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April 02, 2005

NY Times talking out of both sides of its A Section
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Sorry to carp, but just a quick addendum (and thank you, Matthew Yglesias, for caring):  This morning's Times has the "Mugabe's Party Wins" headline on its front page.  The jump is even worse, headlined:  "Mugabe's Party Routs the Opposition." (of note, the word rout has a wide array of definitions including "to bellow" and "to drive out", but its pretty clear the one intended here is "to defeat decisively or disastrously)  But the story goes on to cite not just the irregularities of the last few weeks, but "five years of srong-arm rule that . . . had conditioned voters to fear government retailiation if they supported the opposition."   

On page A14 there's an editorial stating that "No one believed Mr. Mugabe's claim that these elections would be democratic, except maybe his chief apologist, Thabo Mbeki."  The op-ed page has powerful piece by Nicholas Kristof on a similar theme.

I am a firm believer in the separation of editorial and news but someone's got to talk to the headline writers here. 


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I discussed the subject of the Zimbabwe elections on my own blog earlier in the week. For all intents and purposes, Mugabe's victory was a "rout". As I pointed out, he only needed to win 70 seats for his ZANU-PF party to achieve a two-thirds super-majority in parliament. He has officially won 74 seats as of this posting.

The significance of this super-majority is that Robert Mugabe can now have parliament rubber-stamp any changes to the Constitution of Zimbabwe that he wishes to make. The first change he is expected to make is to strike the language requiring new elections upon death or retirement of a President, while adding language allowing parliament to appoint a Prime Minister to succeed a President that leaves office early for any reason. This solidifies ZANU-PF rule.

Folks, we are witnessing the descent of nation into stalinism, before our very eyes.

Suzanne, you're spot-on -- I thought the same thing after I clicked through the NYT homepage to Kristof's editorial. I just sent Kristof an e-mail in roughly the same vein, and I'll let you know if he has anything to say.

And VD, I don't think Suzanne's trying to say that the official results are anything but a "rout," she's trying to say that we should be questioning the official results, not endorsing them with unquestioning headlines.

Fridays (4/1/05)Times schizophrenis is closer to home: Front page articles by Todd S. Purdum, Scott Shane and David E. Sanger on the Intelligence Report take it very seriously. They discuss some of the reports limitations as being due to limitations in the Commissions authorization, not to failures of the Commission itself.

But the editorial on the report is titled "A Profile in Timidity" and begins:

"The president's commission on intelligence gathering could have saved the country a lot of time, and considerable paper, by not publishing its report yesterday and just e-mailing everyone the Web addresses for the searching studies already done by the 9/11 commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee. After more than a year's dithering, the panel produced some 600 pages of conventional wisdom about the intelligence failures before the war with Iraq, along with a big dose of political spin that pleased the White House but provided little enlightenment for the public."

OK, a legitimate separation of editorializing and reporting.

But the headline over the articles on the front page gives the impression this was a serious effort, driven by Bush himself, to solve our intelligence problems:

"Bush Panel Finds Big Flaws Remain in U.S. Spy Efforts"

As you say, the Times needs to do a better job of training headline writers.

Further, I am bothered by deficiencies in that third leg the news: analysis. Reporting he says, she says is fine, editorializin is fine. But in a great paper like the Times, there should be some analysis of the news should enable us to who or what is behind the hes and shes, and provide the basis for the editorial opinions. It looks like the Senate isnt going to pursue how the intelligence was spun and the implications for national policy and how it is made. It would be nice if the Times did it. Not as dramatic as the Pentagon Papers or Deep Throat, but perhaps just as important.

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