Wednesday, November 6, 2019

More constructive criticism from the NY Times Public Editor

Editors' Note: The last public editor of the New York Times went out for a latte in 2017 and was never heard from again. While the Times may be of the view that there is no need for any critique of their work, we at the Spy (and then the Columbia Journalism Review) have a different view and accordingly have taken on the thankless task of serving as Public Editor for the Paper of Record.  Someone has to do it.  Once again, we offer a few we hope helpful comments on aspects of the paper's output and provide you with the considered responses of the Times editors to our views.

By A.J. Liebling
Meta-content Generator and Public Editor
The Massachusetts Spy

The case of the context that didn't bark

On October 31, 2019, the Times published two front-page stories about the House of Representatives' adoption of proposed impeachment rules.  The rules set forth the detailed procedures governing the investigation of President PAB and gave the Republicans various rights, including the right to examine witnesses and to suggest relevant witnesses of their own.  As might be imagined given their extremely partisan attitude on – well, every f**kin' thing, the Republicans rubbished the proposed rules.  The Times provided extensive coverage of each and every whine.

For example, it reported the harsh attacks of Rep. Gym Jordan, who similarly dismissed well-founded efforts to investigate sexual abuse on the college wrestling team he helped coach, and Rep. Devon Nunes, whose commitment to truth is shown by his effort to sue into silence a parody Twitter account in the name of his cow, in fulsome detail:
One by one, they came to the floor on Thursday to denounce an inquiry that they view as secretive and unfair, and to accuse Democrats of shredding important precedents in their zeal to oust a duly elected president.

“Trying to put a ribbon on a sham process doesn’t make it any less of a sham,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, while Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said the panel had turned into “a cult.”
The Times also reported scathing critiques by the White House “press secretary” (who has yet to hold a press briefing) and U Bum himself, e.g. witch hunt, scam, coup, and the like.

What the Times in its news story didn't do is tell its readers anything about the rules themselves.  And the analysis piece by long-timer Carl Hulse was no better.  It was the usual both-sides she-says he-says back and forth.  One nugget will suffice:
Republicans derided the Democratic push for impeachment as a sham, a disgrace, a charade, a Soviet-style mock trial and an effort to overturn the 2016 election and impede the 2020 campaign.
So the careful reader of the New York Times wouldn't have a clue about what procedures the House adopted.  Were they a grotesque partisan sham or fair procedures consistent with precedent?  How could we possibly find out?  Well, we could read The Washington Post:
The resolution allows the president and his counsel to request and query witnesses and participate in impeachment proceedings once they reach the Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with writing any articles of impeachment that will be voted on by the House. It also authorizes the House Intelligence Committee to release transcripts of its closed-door depositions to the public, and it directs the committee to write and then release a report on that investigation in the same fashion.
The resolution gives the Republican minority on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees a chance to subpoena documents and testimony — provided that either the Democratic chairman or a majority of the committee agrees. And it establishes special procedures under which the chairman and top Republican on the panel can take up to 90 minutes to make their cases or defer to a staff lawyer to do so.

We asked Times Washington Bureau Chief Elizabeth Bumiller for her response to the lack of substantive discussion of the content and the fairness vel non of the impeachment resolution in her newspaper.  She said: “You ignorant f**ks are too f**king stupid to appreciate our brilliant coverage and if you don't like how we cover the story you can go take a s**t in the Potomac.”  We appreciate Ms. Bumiller's response to our question but continue to believe that our critique is well-founded.

The case of the missing biography

On November 5, 2009, the Times published on its Op-Ed Page a column critical of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's plans to fund social programs, including Medicare for all, by increasing taxes on the wealthy, including a tax on wealth itself at rates up to 6% (on assets in excess of $1,000,000,000).  The columns was written by one Steven Rattner, who was identified by the Times as follows:

This was as might be expected from the Newspaper of Record true.  The brief biography might give the reader the sense that the views of a former high level economic official in a Democratic Administration should be taken seriously.

