The New York Times has provided endless amusement and irritation to me over the past 20 years, though it also led to ending my tenure as a long-time subscriber over a decade ago. It's a shame, because occasionally they do have an excellent reporter like John Burns, their chief correspondent in Iraq during the first part of the war.
It is not just the overt liberal basis of the Times in its news reporting (if you'd like to see it in action read Did You See The Frontpage NY Times Story On Jon Corzine?), an infection that has reached all sections of the paper. There are two other contributing factors:
Innumeracy- Times reporters seem uncomfortable to numbers and statistics, believing they are merely ornaments to adorn whatever perspective they have already decided upon for an article, rather than actually understanding what the data might mean. Before ending my subscription, one way I found of amusing myself was to read a Times story involving statistics and then spot how quickly I could find the data, cited by the writer, that contradicted, or at least raised questions, about the text in the same story.
Ignorance - This generation of Times reporters just do not seem that smart. Maybe they got good grades in journalism school, but they are better characterized as ignorant about history, people and context. Because of their narrow perspective it is easy for advocacy groups with causes to which they are sympathetic to bamboozle them. You can find a recent example in Misremembering History: NY Times Edition.
Recently, the Times outdid itself with three very silly pieces in just two days.
The July 12 edition of the New York Times Magazine features a very long piece entitled, “Fracture Land: How The Arab World Came Apart“ by Scott Anderson, which was accompanied by a front-page blurb telling us:
This in-depth article, the product of some 18 months of reporting, charts the catastrophe that has befallen the Arab World since the invasion of Iraq 13 years ago, leading to the rise of ISIS and a global refugee crisis.It promises us insightful reporting from the Times, and providing a useful reminder that without the reckless invasion of Iraq by the United States under the direction of George W Bush (aided and abetted by the Obama administration’s two secretaries of state and the current vice-president, but let's stay away from that!), the Arab world would have remained peaceful, posed no threat to the West and 9-11 would never have happened. It also promises further affirmation to the readers of the Times, who need constant reassurance that everything bad that has happened, anywhere in the world since 2000, is the fault of George W Bush.
To which, one can only reply:
The article actually starts with the discredited conventional Leftist perspective that all of today's problems in the Arab world stem from the post World War I colonial settlement by the Western Powers (the NY Times Style Guide apparently makes it mandatory to include such references in any big-picture piece on the Middle East), while its primary topic is the failure of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011.
It also illustrates the contradictions of the Progressive worldview. The West is blamed for creating national lines across ethnic divides after WWI, but then George HW Bush is blamed for allowing the de facto division of Iraq along ethnic lines after the Gulf War of 1990-91. The author notes that Ghaddafi rushed to accommodate the West in 2003, after watching the invasion of Iraq, but then observes that after 2006, he dialed back on reforms, as did other Arab states, after observing the Bush administration began backing off on reform and intervention in the region, partially in response to Progressive criticism of its involvement in the Middle East, which had weakened its domestic political standing. More fundamentally, the author thinks the Arab Spring was a good thing, while also seeming to say it was put into motion by the catastrophic decisions of the Bush Administration.
I found no reference to the 2006-7 Surge in Iraq, which President Obama credited for bringing stability and security to Iraq or, for that matter, to President Obama at all. There is also surprisingly little discussion of religion (or perhaps, I should say “unexpectedly little”).
It's too bad, as the article actually delivers some interesting on the scene reporting from several Arab countries, delving deeply into the dysfunction and conflicts that underlay the turmoil, and leaving the author, who has spent much time over the years in the region, rightfully pessimistic about its future.
One interesting observation from the author is that in Egypt, outside the top ranks of government, he's never found one person, even among the “reformers”, who supports the peace treaty with Israel. It reminds me of the lecture I attended at Yale Law School by Rachid al-Ghannouchi, a leading Islamist reformer, who has been a genuine supporter of democracy building in Tunisia. Unfortunately, he also approved the fatwa to kill Americans in Iraq, is a fervent supporter of Hamas, and has called for the destruction of the "bacillus of Israel". When that's the best you're going to get in the Arab World, we're in big trouble.
From the business section on July 12 we have, Cost, Not Choice, Is Top Concern of Health Insurance Customers by Reed Abelson. Well, golly!
Given that reducing costs was one of the prime justifications given by Democrats for passing Obamacare (President Obama promised that family costs would be reduced by $2500 a year by the legislation), why should this be a surprise?
