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How to Get the Story Wrong: Low Points in the Grey Lady’s Checkered History

Chris Anderson Feb 23, 2007

Mindless war-cheerleading hasn’t been the only journalism sin committed by the August New York Times. Here’s a brief trip through some of the low points in the Grey Lady’s checkered history.

1930s: As Soviet dictator Josef Stalin engages in a massive crackdown on dissidents and forcibly collectivizes thousands of farms, the Times correspondent Walter Duranty, an open Stalin sympathizer, repeatedly argues in his reports that there is no Ukrainian famine. The famine is later reported to have killed more than 10 million people. Duranty’s coverage wins a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
1946: The Times’ reporter William Laurence writes a series of articles on the development of the atomic bomb and its use on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. In 1945, Lawrence denies on the front page of the Times that radiation fallout was to blame for what other journalists were calling “the atomic plague” or “bomb sickness.” Lawrence later brags about being on the payroll of the War Department at the time his A-Bomb stories were written. Laurence’s coverage wins a Pulitzer Prize in 1946.

1950s: Amid McCarthy era witchhunts, the Times buckles under pressure and fires employees who were once communists. Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger himself pens an op-ed that strongly criticizes witnesses’ use of the Fifth Amendment before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

1950s–1970s: In The Power Broker, historian Robert Caro slams the Times for its uncritical support of Robert Moses, an infamous city planner widely reviled for his massive destruction of New York City neighborhoods. Caro writes that the Times “fell down on its knees before [Moses] and stayed there year after year.”

1993: In order to back up its uncompromisingly positive pro-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) coverage, the Times solicits advertisers to publish “advertorials” “educating” the public on NAFTA’s merits.

2002: In an editorial titled “Hugo Chavez Departs,” the Times’ editorial board salutes the American backed coup that briefly drove the democratically elected President from power. “With yesterday’s resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator,” the Times writes on April 13. Once the coup fails, the Times writes again on April 16 that the paper somehow “overlooked the undemocratic manner in which he was removed.”