Saturday, August 27, 2005

NYT: Scott Shane on CIA report and my op-ed comments on the Times

Most of the central figures faulted in the C.I.A. inspector general's report, notably George J. Tenet, the former director, retired last year. In response to previous reports on the 2001 attacks, the Central Intelligence Agency has been subordinated to a new director of national intelligence in the biggest reorganization of spy agencies since the C.I.A.'s creation in 1947.
"At this point, it's really about reputations," said Gregory F. Treverton, a former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council and now a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation.
Yet leaders of the families of those who died in the attacks repeated their demand for individual accountability, which is what prompted Congress to ask John L. Helgerson, the C.I.A. inspector general, to begin his investigation nearly three years ago. On Thursday, the September 11 Advocates group demanded the immediate declassification and release of Mr. Helgerson's report, whose harsh conclusions have been disclosed only in limited leaks.
"To shield C.I.A. officials from accountability and to continue to cover up deficiencies in that agency puts the safety of our nation at risk," the group said in a statement. "Four years post-9/11 this is truly unacceptable."

The above is from Scott Shane's "With Only Reputations at Stake, Talk on C.I.A. Report Turns to How Much to Publish" in this morning's New York Times. It's our spotlight story.
Shane does a good job of presenting various voices (and staying out of the fray). It's an article worth reading and, as with Shane's Friday piece, it's buried inside the paper. Apparently Apple and two recording companies being at war is front page news but the independent report on the failures of the CIA isn't?

Which brings us to a visitor who e-mailed saying that they couldn't believe my remarks yesterday. The paper, he argued, didn't bury the story. My reply, the paper put it inside the paper and not on the front page. Emphasis.

Where were the Twin Towers? Who ran more copy on the victims? New York City and the New York Times are the answers to both questions.

But here is a story on blame for the attacks of 9/11 (two of four planes hit NYC) and it's inside the paper?

I stand by my comments.

The visitor wrote that if it wasn't bad enough that I didn't give credit to the fact that they covered the story, I then accused the Times of being on the CIA payroll.

I made no such accusations. The Times and the CIA have a historical relationship. It has nothing to do with a payroll. I noted that if it was the FBI, it would have been a front page story.

I thought that question had been dealt with here before. And while, unlike the military, we're not looking for "recruits" it may be time to address it again. (Ava and Jess did a tally of the e-mails to the public e-mail account and the private one for members, were I better prepared, I'd have that number handy right now. But, as noted last night, even with their help, I'm behind in the e-mails which continue to increase in number.) We have added new members since we last touched on this topic, so we'll address it again this morning. (Quickly address it. This will read like more of a rough draft than most entries here normally do.)

From yesterday's entry, here's the entire section that so enraged the visitor:

Meanwhile Scott Shane and James Risen's "Internal Report
Said to Fault C.I.A. for Pre-9/11 Actions
" doesn't get the emphasis it
deserves. Why? Probably due to the focus of the story, honestly. Here's an
The report describes systemic problems at the agency before 2001,
the officials said. In addition to criticizing Mr. Tenet; James L. Pavitt, the
former deputy director of operations; and J. Cofer Black, the former director of
the agency's Counterterrorist Center, it offers praise for some specific actions
taken by them and other officials, they said.

The findings place Mr. Goss in a delicate position. As chairman of
the House Intelligence Committee in the years before the attacks, he influenced
intelligence policies and monitored intelligence agencies. As a leader of the
joint Congressional inquiry into the attacks, he joined in requesting the
inspector general's inquiry nearly three years ago.

Now, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he will have
to decide whether to take disciplinary action against any of those criticized,
risking a further blow to the morale of an agency still charged with protecting
the country against future terrorist attacks.

(The Times is, historically, very comfortable with criticizing the
FBI, less so the CIA. Which is too bad since the report attempts to determine
some form of accountability.)

It's a class issue.

We've touched on this before. However, to give credit, besides being based on the historical, public record of the paper, this is also largely based on phone calls for a Third Esate Sunday Review piece. (I don't consider phone calls to be "research.") The piece ended up going in a different direction. (I believe they instead did a parody of Bill Keller that I took a pass on participating in.) As I understood the piece in the early stages, it was going to address the class issue at the Times. (There parody is humorous and a great piece, by the way. I'm not slamming it.) So I spoke to friends and acquaintences who had worked at the Times, to two friends who work there now, as well as to reporters at Newsday, the Washington Post and the LA Times. Pulling all of that together (and the public history of the paper) is the basis of this entry (which is too slight to be called an editorial so dub it an "op-ed").

