Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The New York Times at its worst: Elisabeth Bumiller, Jodi Wilgoren and Juan Forero make the front page on the same day

Front page of the New York Times today seems filled with prats and losers posing as reporters. Look closer and you'll realize that's because the three worst offenders of the paper are on display: Elite Fluff Patrol Squadron Leader Elisabeth Bumiller, Jodi Wilgoren and Juan Forero whom Francisco rightly dubbed "the littlest Judy Miller." (Sorry, no nickname for Wilgoren. We'll get to work on that.) It's as though the Times reached in the closet this morning and assembled their outfit from the worst pieces in their wardrobe. Now, hung over from the night before, they strut down the sidewalk as people point and stare. "I must be looking mighty fine," thinks the Times to itself -- missing the chuckles it leaves in its wake.

Let's start with the Elite Fluff Patrol squad leader Elisbeth Bumiller who files her piece on the Bully Boy entitled, "From Russia With Love." Ah, we kid. We joke. We jest. It's truly entitled, "Bush Says Russia Must Make Good On Democracy."

Like an old whore used to crossing her heart that she was "thrilled" and "excited" by any kink a john requested, Bumiller musters her broadest smile and most enthralled tone (and most unquestioning -- no, "Is that sore Herpes?" questions here) to tell us that the Bully Boy spoke of how "our shared alliance stands for a free press, a vital opposition, the sharing of power and the rule of law." John number 64 for the night just dropped his forty bucks on the dresser and Elisabeth's grinning like the tired scene is still exciting and new.

Possibly to distract herself from the deed she's doing (to the American people, specifically those that read the Times -- but the reach of the Times extends past the readership) Bumiller busies herself by focusing on details in a sort of the-way-you-wear-hat kind of way.

Breathlessly, she pants over "the grand setting of Concert Noble, a 19th-century hall" and notes jokes such as the Bully Boy's response to will Putin be invited to the ranch: "I'm looking for a good cowboy." So was Debra Winger in Urban Cowboy. Believe John Travolta is taken these days, but maybe Jeff Gannon could assist the Bully Boy with a hook up?

She informs us that "[a]lthough Mr. Bush delivered his speech in the heart of the new Europe, Brussels, the headquarters of NATO and the European Union, the setting chosen by the White House was very much old Europe." In doing so, she not only accepts the terms popularized by Donald Rumsfeld (among others), she further pads out her non-story. But hey, when you charge by the hour, apparently you'll do anything to ensure the john's satisfied.

Surely, her john will be satisfied that each of his groaners is passed off as wit (such as, "I have been hoping for a similar reception, but Secretary Rice told me I should be a realist" -- can we get a drum snare?). (It's also passed off as truth that Condi's trip to Europe was a success. Guess Bumiller was trolling the beat when the paper printed some dissenting voices -- Times staffers, not letter writers -- on the realities of Rice's trip to Europe.)

Wading through this trash, it appears Bumiller has topped herself in focusing on the trivial and is ready to proudly proclaim (as Farrah Fawcett's character did in The Substitute Wife): "I'm not just a whore, I'm a damn good whore." Indeed.

Now let's move to Jodi Wilgoren who can't be said to exhibit the worst traits of her campaign coverage but only because (as far as we know) she's not in the midst of planning a wedding while she should be doing her job.

Rebecca (Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude) had an interesting theory about Wilgoren's eventual fate at the Times. I'll try to boil it down (but use the link -- and sorry, Rebecca, if I miss a point or oversimply what you've pointed out). Wilgoren is the unknowing double agent at the Times. She truly thinks she is one of them. When she realizes that she's there to amuse and that she's hit her own glass ceiling (a class one), she could turn the attacks she so often used on the people she covered (Howard Dean, John Kerry) back at the Times and write the explosive tell-all that would leave the Grey Lady reeling for years.

Let's quote from Rebecca's post (I've just read it again and am still laughing):

jodi wilgoren's been shunted off to the chicago division because, frankly, she's at odds with the term 'photogenic.' the human cod liver pill that is adam nagourney is no rose but he comes off as 'educated.' jodi comes off, in speaking and visuals, like roseanne barr's younger sister. short of living off slim fast for a few years and taking speaking lessons, she'll never get very far at the times.
she's kidding herself if she thinks she'll ever fit in. she was used as the bomber to take to out howard dean and she proved to be quite adept at that task. but jodi never seems to note that while every 1 else uses the main entrance, she's using the servents. while every 1 eles shows up for dinner, she's doing the clean up. she's the hazel to their moneyed class.
which actually delights me because she's proven she's a killer. she's dropped her bombs on dean and kerry to curry favor with the 'elites' at the paper. she's felt they were behind her. and that she was fitting in. they were supportive of her attacks, but they were using the fat, frumpy, squawking wilgoren. and when that reality sets in, when she realizes she's hit the unattrative ceiling reserved for the 'common man' and 'common woman,' she'll probably explode and hopefully turn that anger into an expose.
wilgoren works for a paper that regularly celebrates trophy wives in the business section. in the business section! the paper's never supported feminism and gail collins probably already realizes that from the editorial attack on now.
if she were seen as classy and having married up the way judith miller has, wilgoren might be okay. but she's married a guy in the theater who's last name isn't sondheim. she might as well have married the first survivor reject to be voted off the island.

if that awakening ever comes for jodi wilgoren, i hope her inner rage is directed not at the people she's reporting on but at the paper itself, i hope she's smart enough to not make a right-left attack on the paper. it's a class issue. and if she turns all that rage into documenting the 'elite' mindset at the times and what they really think of their readers, she could take the paper down.

