I’m always amazed by the large numbers of people who think the New York Times staff is comprised of unbiased presenters of news. In fact, even after investigations by folks like Bernard Goldberg, huge numbers of Americans still feel they can trust what they see on the evening news or read in print.

I don’t get it.

Don’t you see the slanted headlines? The photos used to promote an agenda? Don’t you read the “news stories” that sound like op-eds – or worse, state-generated “news” such as that found in Pravda?

Sadly, very few newspapers in America today (and they are a dying breed) “tell it like it is.” They tell it like they want you to understand it.

I am reminded of an image a few years ago in which an Israeli policeman, wielding a baton, is standing over a bleeding fellow. The news service that captioned the photo and sent it around the world intended for audiences to believe this was an Israeli officer beating a poor Palestinian within an inch of his life. Only later did the truth come out: The wounded gentleman was a Jew being protected from an Arab mob by the police officer.

This kind of garbage passes for journalism today.

In a sensational new book by William McGown, “Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America,” we learn just what makes this iconic publication tick. Indeed, tick, tick, tick, the old gray lady is about to blow up into irrelevancy.

It’s their own fault.

First published in 1851, the New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes and is the standard-bearer for American newspapers. For over 100 years, the paper has been controlled by the Sulzberger family. And that’s where McGowan’s book starts and gets really interesting.

In describing the interplay between the chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, and his namesake son, Arthur Jr. – nicknamed “Punch” and “Pinch,” respectively – is quite fascinating. Needless to say, Arthur the Younger would be given a position at the paper, but to his credit, he “offset the connotations of the name and the baggage of his family influence through hard work and late-night socialization with other reporters, particularly the younger ones who carried themselves around town as a kind of Brat Pack.”

Still, nepotism has been just one of the things that’s hurt the paper. And one of the fascinating dynamics outlined in “Gray Lady Down” is the differences between generations.

For example, McGowan does a tremendous job detailing the life experiences and worldviews – critically manifested at the New York Times – of the Sulzbergers and the man who still casts a long shadow: curmudgeonly editor Abe Rosenthal.

Sulzberger Sr. served as a Marine in the Pacific during World War II and, how shall I say it, that gives him eternal gravitas. The son, however, grew up living through the counter-culture of the ’60s, and it was this romanticizing of the left that Rosenthal battled … until Pinch unceremoniously sacked the 77-year-old editorial warhorse in 1999.

All this background provides the context for where the paper finds itself now: hopelessly biased in its left-wing agenda … and losing market-share. Of course, the latter is plaguing all print newspapers, what with the new media sweeping across the land. Still, the New York Times’ leadership sealed the paper’s fate by living in that bubble, while the rest of the country lives in reality.

McGowan expertly presents the trouble spots that plague the Times today.

In 2009, the popular Glenn Beck broke a story on FOX about Van Jones, an advisor to the White House on environmental matters. Beck was in a dither because of Jones’ embrace of communism in the 1990s.

And how did the New York Times describe Jones? As a “charismatic community organizer and ‘green jobs’ advocate.”

See? Americans do not like communism. It is a discredited, barbaric system that will be saddled with its murderous signposts of history for eternity. Yet the New York Times sees its advocates as “charismatic.”

Not surprisingly, as McGowan points out, the Times’ staff saw in the Iraqi elections of 2005 a reminder of the “empty sham” (McGowan’s description) of the 1967 South Vietnamese elections. Again, the prism through which the Times’ staff and leadership sees the world is hard left.

And sadly, the liberal bias is not confined to news stories and editorials. Columnists like Thomas Friedman are free to peddle their leftist bias; Friedman, for example, never misses an opportunity to prop-up the Palestinians. The gauze-like dream world of Oslo still resonates with the New York Times, at the same time its immoral premise pushes real peace off into the distant future.

If it is legitimate to chalk up the Times’ overall problems to e-publishing and the blogging world, it is also legitimate to note that the demise of this once great paper can be put at the feet of its leadership.

McGowan notes that in 2010, Pinch Sulzberger actually announced in London that the company will “stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future.” One can imagine crossword puzzle enthusiasts leaping out of buildings in scenes reminiscent of the Stock Market Crash of ’29.

McGowan notes wistfully: “If the damage to the Times’ journalistic reputation and financial footing affected only the Sulzberger clan, it would not be a matter of broad public concern. But the paper has always played a central role in our country’s civic life and the public debates that shape our democracy and forge consensus.”

That is the real tragedy, to be sure. One can cope psychologically with learning to consume news in new ways, but the death of a once great journalistic icon is a tough pill to swallow.

The Gray Lady is down for the count.


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