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Is The Gray Lady Losing It?

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Over the past several years the editorial page of The New York Times has taken on an increasingly desperate tone. There is no doubt that the advent of the Internet and conservative talk radio came at great cost to the Gray Lady, which for some time now has seemed incapable of framing issues in the methodical – if wrongheaded – manner it once did. But the level of shrillness in recent days is completely off the charts. Consider:

Fast and Furious

In a June 21 editorial the Times, addressing the current controversy between Congress and Attorney General Eric Holder, said:

The political feud between the White House and congressional Republicans has now culminated in a House oversight committee vote to cite Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. for criminal contempt. His supposed crime is failing to hand over some documents in an investigation of a botched gunrunning sting operation known as “Fast and Furious.”The Republicans shamelessly turned what should be a routine matter into a pointless constitutional confrontation. And the White House responded as most administrations do at some point: it invoked executive privilege to make a political problem go away.

Self-evidently a “pointless” political assault? Not really. As even the Times itself noted,

The House committee’s contempt resolution focuses largely on internal Justice Department documents that relate to a February 4, 2011 letter sent by the department to Sen. Charles Grassley. That letter falsely denied that the ATF had engaged in a gunrunning strategy that sent weapons across the border.

Nor was the White House invocation of executive privilege all that routine. Most legal observers appear to agree that executive privilege has generally been invoked only in cases where White House involvement was an issue – though of course the Obama White House adamantly denies any such involvement here.

The shrill reaction by the Times seems way out of line. Unless, of course, it fears possible revelation of a White House connection.

Union Dues

In a June 23 editorial on “The Anti-Union Roberts Court,” the Times said:

The Supreme Court’s ruling this week in Knox v. Service Employees International Union is one of the most brazen of the Roberts court. It shows how defiantly the five justices act in advancing the aggressive conservatism of their majority on the court.The court’s moderate liberals were rightly dismayed by the majority’s willingness to breach court rules in pursuit of its agenda….The court’s five conservatives ruled that in 2005, Local 1000 of the Service Employees International Union should have sent a notice to all nonmembers it represented when it imposed a temporary 25 percent increase in union dues for public-sector employees in California to fight to anti-union ballot measures.

The court said the union infringed on the free-speech rights of the nonmembers by not giving them the chance to prevent use of their dues to support expressions of political views unrelated to collective bargaining. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with this narrow judgment only. This produced a 7 to 2 ruling on that specific question.

The Knox case was a complicated one and went beyond “that specific question.” But the Times seemed apoplectic over the Supreme Court’s simply acknowledging the right of individuals who are non-union member employees in a union shop to object to the use of their dues for partisan political purposes. Perhaps what got the Times so exercised was that heretofore reliably liberal justices voted the other way.

Sheldon Adelson

On June 24 the Times took to savaging businessman Sheldon Adelson, whom it views as being a sinister force on the other side of the political divide. When one searches the Times’s website for material on George Soros, the billionaire financier who throws around vast sums of money in support of left-wing and anti-Israel causes, one finds the following biographical note:

George Soros is the famed investor who broke the Bank of England and came to represent the swashbuckling style of hedge fund managers and their entry into the world of global affairs. Mr. Soros, one of the world’s richest men, has plunged deeply into the worlds of politics, philanthropy and economic prophecy.

To be sure, the Times does note some of the ethical and legal challenges to Mr. Soros that have surfaced over the years. But all in all, the paper’s biographical snippet portrays Mr. Soros as something of a dashing figure on the world stage.

Think the Times would ever extend the same treatment to a wealthy backer of conservative causes? In its June 24 editorial, “What Sheldon Adelson Wants,” the Times expressed its political disagreements with Mr. Adelson this way:

No American is dedicating as much of his money to defeat President Obama as Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who also happens to have made more money in the last three years than any other American. He is the perfect illustration of the squalid state of political money, spending sums greater than any political donation in history to advance his personal, ideological and financial agenda, which is wildly at odds with the nation’s needs…. Given that Mr. Romney was not his first choice, why is Mr. Adelson writing these huge checks?The first answer is clearly his disgust for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, supported by President Obama and most Israelis. He considers a Palestinian state “a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” and has called the Palestinian prime minister a terrorist. He is even further to the right than the main pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which he broke with in 2007 when it supported economic aid to the Palestinians.

Mr. Romney is only slightly better, saying the Israelis want a two-state solution but the Palestinians do not, accusing them of wanting to eliminate Israel. The eight-figure checks are not paying for a more enlightened answer.

Mr. Adelson’s other overriding interest is his own wallet. He rails against the president’s “socialist-style economy” and redistribution of wealth, but what he really fears is Mr. Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on companies like his that make a huge amount of money overseas….

Mr. Obama’s Justice Department is also investigating whether Mr. Adelson’s…operations violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, an inquiry that Mr. Adelson undoubtedly hopes will go away in a Romney administration. For such a man, at a time when there are no legal or moral limits to the purchase of influence, spending tens of millions is a pittance to elect Republicans who promise to keep his billions intact.

So going on nothing other than its own surmise, the Times essentially says Mr. Adelson is intent on corrupting America’s judicial and legislative systems while implying that it – the Times – is better suited than Mr. Adelson to ascertain what the “nation’s needs” – and Israel’s – are.

Immigration

On June 26 the Times railed against Monday’s Supreme Court immigration decision. The court knocked out three parts of an Arizona immigration law, on the grounds that they intruded on the prerogatives of the federal government, but left standing the provision requiring police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop on some other legitimate basis if the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally.

According to The Times, “The Supreme Court rejected the foundation of Arizona’s cold-blooded immigration law and the indefensible notion the state can have its own foreign policy” and “Arizona’s fallacious claim that part of its statue was intended merely to help federal agents do their job….”

“Its own foreign policy”? “Fallacious claim”? Actually, the Supreme Court described the Arizona law as having been “enacted in 2010 to address pressing issues related to the large number of unlawful aliens” in Arizona and frustration with the ineffective enforcement of federal immigration laws.

And could the Times be unaware that President Obama recently shut down a major portion of the federal enforcement program? Perhaps the extravagant language and hyperbole can be explained by the fact that the ruling allowing the provision to stand came in an 8-0 vote (Justice Kagan recused herself because of her prior work as President Obama’s solicitor general), with the court’s liberals joining its conservatives.

The Times has been foaming at the mouth over the Arizona immigration law from the beginning, insisting when it passed in 2010 that “If you are brown-skinned and leave home without your wallet, you are in trouble.”

Meanwhile, as William McGowan notes in his book Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America, “the Times condemned almost any effort at border enforcement or interior immigration control.”

The Gray Lady became a Doddering Old Gal around the time the legendary Abe Rosenthal retired as executive editor in 1986 and the overmatched Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. succeeded his father as publisher a few years later. Dementia began setting in with the election of the hated George W. Bush in 2000, and the paper’s hold on reality has been tenuous at best ever since.

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