On the front page today, Wilgoren's displaying all that "class with a capital K" (yes, stealing from The Mary Tyler Moore show again -- Valerie Harper utters this line, probably Treva wrote it). (Treva Silverman.) The topic itself is questionable for the front page (the brave fight for moneyless poker games) and darned if Wilgoren doesn't slap some blue eyeshadow on it, put it in pantyhose and cut off blue jean shorts, and top the whole thing off with a gold lame Nudie jacket. All that's missing are the Christmas tree ornaments passing as earrings, but hey, Jodi's got to save something for herself, right?

Oh the jokes! It's like A Friar's Roast from the seventies that's airing on all channels so there's no escaping it.

"No wonder we've got budget problems," cracked their colleague, State Senator Brian LeClair, who had folded his own cards long before.
"Well, it's other people's money," Mr. McGinn said of the taxes that fills state coffers. "It's kind of the same thing."

Truly, Wilgoren's opening line to the piece shouldn't have begun "Not 20 minutes into a Texas Hold'em poker tournament . . ."; it should have been, "Can we talk?"

That annoying bray delighted the paper when it was turned on Kerry or Dean. Here, I'm thinking even the paper has to realize Wilgoren is just not their "kind of people."

They'll print this nonsense for now (she heads the Chicago division, I believe) but these stories will kill her. She learned to be frivilous and "saucy" (crass, low class) while "reporting" on Dean and Kerry. But she's become a one-trick pony. No, that's not a reference to Bumiller's problems; Wilgoren is a trained killer -- she doesn't know how to fluff. She only knows how to go for the "dung heap" (to use a phrase that popped up in Hunter S. Thompson's writings yesterday) repeatedly. They loved it when she used that 'working-class' 'humor' to destroy Dean or Kerry. Now she's left with the humor and no classy target. She's become a WB show, specifically Blue Collar TV. We may soon see Rebecca's theory tested.

Which brings us to Juan Forero who truly is the littlest Judy Miller. "Latin America Fails to Deliver On Basic Needs" is the space he occupies on the front page. Marvel over his inclusion of the following in the article:

The fragile government of President Carlos Mesa, hoping to avert the same kind of uprising that toppled his predecessor in 2003, then took a step that proved popular but shook foreign investors to their core.

That's it on Mesa. Strange to anyone who knows the history. And though Forero plays omission like nobody since Miller, don't think he doesn't know what went down. Don't think the paper doesn't either. And turn to page A9, go to "World Briefing" and check out this item:

Bolivia: Ex-President Charged With Genocide
Prosecutors charged former President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada and his cabinet with genocide in the deaths of more than 60 people during the antigovernment uprising that toppled him in 2003. After the ouster, Mr. Sanchez de Lozada fled to the United States, where he still lives. He has repeatedly denied that his forces used violence against the protestors.

Last time we fact checked Forero, we noted that 'summarizing' documents online, he managed to come to some amazing conclusions (largely due to seeing 'repeated' items that weren't there repeatedly). Now we note that he's managed to cover Bolivia today and missed the big story. (Genocide charges, if Forero's unaware, are pretty big news.) He's prone to do that when it might be embarrassing for the U.S. government or for big business. (Check out anything he's written on Hugo Chavez or note his work covering Columbia.)

Today, Juan Miller wants us to know that he can editorialize via inclusion and omission. Juan, you proved it. There's no way anyone walking into this topic for the first time will ever grasp how much you've failed to note. Or notice how clearly you steer the reader away from anyone against privatization. But you have to run with the big dogs to earn the title of "the littlest Judy Miller," so we aren't surprised.

Some random things Juan forget to mention. Argentina? Well, there's no discussion of the energy corporation (yes, U.S. -- California-based) Sempra. There's no discussion of the privatization of gas. So what? So the push for that is what led to the "anti-government uprising." Only the "World Briefing" notes that uprising today, in their single paragraph, Juan can't be bothered with addressing it, or naming it, other than to note that "it" -- an uprising, over what he doesn't tell you -- "shook foreign investors to the core."

Forero rule (apparently): Never forget that when reporting from another country, the reactions of those not in our (U.S.) country are the least important thing. Kind of the way Hollywood does their fish-out-of-water by using a star as tour guide when they enter into a terrain unfamiliar to the average domestic movie goer. (Think Patrick Swayze in City of Hope.)

