- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Nelson Current; 1st Edition edition (Aug 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0785261044
- ISBN-13: 978-0785261049
- Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,924,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
A couple of decades ago a major weekly magazine used to proudly advertise that within its pages, "Fact is presented as fact, and opinion is signed as opinion." It wasn't true then and it isn't true now, but the magazine in question was at least savvy enough to know that the appearance of fairness and objectivity is important. This standard was the rock upon which the Times built its reputation. The Times's editorial page has always leaned, if not fallen, leftward. Fair enough. That is the function, the reason for existence, of the editorial page of any newspaper: to present the viewpoint of the editors. Once upon a time, however, an effort was made to keep the editorial pink ink from seeping through to the rest of the Times. Kohn notes that Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who shepherded the Times to the reputation of respectability that it is currently squandering, wrote in the 1950s that "...no matter how we view the world, our responsibility lies in reporting accurately that which happens."
As Kohn demonstrates, to devastating effect, those days are long gone. Under the captaincy of Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr., the grandson of Arthur Hays and the current publisher of the New York Times, the ship he commands does not merely float on the Red Sea. It's taking on water, and he's standing amid ships, bailing it onto the deck.
A few years ago I spent several weeks dissecting the Times for my poor, long-suffering New York-born wife, reading their headlines and stories and pointing out the slant and how it was done. I wish that Kohn had written JOURNALISTIC FRAUD back then; he does the same thing I did, and does it much better than I ever could. Kohn examines what journalists refer to as the five Ws and the H --- Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How --- and uses examples culled directly from the Times's pages to demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt how the Times slants and distorts its reporting to project a left-wing viewpoint.
The indictment of bias here is based not upon a random story here and there but on a demonstrably repeated and systemic pattern of distorting the reporting of its news in an effort to project its editorial viewpoint and to influence the nation's agenda accordingly. This isn't a matter of an off-key note or two. As Kohn demonstrates and documents in JOURNALISTIC FRAUD, this is a symphony that has been playing to the cheap seats for years.
Kohn does more than simply and irrefutably present and prove his case, however. He establishes why this distortion, this disguise of editorial opinion of straight news, is significant. Kohn conclusively shows that on Junior Sulzberger's watch, the Times has systematically and deliberately been blurring the line between fact and opinion.
When one picks up a periodical such as The Nation on the Left or National Review on the Right, one knows what one is getting: opinion in the form of essays, commentary, and broadsides from a particular point of view. When one turns on their radio and listens to Rush Limbaugh or Alan Combs, one does not get news --- one gets opinion. The same is true of a newspaper's editorial page. When the news articles begin taking their tone, content and style from the editorial page, however, it is no longer a news story; it becomes propaganda. And given that most of the gentry tend to skim headlines and lead paragraphs, at most, it becomes extremely easy to insidiously sway public opinion.
So why is this a major deal? Why not simply file this under 'SFW' and read another newspaper? Why not simply boycott it, as legions of rabbis in New York and Los Angeles recently exhorted their congregations to do as a result of the Times anti-Israel news coverage? The reason, as Kohn notes, is that the New York Times News Service has over 650 member newspapers who, to borrow a term from radio broadcasters, rip and print New York Times news stories and "analysis" (spelled in the Times lexicon as e-d-i-t-o-r-i-a-l) as if it is gospel.
This sheep-like behavior is not limited to the print media. Television anchormen, from well-groomed Canadian high-school dropouts to failed morning talk show hosts, take their daily marching orders from the Times. The result, regardless, is the same. The journalistic well is poisoned at the source and trucked all over the country. Millions of people drink this water in some way every single morning, and form opinions from it.
Junior Sulzberger has been widely quoted (though not in the Times) as having told his father in the early 1970s that if an American soldier came face to face with a North Vietnamese soldier he (Junior) "...would want to see the American guy get shot. It's the other guy's country." One could chalk up this unfortunate statement to the exuberance, the impetuousness of youth. However, it appears from the state and slant of the Times that Sulzberger has not set aside all of the follies of childhood.
Yet Kohn sees the possibility of redemption. He sets forth in JOURNALISTIC FRAUD a scenario whereby the Times could regain its respectability and once again become the newspaper that was respected for its objectivity, as opposed to being fit for fodder for late night television monologues. For this, and for so many other reasons, JOURNALISTIC FRAUD is indispensable for anyone who reads, and cares, about the news and how it is reported.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
As the first step in his analysis, Kohn takes the reader through the basics of hard news writing and objectivity. Then, using quotes from NYT articles, he demonstrates how a writer can introduce subjectivity (i.e., opinion) through manipulation of the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of a hard news article. From there, he explores various other techniques, including misleading headlines, distorted leads, burying information at the end of an article or "below the fold" and polls -- always using NYT quotes as illustration. He is convincing. Actually, he is very convincing.
One of the most fascinating parallels he draws is between NYT coverage of the present Bush administration with that of the Nixon administration and Watergate, when the NYT admirably stuck to the facts without embellishment. Granted, the facts were damning in themselves and needed no embellishment, but that is exactly Kohn's point: let the facts to the damning, not the ideological beliefs of the writer or publisher.
Back in the '80s, I read a very popular book, "Hidden Persuaders", analyzed techniques (and tricks) the advertising industry uses to sell products. Although some of the book seemed to be a bit over-the-top and, at times, reaching to make a point, after reading it, I have never viewed an advertisement quite the same way. "Journalistic Fraud" packs the same wallop: on occasion, Kohn goes over the top and appears to be more conservative than the moderate he claims to be, but having read it, I will never read a newspaper article (in the NYT or elsewhere) with quite the same innocence. That is good.