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Fox News and Russia

April 19, 2022 at 9:19 am

The New York Times business section features a news article headlined "How Russian Media Uses Fox News to Make Its Case." It reports, "Russian media has increasingly seized on Fox News's prime-time segments, its opinion pieces and even the network's active online comments section — all of which often find fault with the Biden administration — to paint a critical portrait of the United States and depict America's foreign policy as a threat to Russia's interests."

The article features "four ways Russian media has used Fox News to bolster the government's narrative about the war," including "criticizing President Biden."

The Times article was ridiculous. What do they expect Fox News to do, not criticize President Biden for fear that they might be quoted in Russia? During the Cold War the Soviet Union frequently amplified New York Times coverage of homelessness or of racism to make America look bad. Even now the Russian-linked RT network cites the New York Times to make America look corrupt, amplifying, for example, a recent New York Times investigation reporting on Jared Kushner's Saudi dealings. RT also amplified a recent New York Times article about divisions within NATO.

One could just as easily write an article headlined "How Russian Media Uses the New York Times to Make Its Case," but that wouldn't fit the hard left New York Times conspiracy narrative that American conservatives are all a bunch of Russian agents. The paranoid conspiracy about Russian influence used to be a feature of the McCarthyist American right, but now it's strangely taken root on the American left.


Lab Leak Talking Points

February 25, 2022 at 7:48 am

A New York Times news article about a policy agenda drafted by moderate House Democrats includes this passage:

One measure included in the agenda appears to accept the Republican talking point that the coronavirus was created in a laboratory in China, then covered up by the World Health Organization — assertions that have been challenged repeatedly by scientific researchers.

The Never Again International Outbreak Prevention Act, by Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Conor Lamb, a centrist Democrat running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, "would provide accountability with respect to international reporting and monitoring of outbreaks of novel viruses and diseases, sanction bad actors and review the actions of the World Health Organization."

Saying that an assertion "has been challenged by scientific researchers" or that something is a "Republican talking point" is a different thing than saying it isn't true. Instead of using the weasel word "appears," the Times could have looked at the actual legislation, which was initially introduced in June 2020. The text of the legislation says the "The Permanent United States Representative to the United Nations shall use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to seek the adoption in the United Nations General Assembly or Security Council of a resolution to ban wet markets," a step that suggests the wet market theory of covid origin rather than the lab leak theory. The bill does call for "an audit of the World Health Organization relating to its actions in response to COVID–19," but that is a different thing from accepting a talking point about a cover up.

Anyway, language like this in a news article in the New York Times is the sort of thing that causes a lot of readers to question the paper's objectivity. The tone is off. It sounds like the Times is playing partisan defense for the Democratic left, or for the Chinese Communist Party, rather than participating in an open-minded, genuinely curious inquiry into the pandemic's origins. The Times article appears to accept the Chinese Communist talking points, is the way the Times might put it. Other, earlier Times coverage has sporadically been more open to acknowledging faults in both the WHO response and the Chinese Communist Party's initial actions, to accept uncertainty about the pandemic's origins, and to acknowledge that the Chinese authorities botched the early response and were less than fully transparent in disclosing information about early patients and what ties, if any, they had to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Were those New York Times articles also just Republican talking points?

The Times article carries the byline of Jonathan Weisman, a Times journalist that the newspaper publicly faulted in 2019 for having "repeatedly displayed poor judgment on social media and in responding to criticism." It's one thing to publicly fault Weisman for having "repeatedly displayed poor judgment"; it's another thing for the Times editors to keep him around and fail to supervise him closely enough to prevent nonsense like this in the news columns.

For an alternative view, check out the Substack newsletter by former New York Times reporter Nellie Bowles, edited by former New York Times editor and writer Bari Weiss. Bowles writes:

The British government now considers the idea that Covid originated in a lab to be the most likely explanation, according to a new report from The Telegraph: "On Monday, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the UK biosecurity strategy would be refreshed to protect against 'natural zoonosis and laboratory leaks,' in a public acknowledgement of the threat from insecure research facilities."

The denial of the lab leak has been one of the most persistent bits of illogic from some quarters on the American left.


