The Monitor often is asked for an example of a news story that exhibits such blatant bias it astounds even a jaded observer of the mainstream media. Such a story appeared in the March 29, 2006 edition of The New York Times, on the occasion of the passing of Lyn Nofziger, longtime aide to Ronald Reagan.
It’s not exactly news that The New York Times editorial page detested Reagan. But who would have thought that 17 years after the end of his presidency and nearly two years after his death the Times would still seek to denigrate Reagan’s legacy, on its news pages, in a manner that can only be described as petty and inappropriate?
No one ever expected the Times’s leftist editorial board to endorse Reagan for president in 1980 and 1984. Nor was anyone surprised at the relentless invective aimed at Reagan by Times editorialists throughout his two terms in Washington. In January 1983, barely two years into his presidency, a Times editorial declared that “The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan’s White House” and warned that unless he came up with “better ideas” the country was doomed “to two more years of destructive confusion.”
(Reagan sagely ignored the advice and was reelected 22 months later, winning 49 of 50 states in a historic landslide.)
Even as Reagan’s stature steadily rose among historians in the years after he returned to private life, the Times continued to view him as a mediocrity whose successes, the paper insisted in a churlish editorial following his death, were due largely to “good timing and good luck.”
A newspaper has every right in its editorial commentary to assess a public figure as harshly as it cares to. But what about when a paper like the Times takes a potshot at a deceased president not in an editorial but in a news story?
In his article on Nofziger’s death back in 2006 (the Monitor keeps a clipping taped to an office wall as a reminder of why the Times has become such an untrustworthy news source), veteran Times reporter John M. Broder, who at the time was the paper’s Los Angeles bureau chief, included the following paragraph:
Mr. Nofziger was at the hospital with Reagan after he was shot in March 1981 and relayed to the press the president’s memorable, if perhaps apocryphal, line to Mrs. Reagan at the hospital: “Honey, I forgot to duck.” [Emphasis added]
“Perhaps apocryphal”? Reagan’s display of calmness and grace on the day he was nearly killed cemented the bond between him and the American people. His quips to his wife and his doctors have been told and retold in hundreds of books and articles on the Reagan presidency, with nary a hint that they were, in Broder’s words, “perhaps apocryphal.”
But leave aside all those books and articles. Look at how the Times itself reported Reagan’s remarks in the days following the assassination attempt. In the Times’s lead article of March 31, 1981, the day after John Hinckley Jr. pulled the trigger, then-reporter Howell Raines wrote: “ ‘Honey, I forgot to duck,’ Mr. Reagan was quoted as telling his wife.”
In the same edition, the Times’s Lynn Rosellini began her article, “Shortly before he was wheeled into the operating room, President Reagan looked up at his wife, Nancy, and told her: ‘Honey, I forgot to duck.’ ” The article was headlined “ ‘Honey, I Forgot to Duck,’ Injured Reagan Tells Wife.”
For good measure, reporter B. Drummond Ayres Jr. repeated the “I forgot to duck” quip in a sidebar piece that ran in the Times two days after the shooting. Titled “Amid the Darkest Moments, a Leaven of Presidential Wit,” the article described Reagan’s jocular statements as “good medicine, leavening the crisis, buoying an anxious nation and showing the wounded leader to be a man of genuine good humor and sunny disposition, even in deep adversity.”
Where, then, did John M. Broder get the idea, nearly two decades after the fact, that the “Honey, I forgot to duck” quip was “perhaps apocryphal”? Not, apparently, from his own newspaper. But doesn’t he, as every good Timesman should, consider the Times the nation’s “paper of record”?