Total Dysfunction at The New York Times

The New York Times' publication of two classified anti-terrorist programs and the Times' nose-in-the-air defense of its actions have inflamed conservative anti-media passions to a temperature not reached since Watergate.

Michael Barone — who was fair and balanced before FOX News was born — put it in perspective. Barone compared NYT executive editor Bill Keller's explanation of the Times' decisions to, on one hand, not republish the Danish cartoons of Mohammed with those to, on the other hand, publish both the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking terrorist money through the Belgian "SWIFT" consortium.

Barone wrote: "Disclosing classified programs that help protect us against terrorism is just dandy. But publishing cartoons that would be 'perceived as a particularly deliberate insult' by Muslims is beyond the pale. Coddling tender sensitivities is more important [to The New York Times] than protecting national security."

Calls for prosecution of the Times and vague hints about Justice Department investigations have done nothing to change the Times' agenda. Like Col. McCormick and The Chicago Tribune in FDR's day, the Times will publish any secret, no matter how damaging, if the publication will advance its campaign for Pennsylvania Avenue regime change. The Times' net worth as a newspaper and a brand name — its credibility, its financial value — is plummeting. The NYT Company's stock, traded on Wednesday at $24.37, has fallen 55 percent in value from its 2002 high of $53.80. The Times' credibility has also plummeted everywhere except those places where people suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Why? To understand the Times' agenda it's essential to study the soap opera now playing in the newspaper's solipsist covens and darkest caverns.

Fabulist Jayson Blair really did — as the title of his pseudo-memoir said — burn down his "master's house." The Blair scandal, like others before and others to come, was a huge embarrassment to the Times. Disgraced executive editor Howell Raines was fired in an event that could have reoriented the Times and restored its credibility and value to its shareholders and the public. Instead of pulling the paper out of its nosedive the real pilot — publisher-owner Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr. — put the stick in one pair of hands, the throttles in another and let a shapely pair of legs stomp the left rudder pedal all the way to the floor.

One source close to the Times' inner workings said that when executive editor Howell Raines was fired in September 2003 (and Washington editor Jill Abramson promoted to managing editor) a prominent Washington journalist who had observed Abramson's work at The Wall Street Journal said, "they fired the wrong guy." The right guy — the one the journalist thought should have been fired — was Pinch Sulzberger.

Pinch threw gasoline on Blair's fire. First, he appointed Bill Keller to replace Raines. Sulzberger, as he proved in his speech to graduates at SUNY-New Paltz earlier this year, is the kind of ideological liberal who looks at George Bush and sees Richard Nixon. Because Sulzberger didn't trust Keller to be a sufficiently hard-core liberal, Keller wasn't given the power an executive editor could expect. Instead, as a high-ranking Times editor reportedly put it, Sulzberger forced a "shotgun marriage" between Keller and Washington editor Jill Abramson.

Abramson, joined at the hip to columnist Maureen Dowd, was Sulzberger's idea of a pluperfect lib. (Her book about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings — "Strange Justice", co-authored with Jane Mayer and riddled with factual inaccuracies — reveals this. Mayer, now at The New Yorker, is still collaborating with MoDo, the two writing parallel pieces as they did back-to-back about the judicial nomination of DoD General Counsel Jim Haynes.) But more revealing — among the amazing things you can find on the internet — is the Times' internal talk about Abramson's ascendance.

TimesTalk is the New York Times' internal newsletter. In its September 2003 issue, Todd Purdum (former Washington-based Times reporter, now a national editor of Vanity Fair and husband of former Clinton flack Dee Dee Myers) wrote a gushing piece entitled, "Jill." Purdum wrote that Abramson is, "...a sophisticated child of New York City who went to work in the raffish worlds of Southern politics and then journalism." He goes on to quote Keller's remarks on the day Abramson was appointed managing editor: "Bill Keller praised her "matchless judgment, competitive drive, self-assurance and grace under fire." More revealing is the gossipy praise from Abrahmson's pal, Maureen Dowd.

Dowd is given more space in Purdum's piece than her supposed boss, Keller. MoDo told Purdum breathlessly, "Once we were having breakfast in L.A. and we found ourselves sitting next to Fabio, the coverboy for romance novels. Jill was very excited. But she was just as excited at the idea of having lunch with Russell Baker." And, as Purdum wrote, Dowd, "...gets the last word on Jill: 'she always tries to do the right thing, the altruistic thing, be it visiting the sick or remembering the out-of-favor.'" Purdum ends with Dowd's recollection of Abramson's first book, about the women in the Harvard class of 1974, "...with the tag line, 'No group of women was more determined to have it all.' They said having it all is a myth. But [Abramson] comes close."

Backed by Sulzberger, Abramson doesn't just come close. She and Dowd combined are a controlling force. Reporters from Baghdad to Washington are having their stories rewritten at the desk. The source close to the Times inner workings said, "The real story is what's going on inside the Times. If some responsible group set up a whistleblowers' hotline for Times reporters, they'd get some startling stories about what happens in the Times' newsroom."

Sometimes what an editor keeps out of a newspaper is more important than what he puts in. But Keller can't control the Sulzberger-Abramson-Dowd troika. They control the paper, leaving him to explain why, in Michael Barone's words, The New York Times is at war with America.

The White House apparently doesn't understand that but for the Times and a handful of other news outlets, the liberals would have no ideas, no agenda, and nothing to motivate them. Perhaps Vice President Cheney could take a page from Spiro Agnew's book and make a major speech about the press and its responsibility to help protect American freedom. He needn't go so far as to condemn the nattering nabobs of negativism or call for Pinch Sulzberger to be tried for treason. The NYT shouldn't be tried for treason. Incest, maybe, but not treason.