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Gerard Baker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, And Differing Notions Of A Partisan Press

Posted by: Jon Fine on November 12, 2008

(This post originally misspelled Baker’s first name.)

There is a great deal of stuff flying around the Web and being forwarded to me that point out some of the more indelicate partisan statements made by this suddenly-prominent British gentleman, Gerard Baker. Not sure what the fuss is, myself. At least he’s not about to start overseeing news coverage at a major American newspaper or anything …. oh, wait!

(Sorta-confidential to M.K.: I stole it because It never stops being funny!)

What we have here is a Americans-Are-From-Mars-And-Brits-(and Aussies)-From-Venus moment.

In Britain, even the most serious papers are expected to have a strong partisan tilt (hello, Guardian and Times of London and the Telegraph—ditto, for that matter, other news sources like the BBC and the Economist). In the US—oh no, no sir, no such thing. The notional straitjacket of objectivity—a relatively recent construct, given the great ideological tumult of American tabloids in the early decades of the 20th Century--still reigns. This is especially so at the New York Times, a paper whose work I cherish above all others. Although its original ombudsman Dan Okrent wrote a column, thatthe Times was, yes indeed, liberal--to his eventual regret, he revealed in this book, because in the retelling much of his nuance was obliterated.

(I’m sure nothing I say here will change the minds of the liberal- media-bias crowd, especially where the Times is concerned. But anyone who thinks the New York Times inevitably favors anything young-ish, liberal-ish and Democratic . . . ish, should go back and read how the paper covered Bill and Hillary Clinton in the ‘90’s. Note especially the exhaustive work of Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in this regard.)

The US insistence on press objectivity occasionally results in ridiculous spectacles. The former executive editor of the Washington Post, Len Downie, stopped voting when he took that joband didn't start until he retired. And now we know that MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann refuses to vote, for reasons even he appears to admit are symbolic at best, even though six seconds with his show tells you where his sympathies lie. I can't imagine the British analogues to Downie and Olbermann would do the same.

I’ve defended, even very recently, against the notion that a News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal has been slowly tilting rightward, a notion that more than a couple of Journal readers have floated past me in recent weeks. I still stand by this. Although what’s more to the point is that I frankly don’t care, as long as the Journal reports actual facts and I can still access hundreds of other news sources as a counterweight.

All the same, I have to wonder how New York Times detractors would react if it named a politically identifiable entity like Arianna Huffington or Paul Krugman or even Joe Klein as its next #2 editor.

Actually, never mind. I don’t have to wonder how they'd react. I think I have a pretty good idea.

Reader Comments


November 12, 2008 5:30 PM

All media have a bias. Even if its not bluntly open. The quote sources, the quotes chosen, the placement of statements, "facts" and other relevant data in a story all reveal editorial bias.

Isn't not a bad thing, but it is there, and the media hiding behind a veil of "objectivity" is trying to shuck and jive the readers.

Bob Tapolow

November 20, 2008 9:53 AM

Why has NO ONE come up with the idea that as the 'Bailout' of banks and Wall Street had no tangible product, GM Ford, etal, has something tangible, real, useful. For 25 Billion $ they can "sell" the government, US, their entire stock of cars, to be used by local, county, state and federal law enforcement, fire departments, Park departments, etc, etc, etc. We, the Taxpayers need to buy these anyway, so Y not??? Any comment would be appreciated. Bob Tapo

ricky masden

November 25, 2008 1:32 PM

I was thinking of getting a subscription to the Wall street journal.

The reason was because I have INVESTMENTS. I expect it to have credible journalists who UNDERSTAND the economy and in particular understand where I should invest my money.

I don't know the who or the why. However, I saw an article in what is supposed to be a credible source claiming that the current "crash" was caused by the "recent" secularization of Christmas!!!

I don't joke. A world reknown information source investors are supposed to trust basically thinks that saying "merry xmas" on a store flyer caused some evil bankers to independently invest in very unsafe mortgages.

The article quickly dismissed recent regulation changes as a possible cause and certainly didn't discuss anything else reasonable. I'm not an economist but I can detect b.s. when I hear it.

Whoever is responsible for trashing a paper of that reputation with this kind of fodder should be fired.

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