Lost in Newton

February 15, 2022 at 8:12 am

Instead of acknowledging a mistake and publishing a correction, the New York Times has stealth-edited the inaccurate phrase "Newton and Boston, about 10 miles apart" so that it now reads "Newton and Boston, with downtowns about 10 miles apart." That's still not accurate. There's no such thing or place as "downtown" Newton. Newton is a suburb made up of 13 villages, none of which is "downtown." Instead of defensively stealth-editing this a second time, the right move here for the Times would be to simply publish a correction acknowledging that the two cities are adjacent. The newspaper's failure to do this is a sign of a combination of arrogance and a newsroom culture that holds "corrections are bad and mean you did something wrong and will get in trouble, a kind of black mark on your record" rather than "mistakes sometimes happen, it's part of the process, and we'd much rather make it right than compound the error by legalistically or defensively refusing to admit the possibility that we are anything less than perfect." At least run the correction by someone who lives in Boston or Newton or who pointed out the original mistake to make sure that the change makes sense rather than introducing a second error. The Times hires so many people from the Boston Globe that talent retention is a serious business problem for the Globe, so you'd think that there'd be no shortage of people at the Times who might be able to help with this.


Lost in Boston

February 11, 2022 at 8:13 am

A Times news article about school mask mandates reports, "Newton and Boston, about 10 miles apart, give an idea of how two politically liberal and cautious districts are approaching the choice — and how and why they may come to different decisions."

It's not accurate that Newton and Boston are "about 10 miles apart." They actually directly border each other in at least two places—the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury and the Newton neighborhood of Oak Hill, and the Boston neighborhoods of Brighton and Oak Square and the Newton village of Newton Corner. The Massachusetts Secretary of State has a map (pdf) of the cities and towns in the commonwealth that shows Newton and Boston are adjacent. If you are headed east on the Massachusetts Turnpike, you pass directly from Newton into Boston.


Darren Walker and a San Francisco Museum's New Director

February 10, 2022 at 8:53 am

An arts section report on the naming of Christopher Bedford as director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art includes this passage:

Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, who has led the charge on diversity issues, said he felt comfortable with the selection of Bedford. "While I'm disappointed that a diverse candidate wasn't chosen," Walker said in a telephone interview, "no museum leader is more committed to diversity than Chris Bedford."

What is Darren Walker doing in this article? He's not on the board of the San Francisco museum. The Ford Foundation isn't a major funder of the museum. Anytime a white male gets named to any job anywhere, the New York Times article about it is now going to include a quote from Darren Walker passing judgment on whether it's acceptable?

And how does the Times let Walker get away with describing Bedford as not "a diverse candidate"? Diversity comes in lots of dimensions—political, religious, personal experience. Bedford reportedly played college football. How many other art museum directors have had that experience?

The Times article doesn't disclose that previous highly favorable coverage in the New York Times of Walker and the Ford Foundation was followed by at least two grants by the Ford Foundation supporting the New York Times, which is a for-profit company controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family. The Times Company has been schnorring for charitable assistance from the Ford Foundation, while simultaneously claiming to potential and current shareholders, and in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, that its business is booming. Maybe the Times is buttering up Walker by including him in the article in the hope that he will dole out more Ford Foundation money to prop up the Ochs-Sulzberger family business, which has lost more than a billion dollars in market capitalization over the past five months or so.


A Racist Photo Cutline

February 4, 2022 at 6:10 am

Casual accusations of racism are not usually my thing. But to see, in the New York Times, which makes a big public show of being antiracist, a photo of three people with the two white people identified by name in a cutline and the black person not only not named but just totally ignored, treated as if he is invisible or nonexistent, is the sort of thing that I had hoped wouldn't happen anymore. It's disappointing. The photo runs with an obituary of basketball coach Bill Fitch.

The print cutline says, "Bill Fitch, center, during practice with the Boston Celtics in May 1981. Kevin McHale was at right."

The online cutline says, "Bill Fitch, center, during practice with the Boston Celtics in May 1981 as they prepared to meet the Houston Rockets for the N.B.A. championship series. Boston went on to beat Houston in six games. Kevin McHale was at right."

