Students of the Leftist elite media culture in this country are in for a treat, if they check out the May, 2004 issue of The Atlantic. For in these pages, they will be encounter fired NY Times Executive Editor Howell Raines’ incredibly lengthy (21,000-word) non-mea culpa, entitled “My Times.”
Several brilliant hatchet jobs have already appeared attacking this sanctimonious, bitchy, defensive, and at times just plain stupid piece, including a clever little essay on Times Watch. Allow me to weigh in…
First of all, if you’re looking for depth on the Jayson Blair affair, forget it. Haines covers it at best obliquely, and then takes “…full responsibility….” even if he blames the whole mess on the Times‘ “ramshackle personnel system” and the fact that he never got a copy of the famous memo that warned, “We have to stop Jayson writing for The Times. Right now.”
Most of the article is devoted to how his beloved newspaper is deteriorating, and how he, fearless crusader for quality journalism and circulation growth, fought an ultimately unsuccessful battle against the entrenched bureaucracy. He berates publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., for lack of support, attacks the in-house union, and appears genuinely surprised that some neoconservative editors at the paper were “making accusations of ‘political correctness’ in order to block stories or slant them against minorities and traditional social-welfare programs.”
Haines, born in the South, seems consumed by white liberal guilt. At a post-Blair meeting held on May 14, 2003, at the Loew’s Astor Plaza Theater in Times Square (such detail and assorted tangents helped puff out his article to its stupefying length), he notes that “many whites in the newsroom were openly denouncing a purported ‘double standard’ in our personnel practices.” He replied:
“Where I come from, when it comes to principles on race, you have to pick a ditch to die in. And let it come rough or smooth, you’ll find me in the trenches for justice. Does that mean I personally favored Jayson? Not consciously. But you have a right to ask if I, as a white man from Alabama with those convictions gave him one chance too many by not stopping his appointment to the sniper team (to cover the DC-area sniper attacks). When I look into my own heart for the truth of that, the answer is yes.”
In other words, even though Haines probably knew that Blair was incompetent or worse, and that this would probably hurt the paper in the long run, Haines, the great white liberal Messiah would do the “right thing,” and keep him on.
Revealing a penchant for pandering that would shame even most Democratic politicians, and a weakness for meaningless symbolism that infects the Left like a cancer, he castigates the paper for not making a big enough deal about the plane crash death of R&B singer Aaliyah. He laments that the paper “perfunctorily covered her death, because one of our music critics had declared her a minor musician. So what? She was an icon in minority communities.” Yes, Howell, if only the Times had written a big obit, the circulation would have soared in, uh, “minority communities.”
But there is more to Howell Raines, the circulation marketeer. Despite being “allergic for most of my career to the business side of newspapering,” Raines was certain that the Times could develop a huge national circulation base. He cites surveys showing that there are as many as 40 or 80 million “like-minded non-readers” in the US. He notes that based on its current 1 million daily circulation, “the Times was going after the smartest and most affluent people in the United States and finding, at best, only a fortieth of them.”
So, Raines (he of the breathless assault on Augusta National, for having the temerity to exclude female members) is not only an effete Leftist snob, he has fallen for the oldest fallacy in the book—Chinese marketing. In this fallacy, a gigantic market (such as China) is simply identified, and some fool observes that “all” we have to do is corner THAT market, and we’ll be sitting pretty. HOW such a market is to be dominated is never explained.
Perhaps the most telling passage in Raines’ mammoth article betrays the sad fact that he stands for nothing at all, except himself. On the very last page, after reading thousands of words implying how much he loved and bled for the Times, he muses…
At sixty-one, I’m young enough to invent an entirely new chapter in my life rather than perpetually re-reading the old ones. I do not miss the daily grind of newspapering or the ephemeral nature of newspaper writing. Since I was twelve or so, my strongest interest has been in literature, and I’ll be turning in that direction during the extra years I’ve secured by getting fired.
What a pathetic self-absorbed windbag—but still a sacrificial lamb for a newspaper long past its prime.