The article includes this all-too predictable observation:
The unexpected laser focus on price has contributed to hundreds of millions of dollars in losses among the country’s top insurers, as fewer healthy people than expected have signed up."Unexpected" or "unexpectedly" are the words the Democrat affiliated press uses when faced with uncomfortable consequences that had been predicted by conservatives (once you start looking for it, you will see it everywhere). In this case, the prediction that costs would rise because of fewer healthy people signing up was predicted by Obamacare opponents in 2009, and should have been obvious to anyone who understood how the legislation was structured, basic economics and human behavior.
And notice how careful the Times is to couch its discussion in ways acceptable to its audience:
The promise made by President Obama to reduce costs for consumers is not mentioned, nor is there any linkage between the issue and the provisions of the legislation, which is the actual root cause. Instead, the only "central tenet" of Obamacare mentioned is providing the public "with a wide array of plans to choose from".
Since the article is about cost, this neatly avoids having to explain that Obamacare is already leading to fewer plans being offered and thus, less choice, for consumers. The issue is slyly raised in a misleading way when they write, "People could potentially face higher premiums because there are fewer insurers competing, and they could have more limited choices of plans and doctors." The truth is that Obamacare consumers are already facing limited choices. Also not mentioned is that in 2010, Obama's own Department of Health & Human Services estimated that up to 93 million Americans may eventually lose their private insurance as a result of Obamacare.
And it should be no surprise that there is no mention of the three big lies consistently told by the President during the battle over passage of Obama were "you can keep your doctors if you like them", "you can keep your insurance plan if you like it" and "you'll save $2500", all of which seem inoperative as of 2016. You can read the truth about the Affordable Care Act here or just click on the Healthcare category of posts on in the upper part of the left column of Things Have Changed.
We'll conclude with what, to me, is the most appalling of the articles; a major piece entitled, "Once Skeptical Of Executive Power, Obama Has Come To Embrace It", which should have been subtitled, "The Obstructionist Republicans Made Him Do It", the first installment of a 6-part series on The Obama Era, which ran on July 13, and was written by Binyamin Applebaum and Michael Shear.
The piece attempts to describe the impact of the 560 new regulations promulgated by the Obama Administration (50% more than by GW Bush), although it confusingly mixes in a discussion of executive orders and completely ignores the use of guidance letters, while trying to explain how this supposed and "unexpected" change in the President's plans came about.
The combination of ignorance on display regarding how the federal government works and political history along with what seems to be the deliberate distortion of recent history is simply mind boggling.
At its most basic level the piece sets forth a misleading contrast between legislation and regulation, as though they are not related, leading the reader to believe that President Obama only resorted to it in the face of Republican obstructionism. In reality, the two leading sources of rulemaking in the Obama administration were Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, both passed by a Democratic controlled Congress. These two pieces of legislation, required federal agencies to issue more than 1,000 regulations, as well as creating a massive new and Congressionally uncontrolled (and unnecessary) bureaucracy, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which is busy issuing squadrons of every more confusing rules. In other words, most of the rulemaking of the Administration came in response to legislation enacted at the urging of President Obama. We assume, since we were told he was the smartest person to ever be elected President, that he was aware the bills required quite a bit of regulatory activity in order to micro-manage a large part of the American economy.
But there are two larger issues, which the article completely avoids by providing comfort food myth-making for readers right at the beginning:
In nearly eight years in office, President Obama has sought to reshape the nation with a sweeping assertion of executive authority and a canon of regulations that have inserted the United States government more deeply into American life.The first is that Barack Obama's misgivings about executive power were always tactical, not a matter of principle or law (like his supposed faith-based opposition to same-sex marriage in 2008, as well as his opposition to a mandate to buy health insurance during that same campaign). His real complaint was he didn't like the way George Bush used executive power, and he could effectively use such criticism in the Presidential campaign. Historically, Progressives have openly celebrated the creation of an administrative state designed to give the Federal government more control over every aspect of American life. The specific purposes to which that control would be put to use have changed over time; what has remained constant is the desire for the power. (And to read how the NY Times would cover a similar action by a Republican president read this)
Once a presidential candidate with deep misgivings about executive power, Mr. Obama will leave the White House as one of the most prolific authors of major regulations in presidential history.Blocked for most of his presidency by Congress, Mr. Obama has sought to act however he could. In the process he created the kind of government neither he nor the Republicans wanted — one that depended on bureaucratic bulldozing rather than legislative transparency.
Barack Obama's Progressive (indeed, Leftist) upbringing and young adult life were all about instilling the need for more government control by any means necessary, whether it be laws, regulations or executive orders. Everything else is tactics. It's like his use of the campaign finance reform issue. In 2008, when he realized he'd could raise much more money from rich donors than John McCain, he had no hesitation in reneging on his promise to use public funds in the general election, allowing him to swamp McCain (who stuck by his pledge) in spending. That's why we know all this agitation about Citizens United is simply a bad joke, with its real purpose to propagate a system of campaign finance designed to favor Progressives.