The third person in the picture is M.L. Carr. He was a significant contributor to the Celtics in that era, well liked by fans, and he deserves to named and appreciated, not ignored.


Times Refers to "Unborn" Children

January 23, 2022 at 1:31 pm

From a New York Times magazine article headlined, "Trump's Dream of a Border Wall, Twisted Into a Sci-Fi Nightmare" (yes, more than a year into the Biden administration, the Times is still having, or stoking, Trump nightmares):

As of 2015, for instance, a video game called Border Patrol had been played more than 12 million times on the website NerdNirvana. A rudimentary first-person shooter, Border Patrol invited players to place their cross hairs on three different kinds of cartoon characters: a "Mexican Nationalist" wearing a bandoleer, a tattooed "drug smuggler" in a wide sombrero and a pregnant "breeder" holding two children by the hands, one wearing a diaper, the other a little sombrero. The backdrop showed a river cutting through a cactus-dotted desert. The players' job was to shoot these brown-skinned characters as they tried to cross the river; each kill was recorded with a bloody splat. The "breeder" was worth more points, presumably because you also killed her children, born and unborn.

Aha. The Times has finally discovered an instance of when a fetus or an embryo isn't a "choice" but is an unborn child—when it belongs to an immigrant video-game character under fire from border patrol.

Perhaps it is part of a wider shift of the Times view on abortion rights or reproductive rights or whatever you prefer to call them. The Saturday New York Times also featured an above-the-fold front-page photo of the March for Life in Washington.


Weddings Editor Aims to "Normalize" Unwed

January 12, 2022 at 6:25 am

The New York Times has published a question and answer style interview with Charanna Alexander, who in May 2021 was named "weddings editor" at the newspaper:

Do you have any other goals for the section?

...we're looking to tell stories of commitments that are not necessarily associated with marriage. What we've been seeing is that a lot of people are not getting married and are not committing in that traditional sense. But they are starting families, and they are creating homes together in a different way. We want to explore that: What does it mean to be committed in 2022? We will begin to tell stories outside of our traditional Mini-Vows that explore relationships outside of what we know to be marriage. Marriage has been our bread and butter because, obviously, we're the Weddings section, but I do feel that it is time that we get into what is considered nontraditional and kind of normalize that. For example, we have written about platonic spouses, or people who are marrying their friends. ...That's where we're looking to go, to just expand what the word commitment means.

Nice to see the transparency about goals. It seems like a delicate balance between covering the reality of what people are doing (a traditional goal of news) and an agenda ("normalize," "expand") that involves taking a side in an unsettled values or policy debate. Newspapers do the second all the time but they often aren't quite so transparent about it.

Survey data bears out the idea that marriage and even couplehood are on the decline. A 2021 Pew analysis found: "As relationships, living arrangements and family life continue to evolve for American adults, a rising share are not living with a romantic partner. A new Pew Research Center analysis of census data finds that in 2019, roughly four-in-ten adults ages 25 to 54 (38%) were unpartnered – that is, neither married nor living with a partner. This share is up sharply from 29% in 1990."


Whitewashing a Communist Camp

December 19, 2021 at 1:23 pm

The New York Times has a strange, repeated "odd tendency to euphemize or dance around communism." The latest example comes in a super-long and pretty boring profile of a 97-year-old World War II veteran. The Times claims the person is known as "the king of the artificial Christmas Tree." The Times writes, "in midsummer of 1949, he went to Camp Unity, a leftist camp in Wingdale, N.Y."

"Leftist" haha. The Times itself reported on July 17, 1932, that it was a communist camp in which "the theoretical revolutionists live the life of the proletariat in Soviet Russia." A subeadline said "Communists sneak off to enjoy a few capitalist pastimes during mock session on lawn." If the New York Times of the 1930s could be accurate in describing a communist camp as communist rather than "leftist," why can't the contemporary Times convey that accurately to readers? Are they afraid of being accused of red-baiting? Is it "no enemies on the left"? A popular front approach? Are the people editing and publishing this copy too young to remember what communism was?