In fact they should not.  It was a stale collection of apocalyptic whines offered without so much as a shred of documentation.  One example will suffice.  According to Mr. Rattner, Sen. Warren's proposals to fix private equity are bad because “Private equity, which plays a useful role in driving business efficiency, would be effectively eliminated.” 

The column was free of ideas or argument, but the Public Editor recognizes the absolute right of the Times to publish drivel as long as it is written, or at least signed, by rich white men.  The question is whether there were other aspects of Mr. Rattner's biography that might be relevant to a consideration of his critique of Sen. Warren.

For example, had it done a deep dive into publicly available information on Mr. Rattner (thank you Wikipedia! )the Times might have noted that

1.  He's made a pile out of a private equity partnership: 
In March 2000, Rattner and three Lazard partners,  . . left the firm and founded the Quadrangle Group. They initially focused on investing a $1 billion media-focused private equity fund. Early investors in Quadrangle included Sulzberger, Mort Zuckerman, and Merrill Lynch. . . . . Quadrangle grew to manage more than $6 billion across several business lines, including private equity, distressed securities, and hedge funds. The firm also hosted an annual gathering for media executives called Foursquare, where speakers included Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. In 2008, the firm's asset management division announced it had been selected to invest the personal assets of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a billionaire and Rattner's close friend.
Might his voracious lapping at the private equity river and sucking up to even richer and more rapacious titans of capitalism affect his perspective on the value of private equity to the public good? It might.

2.  He was dinged by federal and New York State regulators in a pay to play scandal.

Speaking of his private equity years, 
In 2009, Quadrangle and a dozen other investment firms, . . were investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for their hiring of Morris. The SEC viewed the payments as "kickbacks" in order to receive investments from the CRF since Morris was also a consultant to Hevesi.  Quadrangle paid $7 million in April 2010 to settle the SEC investigation, and Rattner personally settled in November for $6.2 million without admitting or denying any wrongdoing.
The Times did not believe that Steve Rattner's
financial affairs were relevant
Hevesi and Morris?  What happened to them?  Let's ask The New York Times:
Alan G. Hevesi, the sole trustee of the pension fund, pleaded guilty in October to a felony related to his role in the scheme and admitted knowing that Hank Morris, his longtime top political aide, had been paid millions of dollars by investment firms to help win business from the fund. Mr. Hevesi, Mr. Morris and six others pleaded guilty to crimes in the case. 
No wonder he's dubious about value of government regulation of financial markets – between the SEC and the New York State settlements, he and his fellow buccaneers paid out over $23 million.

3.  He spends every waking moment surrounded by his fellow plutocrats.

The need to raise taxes on the rich to fund critically-needed programs to help the bottom 99.9% of his fellow Americans might be lost on the estimable Mr. Rattner given the world he swans around in:
[He and his wife] have four grown children, live in a Manhattan apartment, spend summers on Martha's Vineyard, and own a horse farm in North Salem, New York. Rattner has served as a board member or trustee of a number of civic and philanthropic organizations, including the Educational Broadcasting Corporation as chairman, Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City as chairman, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brown University, Brookings Institution and the New America Foundation. Rattner is also member of the Council on Foreign Relations.. . . . Rattner also supports various educational and cultural institutions through the Rattner Family Foundation, including the Sesame Workshop, Harvard Law School, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and others.
The Tenement Museum?  How positively quaint!

Wouldn't you have a different view of his critique of Elizabeth Warren's programs if you knew these tidbits about the Times's guest Op-Ed Columnist?

We put this question to Op-Ed Page Editor James Bennet, who responded with the following voicemail: “You f**king carping bastards aren't fit to clean the bidets in Steve Rattner's second guest house on the Vineyard and I know because I was there!  You and your fellow illiterate vermin should be grateful for the insight Steven is willing to share with you and if you don't like it you can go eat s*** and die.”

We take Mr. Bennet's thoughtful response to heart but wish he had more directly addressed our concerns about the missing pieces of Mr. Rattner's biography. 

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