Friday, July 22, 2005

Let us Pause to Appreciate the New York Times

I love the New York Times. And because I love and respect it, I hold it to a high standard. But make no mistake about it, it's the best newspaper out there.

Which is why, in the past, I have been critical of some of its coverage, especially with regard to its military reporting. I expect the best from the Times, and I am disappointed when I see that its news reporting demonstrates an overt political bias.

But the right-wing blogosphere has mercilessly attacked The Times, to the point where its very legitimacy as a newspaper has been challenged, and it is instead viewed as a political wing of the Democratic Party.

To some extent, moderates/centrists like myself are partially responsible for the Times' diminished public perception. My complaints are motivated by a desire for critical public feedback to improve reporting. The right's complaints are motivated by a desire to discredit The Times and ultimately to destroy it. Not that I overly inflate my personal role in the process, but in general, moderates should qualify their criticism by being candid about whether they think The Times and the rest of the media peform an essential service for our country (many conservatives believe they don't and that their negative coverage of the war is intentional and reprehensible).

Which brings me to David Adesnik of Oxblog's latest post, JOHN ROBERTS, THE ANTI-BUSH?

Adesnik quotes from a New York Times article by Elisabeth Bumiller about the process President Bush used to select his nomination for the Supreme Court, John Roberts.
"Well, I told him I ran three and a half miles a day," Judge Wilkinson recalled in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "And I said my doctor recommends a lot of cross-training, but I said I didn't want to do the elliptical and the bike and the treadmill." The president, Judge Wilkinson said, "took umbrage at that," and told his potential nominee that he should do the cross-training his doctor suggested.

"He thought I was well on my way to busting my knees," said Judge Wilkinson, 60. "He warned me of impending doom."

Judge Wilkinson's conversation with the president about exercise and other personal matters in an interview for a job on the highest court in the land was typical of how Mr. Bush went about picking his eventual nominee, Judge John G. Roberts, White House officials and Republicans said. Mr. Bush, they said, looked extensively into the backgrounds of the five finalists he interviewed, but in the end relied as much on chemistry and intuition as on policy and legal intellect.

Adesnik then writes:
I would say that the often-condescending Ms. Bumiller has thoroughly misunderestimated the president. While I'm sure that Bush asked Wilkinson about his exercise habits, we have every reason to believe that Bush carefully chose himself a candidate with both strong conservative beliefs and an incomparable ability to persuade Democratic senators to support his nomination.
In fact, it is precisely because Bumiller and others perpetuate such hackneyed stereotypes about Bush's intellect that John "summa cum laude and law review" Roberts has established himself so rapidly as an unborkable candidate.

Now, Adesnik is a smart guy. And a lot of his quite frequent criticism of The Times is warranted and well-founded. But this particular instance is an example of the sort of reflexive anti-Times sentiment that has taken root among supposedly enlightened centrists during the reign of Bush and Rove.

Bumiller is an easy target, because so much of her reporting is obsequious and, frankly, unsophisticated. But what Adesnik characterizes as "condescending," is in fact simply a paraphrase of quotes from senior administration officials. Why, exactly, do we have "every reason to believe" that Bush "carefully chose" Roberts as a candidate because of substantive reasons, as Adesnik writes? That would seem to directly contradict what Bush's own officials say. Bumiller's later quotes from Judge Harvie Wilkinson, who was also interviewed for the job, essentially contradict Adesnik.
Judge Wilkinson said he was not asked about his views on issues like abortion or even a particular legal case in his interview with Mr. Bush as well as in interviews with others on the White House staff; he would not say if he had talked to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now, I'm not saying that Wilkinson should or should not have been asked about his views about particular issues during the interview. But the interview does seem to have been less about his qualifications or judicial philosophy and much more about Bush's general feel for a candidate's personality, which is the very point that Bumiller is trying to make. Readers are left to draw whatever conclusions they would like about the validity of that process.
-- Eric

UPDATE: Adesnik responds.


Blogger NSC 68 said...


12:28 PM  
Blogger Drew Brohammer said...

frank can you please publish the email from your trip to AC on your blog?

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curious about this:
[W]hether they think The Times and the rest of the media peform an essential service for our country (many conservatives believe they don't)

Many conservatives don't believe that the media perform an essential service for the country?

I'm unaware of a single notable person on the Right who believes that the press isn't a vital institution in a free society. Vital, essential, irreplaceable, et cetera.

Could you perhaps clarify that?

Conservatives are deeply sceptical of government, albeit less so when they're running things. But that goes with the Left too. Recall Clinton's line: "You cannot both love your country and hate your government"?

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:59 PM  

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