It is a class issue. The same story on the FBI would have received more play (longer articles and front paged).

The structure at the Times didn't mix with "G-men" in the old days. They did mix with the CIA (prior to people becoming CIA). It has to do with "breeding" and other nonsense. There's an affinity for the CIA at the Times was my argument/accusations. If that's fresh or new to the visitor, he needs to pay more attention to the paper he's reading.

The FBI was always a little "too common" for the Times. It's the same reasoning that allows them to ignore Watergate because Kissinger says it's not a story. They took him at his word, Harvarad professor, and they take others at their word if their of a certain class. (Or "class.")
The FBI has always been too blue collar for the Times.

Sorry if that judgement shocks anyone. (If it does, remember that I could be, and often am, wrong.) It's also why they repeatedly screw up their entertainment coverage. They identify "power" as being in the institution and they support some token representative from it (whom they can "relate" to). That's why they broke their own policy and allowed Peter Jackon to be trashed anonymously. Their source was their "type." Director Jackson wasn't. And in their world, the institution is everything. (They may receive a lesson in "power" as rumors abound about the identity of their "source" and their "source" being on the way out.) They fail to grasp that's not the case in the entertainment world where executives are so disposable. It's the sort of refusal to see the world on anything other than their own terms that resulted in the David Begelman story breaking in the Wall Street Journal and not the New York Times.

I'm not saying it's malice, I'm just saying they mix with a certain crowd and they don't with another. It's why the art expose gets buried in the seventies. Go down the list.

It's a "class" bias. As an institution, they chant "One of us. One of us. One of us" like the cast of Todd Browning's Freaks. (Which, come to think of it . . .) The affinity with the CIA is one of "class." I haven't accused them of being on the payroll.

I'm no fan of Daniel Okrent but when he addressed the issue of bias, he may have been attempting, badly, to address that issue. Which is why he raised social issues as an example (non-economic social issues). They aren't the grab the bag of Fritos crowd. Nor the Holy Rollers crowd. If Bill Keller could be successful remaking the Times into that (he can't be), he would be given his walking papers because, in the world of the Times, somethings simply aren't done.

Which raises the issue of the online edition of the Times moving to for-pay. The issue there will be how much it hurts the paper's reach. They're still lost in terms of the internet (understanding and utilizing the internet). I personally think that they don't know what they're in for. But on their end, if they can cut out some people, they're fine with a slight dip. They're not the paper for the masses nor do they wish to be. Their hope is that they will regain some cache by going for pay. (And move the 'riff-raff' on to some other paper.) (Money is a concern -- and greed -- but cache is the what they're most concerned with.)

The above opinions are based on the public history of the paper and repeated remarks from former employees as well as current employees and reporters at other papers . You're free to disagree with it. And I could be wrong. But if the theory (non-scientific -- in science terms, it's a hypothesis) is shocking to you, maybe you need to read the paper a bit more closely.

They want to be the paper of record (again, they pushed that slogan, Okrent was wrong). Paper of record, not paper of the people. Which is why, at their worst, they read like the Social Registry. (Which is also why they moved to include same-sex announcements.) They're the (aged) stock broker hitting the village on a Saturday night as a "lark." That's the New York Times.

This is an institutional issue. This is not saying that Scott Shane or Douglas Jehl or anyone else presently or in the past personally has this attitude. It's an institutional attidue that comes from the top (regardless of which family member sits at the top) and it's ingrained into the paper.

As for some people at the Times being on the governmental payroll (something I didn't argue in the section from yesterday that so enraged the visitor), there's historical background on that as well. "Hiroshima/Nagasaki Coverup: Veteran Journalists Call for New York Times to be Stripped of Pulitzer" and "The Hiroshima Cover-Up" by Amy Goodman and David Goodman will provide you with information on one historical instance.

We'll close by noting something Francisco found while working on his entry yesterday on Democracy Now!'s headlines:

Thursday, August 25th, 2005
Exclusive: Joan Baez Performs "Joe Hill" at Camp Casey
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Legendary folk singer Joan Baez took to the stage Wednesday evening to perform before a crowd gathered at at Camp Casey. Democracy Now! was there to record the event.
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click here for our new online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.

If you missed it, you can hit the link above and go directly (audio or video) to that section.

Maria asks that we note Joan Baez's live CD Bowery Songs comes out September 6, 2005. (Same day as the John Roberts circus begins, by the way.)

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[Note: Per Shirley, "They're" corrected to "Their." Thank you Shirley.]