Times Advice: Invest in China

November 21, 2021 at 8:58 am

A column in the Sunday business section by Jeff Sommer, who "also edits business news" and previously was a national editor at the Times, reports:

Vanguard, for instance, projects that the U.S. stock market will produce annualized returns of only 2.4 to 4.4 percent for the next decade, in no small part because prices are so high.

Other world stock markets haven't risen as much lately, and, partly for that reason, Vanguard expects that they will outpace the U.S. market by almost three percentage points, annualized, in the decade ahead. That's a reminder that a truly diversified stock portfolio is a multinational one, containing shares from all major public stock markets (including those in China).

This pretty much says it all about the modern New York Times—it wants readers to divest from and boycott Israel, but to invest in China, where as recently as July 26, 2021 the U.S. State Department was describing an "ongoing genocide." ("Ongoing" genocide, by the way, is the worst kind.)

The online version of the Times column carries a hyperlink to a previous Sommer column that discusses China in more detail, averring, "I think the benefits of putting some of your money into Chinese stocks and bonds are more compelling than the reasons for staying away," and explaining, "I've come to accept that I'm a die-hard globalist."

Sommer passes along the Vanguard projections as if they are valid, without doing any checking to see if previous Vanguard predictions about returns of U.S. stocks are accurate. For example, in March 2012 Vanguard advised allocating between 20% to 40% to international equities. That would have been not great advice to take: the pre-tax average annual return return for the past ten years on a Vanguard International Stock Index Fund was in the 7 percent to 8 percent range, while the return for a U.S. Total Stock Market Index Fund has been more like 16 percent to 17 percent annually over the same period. If you invested $10,000 at the start of the decade in the U.S. fund, you'd have about $44,000, while if you invested in the international fund, you'd have about $20,000. Taking Vanguard's advice on that would have cost you $24,000.

And it's not only international stocks on which Vanguard's advice has been flawed. A December 2018 "Market Outlook" from Vanguard said "our expected return outlook for U.S. equities over the next decade is centered in the 3%–5% range, in stark contrast with the 10.6% annualized return generated over the last 30 years." It also said, "From a U.S. investor's perspective, the expected return outlook for non-U.S. equity markets is in the 6%–8% range, modestly higher than that of U.S. equity." Again, that expectation has so far been laughably wrong; the three-year return on the International index has been roughly 8 to 12 percent annually (depending on whether you take September 30 or October 31 as the end), while the U.S. three-year return has been more like 16 to 22 percent annually (again, depending on your end period). Why would anyone make a personal financial decision on the basis of these projections? A good Times personal finance column, rather than parroting projections from big Times advertisers or advising readers to invest in countries where the U.S. government says there is an ongoing genocide, would be to go back and look back at some of these annual projections issued by investment firms and see how they hold up to what actually happened.


Homicide Surge Mystery

November 16, 2021 at 8:13 am

The New York Times focuses on the surge in homicides, publishing a front-page news article that jumps to two full pages inside. The Times highlights what it calls "a surge in homicides that has swept across the country," reporting that "in many large cities — including Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia — the number of homicides this year is on track to surpass last year." The Times just can't figure out what might be behind this: "In dozens of interviews, criminologists, city and state officials and people close to murder victims could not name a single, direct cause of the spike in homicides, and said that it could take years of data collection before the phenomenon is fully understood." Still, it could be "the continued destabilizing effects of the coronavirus pandemic."

Somewhat remarkably, the Times manages to cover this phenomenon without any mention of the Black Lives Matter protests against police. Some police and conservative politicians have linked the rise in crime to those protests.

Also interesting: "A spike in drug use plagued New Mexico, like the rest of the United States, as Covid-19 spread. There were a record 766 overdoses in 2020, a 54 percent jump from 2016, according to a report by the state legislature's Finance Committee. Nationwide, more than 93,000 overdose deaths were reported in 2020, a record number and a 30 percent increase from 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." Well, that is interesting on two fronts. First, the reference to drug use as a "plague" contradicts much other New York Times coverage that cheers on drug use: "In the case of psychedelics, decriminalizing these powerful compounds is only the first step in a process of figuring out how best to safely weave their use into our society. The main model we have for resocializing a formerly illicit drug is the legalization of cannabis." Second, to read the Times, drug overdoses are all directly the consequence of the Sackler family's marketing practices at Purdue Pharma. Remarkably, the drug problems are getting worse notwithstanding the Justice Department's settlement with Purdue Pharma and with members of the Sackler family. If the plague of drug use gets worse even though the Sacklers are out of the business, how will the Times keep defending the idea that it's all their fault?