It's consistent with the Progressive upside-down reading of the Constitution, in which the federal government has the right to act in whatever areas it desires, except to the extent it decides to delegate decision-making back to American citizens. Barack Obama encapsulated that view perfectly in a 2001 radio interview in which he criticized the Earl Warren Supreme Court for not going beyond just ordering the integration of lunch counters, and ordering the owners to provide free lunches.
The second is the entire discussion about the GOP's alleged obstructionism, which would be described as principled opposition if done by Democrats.
Interestingly, one of the major examples of obstructionism cited in the article had nothing to do with the GOP - the failure of the Administration to pass its climate change bill, which occurred in 2009 when the Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House, and the legislation did not pass because of the opposition of Democratic legislators from coal-producing states, a fact the article does its best to obscure.
But the bigger problem is the implication, common in Progressive circles, that political opposition to its program is illegitimate and therefore justifies the radical actions of President Obama, an attitude the President himself embraced from the outset of his administration. We saw it in the January 2009 White House meeting with GOP leaders regarding the planned stimulus bill, when Obama rejected their suggestions by responding "I won". Apparently, it had escaped his notice that the GOP leaders had also won their elections, and it set the tone for his relationship with the opposition, a tone reinforced by the obstructionist behavior of the Democrats in Congress who blocked hearings and floor amendments on Republican alternatives to Obamacare.
The illegitimacy at issue here is Barack Obama's in his failure to recognize the outcome of elections and that Congress has the right to exercise its constitutional powers, but then who am I to lecture a constitutional scholar? The actions of Bill Clinton and Obama make for an interesting contrast. When Clinton suffered a huge rebuff in the 1994 mid-term elections, losing control of Congress, he altered course, and over the next few years, a number of compromises were reached on significant issues, compromises that did not leave either party's supporters fully satisfied. In contrast, when Obama faced smashing losses in both the 2010 and 2014 mid-terms, losing control of Congress, he refused to compromise and resorted increasingly to (often illegal) executive action, pushing rulemaking into uncharted legal areas, illegally employing informal rulemaking (for instance, the Dear Colleague letter from the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, sent to colleges and universities, about a mythical outbreak of sexual assault and violence on campuses, which has led to the establishment of kangaroo courts in higher education), and even arbitrarily changing statutory language by informal agency announcements (as was done on several occasions with Obamacare deadlines).
The Times article fails to explore the real problem with the President's unilateral actions, and the approval it has generated from Progressive, leading Hillary Clinton to promise she will be even more aggressive in this respect - the undermining of prospects for compromise on any issue, which is ironic given President Obama's consistent invoking of the need for less partisanship. Or perhaps, more accurately, the President's reference to nonpartisanship is a reflection of Obama's cynicism, as it has become apparent over time he's our most cynical President since Richard Nixon.
Here's an example of how President Obama's approach discourages compromise. I'm in favor of immigration reform that would both provide some increase in legal immigration and improve border security. But, if he were in Congress today, I would never vote for such a bill or even negotiate with Democrats on it. The reason is that the essence of compromise, is the each side has to give up something to get something. In a world where President's push executive orders, informal rulemaking and arbitrary changing of statutory language, there is no assurance that a legislator would get the value of the deal they thought they made. If a Progressive President has provisions in a compromise immigration reform bill they do not like, they can simply order the agency not to enforce it, or issue an executive order directly overriding the bill, or arbitrarily have the enforcing agency issue an informal notice changing deadlines and announcing a regulatory interpretation that leads to the opposite result intended in the legislation. When Progressives control the Executive Branch, it means they can implement the sections they like and ignore or override what they don't like, leaving the other side feeling like chumps from Palookaville.
The reality is that it's working out as Barack Obama wanted. Sure, he would have liked to pass more legislation, but that would have just increased the amount of regulation; regulation that would have expanded the administrative state even further.
By avoiding discussing Obama's pre-Presidential history and Progressive political theory, the Times has published yet another myth-making piece and ignored President Obama's true legacy. That legacy is a change in the tactics of Progressives. It is about the realization by Obama, and today's Democratic party, that they now in a position, with their dominance in media, education, high tech and the entertainment industry, where they are better off "running the table", and showing no mercy to their opponents, even if it means taking some casualties in the mid-terms. The party today votes in lockstep and is implacable in its determination to win through to final victory with an electorate that they believe is fated to vote in accordance with race, ethnicity and gender. It's too bad the GOP congressional leadership doesn't realize that.