I won't say Forero fails to grasp what happened in Argentina because I'm sure he grasps it fully. I just don't think he's in a rush to inform the reader.

He's also not the type to inform you of the failed neo-liberal policies that resulted in the reaction to the privatization of water so readers can be left with the impression that some good native of our country (to be played by Patrick Swayze?) really, really wants to provide clean, potable water to these unruly foreigners. (Funny, how it didn't work out quite that way, isn't it?)

Some will argue that he did let Deborah James (Global Exchange) speak. Yes, her lone voice against privatization comes in the business section, where the story continues. One small (but sane) voice in a sea of "voices of authority:" Riordan Roett of John Hopkins University -- remember a mouth piece from there pushing the war on PBS's The NewsHour in 2003; John Shultz (Democracy Center); and Cesar Gaviria (Organization of American States). Shultz weighs in that:

". . . it's going to have to be subsizized in some form of foreign investment."
That, he noted, is not a realistic proposition, since Bolivia cannot afford to seek more loans and foreign governments are not so willing to make big cash outlays to a state they view as increasingly erratic.

The only non-official Argentine voice is Remedios Cuyuna who we meet in the opening scene.
She says: "For us, this is good [cancelling a privatization contract for water]. Maybe now, they will charge us less."

Forero quickly dispenses with her (and dismisses her) with his first sentence after her quote: "That is far from certain." Silly foreigner, apparently.

But hint to Forero, when attempting to use the fish-out-of-water-American-meets-funny- foreigners concept, you open with Swayze. He's the lead. You really need some loveable American at the top of the piece. Remember to pitch it that way if someday you decide your fiction is just too good to continue to waste on the Times and pack up your bags for Hollywood. (An announcement I long to see.)

By not opening with that American voice, the audience is left wondering about Cuyuna (despite your prompt dismissal of her). (If you saw establishing and then quickly dismissing her as your hommage to Hitchcock's utilization of Janet Leigh in Psycho . . . Trust me, Forero, you should leave that trick to the masters. America Pie III is more your speed.)

There's a story here and the Times isn't getting it to the readers. There's a whole back history on India, for instance, in the nineties that would be quite illuminating. There's the reality of what went on in Argentina more recently as well. But telling readers that aspect would mean Forero would have to inform them that foreign subsidies or not (if privatization was continued), Argentina was facing serious problems for pretty much everyone but the foreign investors.

Readers will have to do their own research.

[No links provided because the stories aren't worthy of links and the Times is toying with becoming a pay-to-view site. If you're interested in reading the stories themselves -- maybe I didn't provide you with enough chuckles, maybe you like to come up with your own jokes, or maybe your working on a Bad Reporting We Love book about journalism that's so bad it's good -- you can search by topic, headline or 'author' -- my apologies to writers everywhere for the use of that term.]

[Note, Rob points out that "in his shrug his shoulders kind of way, Michael Shifter weighs in."
Shifter (Inter-American Dialogue): "It builds a great resentment and rage that things so essential to people, like water, like electricity, are not being delivered in a fair and equitable way. That's a formula for rage that leads to mobilization, and that's why we're seeing a convulsed region." Rob feels that "he sort of says this is how it is, what's for lunch?" Rob may be correct. I honestly missed that quote in one of my many throw the paper down and then pick it up back up repeatedly moments this morning. Like a car wreck, you just can't turn away. With anyone quoted in any article, the quotes are selections, not full statements. Shifter does appear to be describing the process. He may also be speaking against it. From his comments and Forero's preceding paragraph, I have no idea what Shifter was trying to express other than an analysis (which feeds into Forero's "those foreigners are bringing instability to their own country" mood).
From CounterPunch: Imperial foundations were extremely active in recruiting, financing and promoting the writings and speeches of the "new democrats" ­ who disguised their abject colonial servility with doctrines of "pragmatism", "democracy" and "citizenship" and the "inevitability of globalization". The Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the Inter-American Dialogue, the Kennedy School, the Kellogg Center and a host of other centers served as transmission belts and platforms to integrate the new colonial politicians and intellectuals into the Empire. (James Petras' "The Empire Changes Gears.")
Shifter himself wrote this in a New York Times op-ed: The human trafficking rationale for the sanctions risks trivializing, and politicizing, one of Latin America's most critical problems. Independent human rights experts say that Venezuela's record, though of great concern, is no more egregious than many other countries that have somehow managed to escape similar treatment. In the State Department's 2003 report on human trafficking, Venezuela did not even appear among the five worst offenders in the Western Hemisphere.
I see Rob's point. But I honestly did miss the statement. Shifter's used by Forero to reject the statements of Deborah James, Global Exchange -- after her comments these words of Forero lead into Shifter's quote: Others, less enthusiastic see a troubling degree of political instability and a perfect storm of uncertainty on the horizon.
Writing like that wins Juan the 'cliche of the day' award (where was a copy editor on that?) Intentionally or not (on Shifter's part), James is left as the lone voice.]
[Note II: Shirley caught that I had used "most" where I meant "least." It's been corrected. Thank you, Shirley.]