From Consortium News
In recent years, The New York Times has behaved as if whatever the Establishment claims is true must be true, failing to show thoughtful skepticism whether the findings are coming from a congressional report, an intelligence assessment, a criminal investigation or even an outfit as disreputable as the National Football League.
If some powerful institution asserts a conclusion, the Times falls in line and expects everyone else to do so as well. Yet, that is not journalism; it is mindless submission to authority; and it indirectly pushes many people into the swamps of conspiracy theories. After all, if professional journalists simply ratify whatever dubious claims are coming from powerful institutions, inquisitive citizens will try to fill in the blanks themselves and sometimes buy into outlandishly false speculations.
In my journalistic career, I have found both extremes troubling: the Times' assumption that the authorities are almost always right and the conspiracy theorists who follow up some "what I can't understand" comment with a patently absurd explanation and then get angry when rational people won't go along.
Though both attitudes have become dangerous for a functioning democracy, the behavior of the Times deserves the bulk of the blame, since the "newspaper of record" carries far more weight in setting public policy and also is partly to blame for creating this blight of conspiracism.
Some of the Times' failures are well known, such as its 2002 front-page acceptance of claims from officials and allies of George W. Bush's administration that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program and had purchased some aluminum tubes to do so. The Times' bogus story allowed Bush's top aides to go on Sunday talk shows to warn that "we must not allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
But the "aluminum tube" story was only part of a long-developing pattern. As an investigative reporter in Washington since 1980, I had seen the Times engage in similar publications of false stories planted by powerful insiders.
For instance, based on self-serving information from Ronald Reagan's Justice Department in the mid-1980s, the Times knocked down the original reporting that my Associated Press colleague Brian Barger and I did on Nicaraguan Contra rebels getting involved in cocaine smuggling.
And, once the Times got snookered by its official sources, it and other mainstream publications carried on vendettas against anyone who contradicted the accepted wisdom, unwilling to admit that they were wrong even at the expense of historical truth.
So, when San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb revived the Contra-cocaine story in 1996 -- with evidence that some of that cocaine had fed into the "crack epidemic" -- the Times (along with other major newspapers) savaged Webb's articles and destroyed his career.
Finally, in 1998 when the CIA's Inspector General Frederick Hitz confirmed that the Contras indeed had engaged in extensive cocaine trafficking, the Times only published a grudging and limited admission that maybe there was a bit more to the story than the vaunted Times had previously accepted. But Webb's career and life remained in ruins. He eventually committed suicide in 2004 (and please, conspiracists, don't go on about how he was "murdered" by the CIA).
[For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga."]
Hiding Gore's Victory
By the time of Webb's destruction, the Times was neck-deep in a troubling pattern of getting virtually every major story wrong or sitting on important information that some of its own journalists had dug up.
In 2000, after five partisan Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court shut down the vote count in Florida to ensure George W. Bush's "election," Times executives resisted calls from lower-level editors to join in a media counting of the discarded votes, only grumpily agreeing to take part.