Thursday, October 16, 2003
Book review: I recently finished reading Bob Kohn's "Journalistic Fraud: How The New York Times Distorts the News and Why it Can No Longer Be Trusted."
On the whole, the book is well written and documented. Kohn identifies many different methods of injecting bias into news stories, nearly every one of them masterfully accomplished by the Times. It could easily be used as a textbook for aspiring journalists on how not to write.
The weakest contention in the book is Kohn's claim that the Times links "bad" things a Republican president's administration does to the president himself, while linking good news only to the specific agency.
Kohn identifies several instances where the Times could have given Bush credit for a certain accomplishment, but instead gave it to the government agency (which he ultimately heads). He also identifies instances where Bush is blamed by name for failures of various agencies (which he ultimately heads). Kohn also illustrates that the Times characterized events just the opposite way when Clinton was president.
While Kohn identifies various incidents that could have been categorized differently, there's not nearly enough evidence to come to the conclusion that this is a standard operation procedure at the Times. A serious Lexis-Nexis search and the accompanying wealth of data that would provide would be more convincing. The Times may do what Kohn claims they do, but in this case, the evidence is less than ironclad.
Kohn's book is well worth reading, because it shows you how journalism can be skewed -- at any newspaper. Editors at the Times would be well-advised to read it and think about what they're doing to what was once America's greatest newspaper.