Anyway, the blind spots in Times coverage of this are mildly amusing, though doubtless less so for families of the homicide victims or for members of the Sackler family.


Times Publishes Chinese Propaganda

August 24, 2021 at 9:36 pm

"In Afghanistan, China Is Ready To Step Into the Void" is the headline over a New York Times op-ed by Zhou Bo. The Times identifies him at the top of the article by saying "Mr. Zhou was a senior colonel in the People's Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020 and is an expert on the Chinese Army's strategic thinking on international security." At the bottom of the article, there's a longer identification: "Zhou Bo is a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University and a member of the China Forum. He was a senior colonel in the People's Liberation Army from 2003 to 2020 and is an expert on the Chinese army's strategic thinking on international security. He directed the Centre for Security Cooperation in the Office for International Military Cooperation at the Ministry of National Defense."

What is the "China Forum"? Its website explains, "Facing the changing international situation, how China, as the world's second largest economy, can actively and effectively interact with the world and express "China's voice" has become an increasingly pressing issue. Launched in 2019,China Forum (CF) is a permanent platform of the Center for International Security and Strategy (CISS), Tsinghua University, sponsored by Shanghai Chunqiu Institute for Development and Strategic Studies, with the aim of recommending and supporting domestic excellent scholars, former Chinese high-ranking officials, entrepreneurs and media experts to attend high-end International forums, promote experts' articles to International and domestic media, release video and podcast programs so as to help the world know China better."

Given that 2020 was a year in which China was, by U.S. government account, committing genocide, some people might find it kind of icky for the Times to be publishing this, especially as the genocide is "ongoing," according to a July 26, 2021 State Department statement. For the Times op-ed page, Senator Cotton and Bari Weiss are beyond the pale, but a 17-year veteran of the People's Liberation Army plumping for a genocidal regime is okay? It's not like the guy is a defector denouncing the Chinese Communists. He's still on the Chinese Communist payroll. It's not exactly a state secret that China is going to try to capitalize on an American retreat in Afghanistan, so it's hard to see what is gained by providing a platform to this.


"Art" of Burned American Flags

August 22, 2021 at 7:19 am

An article in this morning's T magazine profiles an artist named "Puppies Puppies," who "also goes by Jade Kuriki-Olivo."

The Times reports, "At its most political, Kuriki-Olivo's work is also at its most literal, and tends not to equivocate. In her most recent show at New York's Queer Thoughts, 'Executive Order 9066 (Soul Consoling Tower),' about the World War II internment of nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants, for instance, the artist showcased an urn filled with the ashes of burned American flags."

Also: "She can get by 'only so far' on her art, she said, and also does in-person sex work."

I guess it says something good about the market economy that someone can't make a living from art that consists of "the ashes of burned American flags." What it says that this same Times magazine is full of ads for luxury products is another story. Anyway, this is one where it's hard to tell whether the "conceptual art" is that of Puppies Puppies or the Times editors publishing the stuff.


Stalinism or "Social Justice"?

August 15, 2021 at 11:51 am

From the New York Times obituary of Leon Litwack, who was a longtime professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley:

He took his commitment to social justice with him to Berkeley, where he campaigned for Henry Wallace, the 1948 Progressive candidate for president, and protested the state's requirement that public employees, including university faculty, sign an oath of loyalty to the United States.

During the summers, while his better-off classmates went on vacation, he worked as a mess boy on freighters shipping out of San Francisco Bay, becoming active in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union, one of the country's more left-wing labor organizations.

