Sometime the Times slides its cluelessness past slowly and subtly, in a way that leads to doubletakes rather than immediate outrage. Sometimes, however, the Times comes in through the front door and tracks mud across the carpet on its way to beat you over the head while bringing in a faint smell of rotting fish. This week, it was the latter:
- On July 30, the newspaper ran an article on how the Germans ease layoffs by having laid-off workers carried on payrolls that are funded partly by the laying-off company and partly by the government. They can get retraining and job help while in this position, and the psychological effect is apparently different and more beneficial than for those who are unemployed. All-in-all, an interesting and seemingly worthy attempt to deal with unemployment in a way that focuses on the health of the workers and the companies, rather than just the latter. How did the Times treat it? As if it were just a German attempt to massage the unemployment figures, one of Germany’s “creative ways to keep people off the jobless roles, whether they have work to do or not.” It continued to slip in the knife in the next paragraph. “Politicians laud the measures…as a bridge over the steepest period of economic collapse…but many economists argue that [it] could undermine confidence in the fall.” We can’t have that undermining of confidence; never mind that the Germans may actually be keeping people integrated into the workforce. In America, we fire people and if they stop looking for work, they just stop counting. That’ll learn them.
- On July 31, the Times ran a business story about how the back and forth between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly had been squelched by their bosses at General Electric and the News Corporation, apparently because it was bad for business. There was apparently a negotiating meeting between the chairman of GE and Rupert Murdoch, at a Microsoft sponsored event, mediated by Charlie Rose. This produced an agreement to shut both Olbermann and O’Reilly down, which (despite denials from Olbermann) seems to have happened. Rather than playing this for the reality, which was corporate censorship of its media outlets in interest of better business, a.k.a. the death of democracy, the Times put it in the business section, in an article whose tone was epitomized by its first quote: “‘It was time to grow up,’ a senior employee of one of the companies said.” Glenn Greenwald has done more than I can manage to eviscerate this, so I’ll let him handle it.
- Finally, today, in the Public Editor’s column, Clark Hoyt dealt with the spectacular mangling of the Times story about Walter Cronkite’s death, which required a correction that reached its own level of epicness. In the course of this, Hoyt revealed that the writer of that piece, Alessandra Stanley, had had, in years past, an copy editor whose sole job was to check the facts in her articles because of her repeated errors. This arrangement had lapsed when that copy editor was promoted, with the result that the Cronkite piece was riddled with mistakes. This, despite the fact that Chip Cronkite, Walter’s son, had called ahead of time to make sure that the Times got things correct. Naturally, the Times wouldn’t think of firing Stanley; they’re simply assigning another copy editor to her. Somewhere, Judith Miller is smiling.
It is an impressive, self-centered cluelessness, driven seemingly by an almost Stockholm syndrome-like desire to be part of that group of very serious people who did so well for the financial and foreign policy health of the United States.