Howell Raines Enables Journalistic and Presidential Lying
May 15, 2003
By Dennis Hans
learn in the May 11 New York Times that, since 1999,
America's newspaper of record has regularly published reporter
Jayson Blair's flights of fancy as straight news.
"He fabricated comments," the Times reports.
"He concocted scenes. He lifted materials from other
newspapers. . . and selected details from photographs to create
the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when
he had not."
Blair now acknowledges "personal problems" and
has expressed contrition. Let's hope the 27-year-old gets
his act together and leads, from this point forward, a long,
happy, honorable life.
Let us also thank Blair for humiliating an editor, Howell
Raines, who richly deserves it. The Times executive
editor has a history of enabling liars. In Blair's case, Raines
should have removed him from reporting duties long ago, when
mid-level editors had already found many fallacious "facts"
in Blair's dispatches.
Fortunately, the countless lies Blair told in the pages of
the Times didn't have an impact on domestic and foreign
policies. One cannot say the same about the other person whose
lying has been enabled by Raines: George W. Bush.
Raines' one great accomplishment at the Times came
in 1999 when, as editor of the editorial pages, he hired Paul
Krugman, a professor of economics at Princeton, to write a
twice-a-week column. Krugman is a bright, articulate moderate
liberal who appealed to Times management for
a number of reasons. An obvious one was his contempt for critics
of the current brand of "globalization," which seems
to place corporate interests above all others. Times
honchos knew that Krugman added to Tom Friedman would give
the paper a devasting one-two punch to slime
anyone who questioned the IMF's "structural adjustment
programs" or the wisdom of impoverished nations slashing
social services and privatizing everything.
Krugman took some swipes at globalization critics, but soon
found an important topic that merited his undivided attention,
one from which most of the media were averting their eyes:
the mendacity of presidential candidate George W. Bush. Throughout
the year 2000, Krugman wrote column after column exposing
the flood of falsehoods in Bush's speeches and debates. (Insightful
media analyst Bob Somerby reviews a few campaign fibs in the
14 edition of his Daily Howler.)
Krugman wanted to inform readers that this wasn't a case
of Bush being misinformed or confused, but of Bush "lying."
Raines wouldn't let him. As Washington Post media reporter
Howard Kurtz reported
Jan. 22 in a profile of Krugman, "Raines barred him
from using the word 'lying' for the duration of the campaign."
Krugman told Kurtz, "I just resent being lied to. We've
been lied to a lot, and I'm scared. I think we're talking
about levels of irresponsibility here that have real consequences.
. . . It's a very
uncomfortable thing to question the honesty and motives of
your leaders. . . . I'm saying that the men who are controlling
our destiny are lying. Not many journalists or many people
want to confront them."
Kurtz cited a number of critics of Krugman as well as defenders,
including Democratic strategist James Carville, who said this:
"He goes completely against the cognoscenti. The average
dinner-party-guest editorial writer would say Bush has got
some faults, but he's a straight-talking, honest guy. Krugman
is just relentless in saying this guy lacks any honesty and
integrity in everything he does. He says Bush is a fraud,
and he never stops - he says it over and over."
Raines qualifies, perhaps, as a below average "dinner-party-guest
editorial writer." His work on the editorial page, including
suppressing the L-word, earned him a promotion to executive
editor of the news pages of the Times. With Bush as president,
Raines has continued his protection racket by publishing every
major speech Bush has delivered - without alerting readers
to the plethora of lies contained within.
Several weeks before the attack on Iraq, I exposed 15 of
Bush's transparent "techniques of deceit" in the
Us Into War."
Raines places no "Reader Beware" warning label
above the full text of Bush's speeches. As for the Times'
news articles reporting and analyzing Bush's speeches, I confess
to not being a regular reader, so I'll refrain from a definitive
judgment. But I do know that no Times reporter has
earned a Krugman-like rep as a master exposer of administration
deceit. Under Raines, the news pages seem to be much tougher
on Hootie Johnson of the Augusta Golf Club than on Bush.
The obvious reason why Bush continues to lie about certain
public-policy issues is because he is rewarded for lying.
Because the lies are not called "lies," Bush garners
far greater public support for policies and actions than he
otherwise would have if the major players in corporate media
- white men with names like Brokaw, Lehrer and Raines - exposed
both the lies and the liar.
If Bush had paid a severe price when he first started his
public-office lying - if he had suffered the credibility-destroying
humiliation now being visited upon Jayson Blair - Bush would
have stopped lying in an instant. He would have stopped as
governor, as presidential candidate, or as president (in the
unlikely event he made it that far).
Raines helped Bush get away with lying during Campaign 2000
and he helped him get away with lying in the long buildup
to the war.
Now that Raines has taken steps to correct the inconsequential
lies that Jayson Blair told in the Times, isn't it
time he also corrected his newspaper's publication of the
consequential lies that Bush has told - and continues to tell?
Dennis Hans is a freelance writer whose work has appeared
in the New York Times, Washington Post, National
Post (Canada) and online at TomPaine.com, Slate and The
Black World Today (tbwt.com),
among other outlets. He has taught courses in mass communications
and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St.
Petersburg, and can be reached at HANS_D@popmail.firn.edu.