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The New York Times and Alito

Journalistic Schizophrenia

by LAWRENCE R. VELVEL

A few days ago I noted that The Times, news and editorial pages had performed reasonably well during the Alito nomination. The few days since then have been rather peculiar, however.

The Times editorial page has continued to oppose Alito in very strong editorials. Yesterday, the editorial page even seemed unmistakably to call for a filibuster, although the editorial also seemed bathed in a tone of hopelessness, because of what the newspaper sees as Democrats, spinelessness. (The editorial is even entitled Senators in Need of a Spine.) But, regardless of its "bath tone," the editorial, i.e., the newspaper, plainly did call for a filibuster because Alito poses such a threat of helping to create a presidential dictatorship. (The phrase is mine, but the sentiment pervades The Times, editorial.)

But while The Times, editorials come out four square against Alito, the news pages don,t even cover what is going on. There is no story, absolutely no story, in today,s news pages about it. A few days ago there likewise was virtually nothing in the news pages on the matter. Meanwhile, The Times, (I think wholly owned) subsidiary, The Boston Globe, does carry stories on its news pages. And when The Times, news pages do carry a story on the nomination, the paper never seems to miss a chance to say that Alito,s confirmation is assured. (Indeed, while there is no news story in today,s Times about the Alito nomination, a very long story on Bush,s forthcoming State of the Union address contains a single sentence (on p. A18) that says the nomination was handled smoothly, and on the same page is a huge picture of Alito meeting with Republican Senators who, the caption says, "congratulated him on winning a recommendation of confirmation from the Senate Judiciary Committee.") The Times, constant refrain that confirmation is certain can only, of course, increase the chance that Democrats and conceivably even some potential Republicans will not filibuster or abstain from voting against a filibuster. Why should they filibuster or abstain from voting against one when the newspaper of record repeatedly assures them — makes a point of repeatedly telling them — that such action would be hopeless because confirmation is assured. And nowhere on the news pages, of course, does one find significant information, or even any information, about the efforts of people who are trying to encourage a filibuster. (Obviously, the people who make news judgements for The Times think that a huge picture — what the accompanying caption conceded was "a photo opportunity" — of Alito meeting with congratulatory Republican Senators is more important than information about efforts of those who might be against the nomination.

No, all that news pages say is that Democrats will try to use the Alito nomination to win more seats in the 2006 election. Excuse my French, but what bullshit. What absolute bullshit. If Alito proves to be what The Times editorial page thinks he is (as do many of us) — if he proves to be a guy who will support the efforts of his nominating "president whose grandiose vision of his own powers threatens to undermine the nation,s basic philosophy of government" while the "Senate . . . seems eager to cooperate by rolling over and playing dead," if he supports the views of a president of whom Bob Herbert today correctly said (while recounting some of his terrible actions) that "His breathtaking arrogance is exceeded only by his incompetence. And that,s the real problem. That,s where you,ll find the mind-boggling destructiveness of this regime, in its incompetence" — if Alito proves, as threatened, to support the actions of these dangerous and incompetent clowns in the Administration from Bush on down, then all the hoped for Democratic gains of 2006 — even if they were to occur despite the fact that many persons will refuse to give otherwise available support to the Democrats because of extreme distaste for the Democrats, obvious cowardice — all the hoped for Democrat gains of 2006 will not make one goddamned bit of difference. Legislators have never made a difference to executives who have successfully asserted dictatorial power. Not in Germany, not in Iraq, not in the Soviet Union, not anywhere. The Democrats are just peddling bullshit because they have no guts. And no principle. And don,t, underneath it all, really give enough of a damn about the country if faced with the possibility that there are voters who would dislike them for a stand on principle. For the Democrats, the gutlessness, lack of principle and caring not a damn about the country is Viet Nam redux during the time that Lyndon Johnson was president.

Meanwhile, The Times, like The Wall Street Journal, seems to have developed a case, albeit a lesser case, of journalistic schizophrenia as between its news pages and its editorial pages. Far worse than this schizophrenia, however, is that once again, this time by the silence and one-sidedness of its news pages, The Times will have helped to allow a disaster to occur. Its refusal to carry stories it knew of during World War II about the destruction of the Jews, its failure to write about the forthcoming Bay of Pigs invasion, which it knew about in advance, its failure to question the Bush claims about weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq war, the associated Judith Miller fiasco, its one year delay in reporting the current electronic eavesdropping story — a delay that one can think, given the currently unknown timing of the paper,s original knowledge, may have enabled George Bush to be reelected — and now the failure of its news pages to say virtually anything about Alito or to cover the efforts of those who still seek to fight his nomination via filibuster — all this shows that The Times continues to have much to answer for in the court of history. Its answerability, incidentally, does not exclude an explanation of the reasons why Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger, who is increasingly revealed as only a product of nepotism, continue to head the paper even though they have presided over so much screwing up. Again forgive the French, but if it were Howell Raines, you can bet that he would have been out on his ass a long time ago.

LAWRENCE R. VELVEL is the Dean of Massachusetts School of Law. He can be reached at velvel@mslaw.edu.