Is the Times motto for real?
Is the Times motto for real?

A motto, simply an ideal or a guiding maxim, is never meant to be taken at face value. The New York Times coined its motto in 1897, and there it is today on the masthead. .The public is free to believe in “All the news that’s fit to print,” but admitting that newspapers are out to make a profit, let the public beware.

In any case “fit to print” means what? Fit for whom – readers? To pose that question is to aim at the heart of the Times instead of the heartbeat; and arrive at an answer that can be trusted.  

For the media at large ‘news fit for whom?’ is addressed in my book Hadrian’s Echo: The Whys and Wherefores of Israel's Critics. The answer, the key to unlock media bias, is not, as many would think, readers and audiences. The core stakeholders come first: media owners and advertisers. It is for their sake alone that news must be fit to print. As for the news itself, it is no more important than readers and audiences who are simply products sold to advertisers, the media’s customers. Counterintuitive as it may be, this is correct.

As for the news itself, it is no more important than readers and audiences who are simply products sold to advertisers, the media’s customers.
What it all means may come as a shock: News and its quality are second thoughts. Return on investment is king. And here the Times with that motherly nickname “Gray Lady” must take care. As part of a group of companies the paper has to be wary of ‘unwelcome’ news, of news unfit to print which could hit profitability, both its own and within the group.

Hence un-welcome news will be tampered with or blocked out entirely. In other words for profit sake something has to give, and that something is objectivity – bias if you will. By definition unless a newspaper or a channel or a site is biased in the preferred way, shareholders and advertisers will be none too happy.

Where does that leave the Times motto? Not far off the mark actually. One word out and one in will make the motto quite believable: “Only the news that’s fit to print.” Then the Times would have a solid case for publishing news that leans heavily to one side. A good example would be the biased reports on that embroiled and bitterly contested country Israel. Or take another standout case of opinion over reporting – the paper’s fixation on kicking President Trump out of office.   

If bias can be understood, faking the news is a different kettle of fish. And downplaying atrocities committed by monster tyrants puts a media business out of bounds – among the lowliest and the dirtiest. How the gold standard for newspapers got there is on record.

It starts with the owners of The New York Times. In WW II Arthur Hays Sulzberger and family were loath to alienate the powers that be in government and business. This meant having to downplay news that could give an impression of the Times being a ‘Jewish newspaper.’ Hence editorial and news pages methodically skirted the plight of Europe’s Jews being murdered wholesale. In her book, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper Laurel Leff cites many instances of how the Times shied away from the truth

The Times went so far as to emasculate Jews in the Warsaw ghetto revolt into “Poles” or even sillier, “Warsaw patriots.” Stories on massacres of Italian and Austrian Jewry never made it onto the front page.  Page 12 and four columns were good enough for an account of a half million Hungarian Jews sent to their deaths.

As if downplaying one Holocaust wasn’t bad enough, the Times had already denied another one. News was not buried it was faked, cooked up to order. Prior to downplaying Hitler’s solution for the Jews, the paper denied Stalin’s solution for Ukrainians.

The years 1932 and 1933 saw a famine of unprecedented proportions. Ukrainians by the millions starved to death. Stalin wanted their land for Russians, and set to starving them out. Cannibalism got to the point where authorities had to plaster signs on walls, “To eat your own children is a barbarian act.”

Meanwhile Walter Duranty was playing his own disgusting part. Their man in Moscow filed dispatches that denied it all. The American public read that the Holodomor, as Ukrainians call their Holocaust, was a stunt. His tales of ‘hardship’ won Duranty the Pulitzer Prize for "Dispassionate interpretive reporting."Pulitzer Prize for his "dispassionate interpretive reporting." Fifty years later the artist of fake would be known - exposed - as ‘the correspondent who liked Stalin’ and “Stalin’s apologist.”

Duranty the communist and Bolshevik admirer vociferously denied the famine. People, he wrote, were “hungry but not starving. There is no famine.” “hungry but not starving,” Other reporters on the spot disagreed. Some elites, notably George Bernard Shaw, had the excuse of being duped; KGB handlers took them around model villages. .