His activism — and refusal to sign a loyalty oath — got him fired from a student job at the Berkeley campus library, and in 1953 he was subpoenaed to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. But it also brought him in touch with his idols: He introduced Wallace when he came to speak at Berkeley; met Harry Bridges, the radical West Coast union leader; and talked with Du Bois about how American universities were teaching post-Civil War history.

The idea that campaigning for Henry Wallace, who was backed in 1948 by the Communist Party USA, was a sign of a "commitment to social justice" is laughable. What about justice for the victims of Stalin, the Soviet totalitarian dictator that Wallace wanted a soft line toward?

The entire passage shows an odd tendency to euphemize or dance around communism. The Marine Cooks and Stewards Union wasn't merely "left-wing." It was expelled from the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1950 for being communist dominated. Likewise, Harry Bridges wasn't merely "radical"—he was the head of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, also expelled from the CIO in 1950 for being communist-dominated. A history of Bridges on the ILWU website reports that "he openly admired the Soviet experiment in Russia" and that "he condoned Stalin's agreement to a Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939." The New York Times may use the words "radical" or "social justice" or "progressive" or "left wing" but here at Smartertimes we prefer, when discussing the Hitler-Stalin pact, to use more direct language.


Art Review Likens Cars to "Lethal Poisons"

August 14, 2021 at 9:27 pm

A New York Times art review of a show of automobiles at the Museum of Modern Art faults the museum for lending its reputational gloss to Volkswagen.

The review says:

In a wall panel the curators mention the Beetle's "inglorious origins," though there is more recent VW unpleasantness this show and catalog do not discuss. Over the last decade, MoMA has enjoyed more than a million dollars in support each year from Volkswagen — a company that admitted to equipping 11 million cars with illegal software to cheat emissions testing, and then lying to investigators about the scheme. Researchers at West Virginia University found some cars equipped with the software belched almost 40 times the permitted levels of nitrogen oxides. In early 2017, Volkswagen pleaded guilty in the United States to criminal charges that included conspiracy to defraud the government, violations of the Clean Air Act and obstruction of justice. VW paid $20 billion to resolve civil and criminal charges related to the scandal, and that figure has grown since then.

While one VW division was violating the Clean Air Act, another was putting its name on MoMA programming that would boost its civic credentials — notably "Expo 1: New York," at MoMA PS1, a Volkswagen-funded ecological showcase from 2013 that in retrospect looks like an egregious act of greenwashing.

Lower down, the review says:

really, this might all be so much inside-philanthropy, except that the organizers of "Automania" explicitly discuss polluters' interest in art in the catalog and the museum's online magazine. In both, Kinchin writes about the corporate practice of "artwashing, a by now well-established branding strategy practiced by the polluting fossil fuel industry." The curator singles out Shell, which commissioned English artists to make posters of the bucolic English countryside; it also mentions Mobil, whose art philanthropy in the 1970s and 1980s was the subject of Hans Haacke's institutional critique, and recent demonstrations against BP's sponsorship of London museums.

For MoMA to criticize Shell, Mobil and BP for "artwashing," and then to ignore the criminal polluters still supporting its own museum, takes a real brass neck. But some drivers, even when the future looks unsustainable, find it hard to give up their cars.

It's hypocritical of the Times to criticizing MoMA for taking Volkswagen money. The Times itself accepts advertising from Volkswagen. The Times Company also allows the newspaper's reporters, and contractors who deliver the newspaper to subscribers, to drive non-electric cars.

T Brand Studio, a part of the New York Times Company that provides creative services to advertisers, boasts of a project it did for Shell, and also announced a special podcast series to promote the BMW X7, a gas guzzler. In faulting MoMA for accepting funding from an automaker, the Times is holding the museum to a higher standard than the newspaper imposes on itself. Accepting money from a donor doesn't amount to a statement that a donor is ethically pure-as-the-driven-snow, any more than accepting an ad from an advertiser amounts to such an endorsement of a company's product. There may be some donors or advertisers so ethically tainted that it makes sense to refuse them. But the Times review stops short of offering a generally applicable rule for such decisions. The Times review says, "a show devoted to the personal motorcar feels a bit like one devoted to lethal poisons." What's really lethal is the way the Times lets an art review be poisoned by the reviewer's environmental politics.


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