Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Grey Lady Pimps The Ukraine Crisis

It's a fun pastime among the cognoscenti to bash The New York Times for lapses in its journalistic practice or ethics. Such efforts grew more significant after Judy Miller helped Cheney's cohort pimp the war in Iraq on bogus claims that Iraq was seeking uranium yellowcake from Niger. Then there was the case of Jayson Blair, the Times reporter who fabricated stories and quotes out of whole cloth and was unmasked in the summer of 2003, around the same time Miller's journalistic treason was coming unmasked.

I had been late to that Times-bashing party and feared I might never get my chance, seeing as how the Times charges subscription fees now once one exceeds a monthly limit of story views online. With the crisis in Ukraine unfolding, I had been going to the Times'  front page each morning to see whether I needed to prepare my wife and I for impending nuclear Armageddon. For a couple days there, I was seriously sweating it. On this past Monday and Tuesday, though, my concerns had begun to abate somewhat as Crimea's de facto secesssion from Ukraine seemed on the verge of becoming de jure and, two days ahead of a scheduled referendum by Crimea's residents, all that remained was for the U.S. and its EU allies to bleat about how Crimean secession violated 'international law' or some such nonsense. (See my earlier posts.)

So it was with some dismay this morning that I saw, on the left-hand rail of the online edition of the Times, the  following:

"Obama Raises the Stakes With Russia Over Ukraine"

The one-paragraph blurb was also alarming:

In a meeting with Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, interim prime minister of Ukraine, President Obama vowed retaliation if Moscow follows through with threats to annex Crimea.

Them are pretty strong words, 'vowed' and 'retaliation' and 'threats.'

So, wondering if we needed to pack the car and start our departure from LA to less-urban climes, I decided to burn one of my free-story allotment to find out how close the nuclear clock stood to midnight.

The story proper

I was relieved upon clicking to find a far less incendiary headline above the story proper:

"Obama Makes Diplomatic Push to Defuse Crisis in Ukraine"

The first and second paragraphs of the story proper also told a much less anxiety-inducing tale:
WASHINGTON — President Obama and Ukraine’s interim prime minister opened the door on Wednesday to a political solution that could lead to more autonomy for Crimea if Russian troops withdraw, as the United States embarked on a last-ditch diplomatic effort to defuse a crisis that reignited tensions between East and West.

The tentative feeler came as Mr. Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to London to meet with his Russian counterpart on Friday, two days before a Russian-supported referendum in Crimea on whether to secede from Ukraine.
The striking and obvious dis-connect between the headline and lead-in on the front page threatening war and the headline and lead-in of the story proper reporting on diplomatic efforts beg me to ask this question: is the Times hyping a story merely to drive traffic to its site? Is the Times stating that there will be U.S. "retaliation" if Russia carries through with "threats" when its own reporters are reporting no such thing?

Well, it makes sense. I've heard stories, make that "internet gossip," that the Times is in grievous financial shape, losing money and flirting with bankruptcy protection. Its readership has declined substantially, part of the larger shift in audience preferences that has killed off the traditional newspaper industry in my lifetime. But perhaps part also of a general distaste for the shoddy journalistic practices of a vehicle that would give the lies of Judy Miller front-page prominence, that would allow a new reporter to sling along its entire editorial staff for so many months on utter air and trifles and that, now, apparently, will publish inflammatory headlines bearing very little connection to the stories it itself publishes. Is the Times really that desperate for readers? Is the Times so lacking in editors who can write headlines and paraphrase accurately a story's contents?

To all readers of the Times, I say 'beware.'

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