biden was thinking as his dying son spoke.
He gets along with Hillary and has always been respectful of the Democratic Party's desire to make more history by putting the first woman in the Oval Office.
But going through the crucible of the loss of his oldest son, Beau, to brain cancer made the vice president consider the quest again.
As a little boy, Beau helped get his father through the tragedy of losing his beautiful first wife and 13-month-old daughter in the car crash that injured Beau and his brother, Hunter.
When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk.
''Of course, honey,'' the vice president replied.
At the table, Beau told his dad he was worried about him.
My kid's dying, an anguished Joe Biden thought to himself, and he's making sure I'm O.K.
''Dad, I know you don't give a damn about money,'' Beau told him, dismissing the idea that his father would take some sort of cushy job after the vice presidency to cash in.
Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. Buthe had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.
Hunter also pushed his father, telling him, ''Dad, it's who you are.''
Mixed in that journalistic mess is the column’s key claim, its ugliest shot—the claim that the dying man, even as he lost his nouns, took one last shot at the Clintons. Dowd has done this sort of thing forever. No sourcing need apply!
Please understand—it’s possible that Dowd’s sequel to Love Story is true in every respect.
It’s possible that those words were spoken. It’s possible that Dowd has captured the thought which went through the father’s head.
All those things are possible—but then, everything is! By the norms of journalism, a journalist is supposed to present a source for the factual claims she makes.
No source is presented in this column as Dowd pleasures herself and weeps. We’re simply asked to take her word for her melodramatic claims. We’re asked to assume that her factual claims are true.
As you may recall, Dowd has invented a whole lot of “quotes” down through these many long years. At the Times, she is still allowed to tell us stories without offering a hint at her source.
Please understand. Technically, Dowd writes an “opinion column” for the Times. That means that she is allowed to state an opinion, while a reporter should not.
That said, she isn’t stating her opinion that those words were said. She’s making a factual statement to that effect—and she was required to offer no source for her heart-rending claims, in which the dying man used his last nouns to take one last shot at the Clintons.
Judged by journalistic norms, that is astonishing work. It’s the work of a thoroughly feckless, undisciplined pseudo-newspaper.
The use to which Dowd’s novel was quickly put is more astonishing still. For that, we must turn to Amy Chozick’s ludicrous “news report” on page A1, the front page of Sunday’s newspaper.
At the top of page A1, Chozick was churning her latest. Her report carried a triple deck of headlines. This is the way she began:
CHOZICK (8/2/15): Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his associates have begun to actively explore a possible presidential campaign, which would upend the Democratic field and deliver a direct threat to Hillary Rodham Clinton, several people who have spoken to Mr. Biden or his closest advisers say.By paragraph 4, Chozick was citing what Dowd had “reported” in her column. A few grafs later, we got the heart-rending tale, including the dying man’s one last shot at the Clintons.
Mr. Biden’s advisers have started to reach out to Democratic leaders and donors who have not yet committed to Mrs. Clinton or who have grown concerned about what they see as her increasingly visible vulnerabilities as a candidate.
The conversations, often fielded by Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, Steve Ricchetti, have taken place through hushed phone calls and quiet lunches. In most cases, they have grown out of an outpouring of sympathy for Mr. Biden since the death of his son Beau, 46, in May.
On Saturday, the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd reported that Mr. Biden had been holding meetings at his residence, “talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in” to challenge Mrs. Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two nominating states.
Ms. Dowd reported that as Beau Biden lay dying from brain cancer, he “tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.” Mr. Biden’s other son, Hunter, also encouraged him to run, she wrote.
In this way, a completely unsourced claim magically became the source for Chozick’s front-page “news report.” Journalistically, there’s a word for this sleight-of-hand:
Journalistically, that word would be “scam.”
Chozick, of course, is a nightmare. She has made such plays before during her years of Clinton coverage. Unnamed editors permit this garbage at this ridiculous pseudo-newspaper.
Just how bad is Chozick’s reporting, as permitted by her unnamed editors? Below, you see paragraphs 5 and 6 of this front-page news report. Consider the clownish journalistic practice which gave us the “quotation” we highlight:
CHOZICK: One longtime Biden supporter said the vice president had been deeply moved by his son’s desire for him to run.“That’s what Beau would have wanted me to do?”
“He was so close to Beau and it was so heartbreaking that, frankly, I thought initially he wouldn’t have the heart,” the supporter, Michael Thornton, a Boston lawyer, said in an interview. “But I’ve had indications that maybe he does want to—and ‘that’s what Beau would have wanted me to do.’ ”
Because of Chozick’s slippery performance, it looks like that’s a direct quotation from someone. Presumably, that someone would have to be Joe Biden himself!
Did Joe Biden say that to Thornton? Technically, Chozick doesn’t make that claim. She simply floats the impression around!
Times subscribers, please! That’s a type of construction you’d expect a teacher/adviser to intercept at a high school paper. At the Times, it goes on the front page in a the day's top news report, driving the tale of the dying man’s last shot at the Clintons.
This sort of thing isn’t unique to ghouls like Dowd and Chozick. Tomorrow, we’ll start with Chuck Todd, who engaged in similar unsourced story-telling on Sunday’s Meet the Press.
Back in the day, we worked so hard to set young Todd on the path to journalistic correctness! Knowing the history, the analysts keened and wailed and tore at their hair when they saw his example of Creeping Dowd/Chozickism.
Back to our basic thread:
This past Sunday, the New York Times was creating its latest fine journalistic mess.
On the last page of the Sunday Review, Sullivan spent 1000 words addressing the paper’s previous front-page debacle. Baquet swore by Kirkpatrick’s report that the great newspaper would be fair to Candidate Clinton. Indeed, it already had been.
Meanwhile, at the top of page A1, Chozick was creating the latest front-page debacle. Her “news report” ran 1426 words, about four hundred more than Sullivan’s analysis. She cited a thoroughly unsourced claim from Dowd’s 1173 novelized words, which were running on the front page of the Sunday Review.
The dying man had used his last nouns to take one last shot at the Clintons! Dowd pleasured herself with this ugly tale, which jumped to page A1.
On the last page of the Sunday Review, the hapless bureaucrat Baquet was swearing that this sort of thing wouldn’t happen again. In truth, it started in March 1992, some 23 years ago.
Tomorrow: Recent front-page history
The ugliness of melodrama: Take another look at this part of Dowd's melodrama:
DOWD: As a little boy, Beau helped get his father through the tragedy of losing his beautiful first wife and 13-month-old daughter in the car crash that injured Beau and his brother, Hunter.If that first wife hadn’t been beautiful, it wouldn’t have been so bad?
When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk.