Friday, June 03, 2005

Is The New York Times a liberal newspaper? Well, not exactly.

It is no secret that conservatives love to hate The New York Times. Under seemingly constant attack since the Jayson Blair scandal, the paper's credibility has taken a huge hit in the past few years. A lot of the criticism seems to be, more than anything else, part of a calculated political agenda from the Right.

The central substantive critique offered by more mainstream critics, however, is that the Times writers are predominantly liberal and therefore their reporting and writing is (consciously or unconsciously) slanted by a liberal bias.

I recently watched a panel where Bill Keller, the Times' Executive Editor, was asked whether he thought such a bias existed. He replied that there is probably a bias among reporters, but that it is much more of an urban, secular bias. I think that's a pretty solid insight. Though much has been made of the red/blue state divide, the reality is that liberals and democrats are well-represented in most areas of most states across the country, and their views about the military and religion are diverse. But in urban areas, where members of the military and the fervently religious are few and far between, an enormous disconnect exists. And because the writers of the Times largely reflect the values and worldview of urban secularists, they produce awkwardly framed articles during a time of increased prominence in coverage of the military and religion in American life.

Exhibit A: Today's article, Growing Problem for Military Recruits: Parents.

The gist of the story is that the military is getting more aggressive with their recruiting tactics - which are aimed at defenseless children - and parents are trying to fight back.

Mothers and fathers around the country said they were terrified that their children would have to be killed - or kill - in a war that many see as unnecessary and without end. Around the dinner table, many parents said, they are discouraging their children from serving. At schools, they are insisting that recruiters be kept away, incensed at the access that they have to adolescents easily dazzled by incentive packages and flashy equipment.

Where is the balance here? Some parents are insisting that recruiters be kept away, but surely there must be some who encourage their children to join the military?

And the recruiters tactics are made to sound insidious, dazzling children with their incentive packages and flashy equipment. Is this different from how other companies might recruit for positions? Isn't it reasonable for the military to aggressively advertise its most attractive features? The article does not put forth any evidence that the military is in any way being dishonest about the sacrifice one makes when one enlists (which is not to say that it doesn't happen). But how is this recruiting behavior different from any other American organization - it only is, of course, if you believe the military is inherently evil.

So although the Garfield P.T.S.A. voted last month to ban military recruiters from the school and its 1,600 students, the Seattle school district could not sign on to the idea without losing at least $15 million in federal education funds. "The parents have chosen to take a stand, but we still have to comply with No Child Left Behind," said Peter Daniels, communications director for the district. In Whittier, a city of 85,000 10 miles southeast of East Los Angeles, about a dozen families last September accused the district of failing to properly advise parents that they had the right to deny recruiters access to their children's personal information.

It's hard for me to understand why Americans would be so adamently opposed to the military recruiting in their schools. Whatever you think of our current engagement in Iraq, it is simply a largely urban, secular assumption that the military is so evil that it should not even be allowed to recruit high-school age children. And this assumption is embedded in the reporting of the story. If this story were instead about, for example, parents "taking a stand" to ban organizations that were tolerant of homosexuality, would the reporter let the phrasing go unchallenged as he does here?
Unlike Mr. Terrazas, Ms. Rogers, 37, of High Falls in the upper Hudson Valley, had not thought much about the war before she began speaking out in her school district...When her son, Jonah, said he was thinking of sitting out a gym class that was to be led by National Guard recruiters, Ms. Rogers, who works part time as a clerk at the local motor vehicles office and receives public assistance, said she told him not to be "a rebel without a cause." "In this world," she recalled telling him, "we need a strong military." But then she heard from her son that the class was mandatory, and that recruiters were handing out free T-shirts and key chains - "Like, 'Hey, let's join the military. It's fun,' " she said.

I'm not sure why the military should not be allowed to hand out t-shirts or keychains, or why they shouldn't be able to promote military service as a worthwhile endeavour. Few jobs in this world are "fun," and if parents are unhappy with this false impression that their children received, they should educate them. But banning recruiters altogether makes no sense.
On May 24, at the first school board meeting since the gym class, she read aloud from a recruiting handbook that advised recruiters on ways to gain maximum access to schools, including offering doughnuts. A high school senior, Katie Coalla, 18, stood up at one point and tearfully defended the recruiters, receiving applause from the crowd of about 70, but Ms. Rogers persisted. "Pulling in this need for heartstrings patriotic support is clouding the issue," she said. "The point is not whether I support the troops. It's about whether a well-organized propaganda machine should be targeted at children and enforced by the schools."
It's only a "propaganda machine" if you don't believe in the cause it advocates. Again, no balance here. Imagine if, instead, this article quoted a white supremacist bemoaning the "propaganda machine" of the Godless left. And the supremacist lived in a town where they had recently voted to ban recruiters from organizations that endorse affirmative action policies. Would there have been more balance? Perhaps a few quotes from a truly dissenting citizen?

I love the New York Times. It's the best newspaper in the country, and I couldn't live without it. But its urban, secular bias - confirmed even by its executive editor - is undeniable.
-- Eric


Anonymous Anonymous said...

first, we're not talking merely about the article, but
the excerpts you give make it fairly clear that
parents are objecting to military for 2 reasons. 1 -
the current war in iraq.

Mothers and fathers around the country said they were
terrified that their children would have to be killed
- or kill - in a war that many see as unnecessary and
without end. Around the dinner table, many parents
said, they are discouraging their children from

and second, because they think the military is
misrepresenting its business, which you admit in the
post may be the case. of course, it's not smart for
any organization to play up the risks of joining
rather than the rewards, so whether the military is
misrepresenting itself is up for debate. but to
restrict someone's right to object to object to
recruiting practices on those grounds is problematic.

MORE IMPORTANTLY your claim that there is a thin line
between disdain for recruiting tactics and being "anti
military" doesn't sit right with me. there is a very
thick line between saying, "the military is
misrepresenting what the experience of serving is
actually about," and saying "we don't need an army."
your claim implies that the military has no choice but
to promote itself the way that it does, that the
current style of recruitment is the only path, which
is not the case. for example, the if the government,
or the military, or anyone could make a compelling
enough case that sadam hussein was an actual threat to
America, or that 'democracy' in iraq makes us safer,
or makes those who hate American imperialism hate it
less, maybe recruitment wouldn't be a problem.

another example: suppose the recruting campaign was
based on some sort of cartoonish, racist image of
osama bin laden. like there were posters of his face
everywhere and the slogan was: "let's kill this camel
humping towel headed faggot." or what if the slogan
was "carrying a big gun makes you more of a man."
would that not be objectionable? does objection to
that campaign constitute anti military sentiment?

another example: suppose it's not about the recruiting
campaign at all, but about policy, specifically the
war. suppose some people understand their dissent as
an objection to the policies of the current
administration. obviously their message is getting
through, because as you note, there is a semi-crisis
in contemporary enlistment. are you saying that using
the military as an avenue for such dissent is
inherently wrong?

i think you're being somewhat unrealistic about the
power of the citizenry to make the government
acknowledge their dissent. when bush goes on tv and
tells the country his latest victory constitutes "a
mandate" from the american people to push forward, it
should be clear to all of us that other forms of
dissent like writing books, holding town hall
meetings, having discussions amongst ourselves, and
yes, even voting are limited in their effectiveness.

so there are two separate issues really: 1)are there
any strategies of recruitment that are legitimately
objectionable, or does the military have the right to
use any and every tactic at its disposal without
objection? 2)is it possible that this sort of dissent
is primarily understood by those who practice it as
objection to policy, rather than objection to the
military as a whole, and if so, are citizens wrong to
conceive of or practice dissent in such a way?

i'd like to add that i fully acknowledge that we need
a military, and that, like any other organization,
they have to be allowed to recruit. i think more
effective ways of recruiting would be increasing pay,
and articulating moral justifications for 21st century
military action that carry a bit more weight than
those that the bush administration has put forth so

- mjef

7:52 PM  

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