But the Duranty case had an altogether sinister twist. Fact is that the rogue newsman saw the famine with his own two eyes. According to biographer, Sally J. Taylor, Duranty admitted he’d been to the famine parts. witnessed the famine, but had admitted to it in a recorded by an embassy official.

None of it stopped the Times going to print with reports demeaning the atrocity as mostly “bunk”, and greasily quipping, “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”Jokes and a big fraudulent Prize!

Executive Editor Max Frankel was cool wit it: “The revelation doesn't seem to qualify as news. It's really history and belongs in history books." It also didn’t much bother Howell Raines, the executive editor at another time. “Though the paper's slogan is "All the News That's Fit to Print," it is patently flawed (my italics). Important news slips by because our coverage reflects blind spots that we recognize only in retrospect...“We know we make mistakes, but as long as they are … intellectually honest and promptly corrected…"

Blind spots! The Times was not intellectually honest then, nor was it afterwards – unless declining to return the fraudulent Prize was the honest thing to do. One time it was fake news, another time plagiary: Raines and a senior colleague who plagiarized or fabricated quotes finally had to quit the Grey Lady.  

Some record this Grey Lady has. Her record on Israel describes a continuum. Fact is the first owners never liked Zionism. The heirs to the throne liked a Jewish state no more than a chronic carbuncle. Hence the hiring of Middle East reporters who were and remain duty bound to be anti-Israel, who implant opinion into news until the reader gives up distinguishing one from the other.

The Times' record on Israel describes a continuum. The first owners never liked Zionism. The heirs liked it no more than a chronic carbuncle.
Something called ‘News Analysis’ on the front page brings a new subtlety to the art of coaxing readers to interpret news the Times way. The feature is an editorial by another name. Headlines too are simply opinion in disguise.

Take this headline: "Hard-Line Jews Support Recognition of Jerusalem as Capital.” The reporter describes “a landmark shift in American policy that was extremely popular with...a segment of hard-line pro-Israel American Jews.”  The Times’ White House correspondent papers over bipartisan support in Congress for Trump’s move, and makes no mention of mainstream Jewish groups that support the move.

When covering Israel, keeping opinion and news apart seems to be a foreign concept at the Times. Jodi Rudoren took obfuscation to a new level. While Bureau Chief in Jerusalem her dispatches made it clear that bias was in her brief; that her solemn duty was to tear down Israel in the eyes of the world; to deprecate, denounce, condemn and revile Israel as the villain.

Take one of innumerable cases where Rudoren brazenly resorts to the old “all being equal”trick. Look at how she throws leaders of Israel and Hamas into a pot, incants her spell and out comes a ridiculous parity. She quotes Prime Minister Netanyahu “dehumanizing” the Palestinians who celebrated.when three Israeli teens were kidnapped and shot at point blank. Netanyahu called the perpetrators “beasts”. What descriptors for laughing murderers would be OK for Rudoren: Criminals? Militants? Law breakers? 

In Gaza, Epithets Are Fired and Euphemisms Give Shelter.

Hamas on the other hand, went into her pot with dehumanizing words of the very politest; no worse than PR spinning and petty threats. Rudoren kept dog whistles for genocide out of the reckoning Think about it. At the time, and well before her article, Hamas had been on TV calling for “giving the skulls of Israelis as gifts for our children’s feet to play with at the Gaza World Cup” Hamas Al Aqsa TV, July 11, 2014. And a children’s program was teaching pre-schoolers the merit of killing Jews —“all of them” Hamas Al Aqsa TV, May 2, 2014

From the outset Rudoren had the back of Hamas covered same as Walter Duranty had Stalin’s back. It was her given duty – the Gray Lady had appointed her to be a cut out replica of that rogue. 

Perhaps the day has come for the New York Times to remove the ‘all’ in its motto. “Only the news that’s fit to print” would be a more transparent one.