Bothsidesism Stalks The New York Times

Copies of the New York Times sit for sale in a rack July 23, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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May 11, 2020 1:15 p.m.

In these dark days we daily see evidence of our dependence on great, robust news organizations like The New York Times that uncover myriads facts we do not and otherwise would not know. But the Times remains steadfastly wedded to the bothsidesist mentality that distorts almost all of its coverage that is any way tied to politics or public policy. If a question turns on these topics things that are clearly facts are relegated to questions of opinion. They must be attributed to political opponents or become the plaything of bad faith arguments and lies.

This morning David Kurtz flagged this Times write-up on the Flynn reacharound pardon which includes all of it.

Let’s start with the title: Dropping of Flynn Case Heightens Fears of Justice Dept. Politicization.

We are well past “fears of politicization”. When the President’s loyalist Attorney General intervenes on the President’s behalf in a case in which a defendant/loyalist has already pled guilty in order to short-circuit a prosecution about which no disinterested party has raised any substantial question … well, that is the definition of politicization. It also comes after numerous similar actions by the Barr Justice Department.

One good way to judge these question is to imagine how the Times would cover a similar set of facts in another country. To suggest that this would be framed as leading to “fears of politicization” would be absurd.

When someone chops someone’s head off that does not lead to fears of people being killed. That is people being killed.

It continues in the very first paragraph.

President Trump and his supporters on Friday praised Attorney General William P. Barr’s decision to drop the prosecution of Michael T. Flynn, even as career law enforcement officials warned that the action set a disturbing precedent and Democrats accused the administration of further politicizing the Justice Department.

“Democrats accused the administration …” Trumps supporters say it’s awesome. Democrats say it’s not awesome. To-May-toe, To-Mah-Toe …

Again, how would this article be written about events in another country? The question answers itself.

And then again …

Many current and former federal prosecutors across the country said they were shocked by the Flynn decision. But current and former department lawyers and F.B.I. officials also sent department leaders “significantly positive feedback” and “applauded the recommendation” to drop the Flynn case, said Kerri Kupec, a department spokeswoman.

Again, we learn that many current and former prosecutors find this a ‘shocking’ decision. But the Attorney General’s spokesperson told the Times that other unnamed officials said it was awesome. So who is to say?

We’ve learned this lesson many times. Contemporary journalism has an imperative for “balance” and also for accuracy. But in a pinch – and it’s in the domains of politics, public policy and governance where the pinch comes – the former wins out over the latter. Consistently. A better standard is accuracy and fairness. In a pinch, perhaps impartiality. Balance, as widely understood, is too often placed in opposition to accuracy. And it becomes an available crowbar by which bad faith actors can leverage favorably inaccurate coverage of themselves.

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