Why has the Times opted to play good cop, good cop with an administration so riddled by corruption and incompetence? A look at internal political agenda of Times management suggests that there are other motives behind this strange mix of criticism and coddling.
But first, the evidence at hand. Today's editorial starts with a bang:
After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run. An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front. But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.Ouch! But then editors switch to a conciliatory but bleakly hopeful tone:
Second terms may be difficult, but the chief executive still has the power to shape what happens. Ronald Reagan managed to turn his messy second term around and deliver - in great part through his own powers of leadership - a historic series of agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev that led to the peaceful dismantling of the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush has never demonstrated the capacity for such a comeback. Nevertheless, every American has a stake in hoping that he can surprise us.And offer advice to aide a Bush recovery: downgrade Cheney's role and you stand a chance of making the world a better place:
Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm. Mr. Bush would still have to turn his administration around, but it would at least send a signal to the nation and the world that he was in charge, and the next three years might not be as dreadful as they threaten to be right now.Too often, the New York Times walks the tight rope between dissent and solicitation. Media organizations this big are too enmeshed with lobbyists and politicians to take their critique of leadership to the next level. The result: measured editorials that cloak conciliatory gestures towards the powerful with journalistic forbearance.
The New York Times Co. relies too heavily upon the generosity of government (de)regulators – whose rulings affect the bottom lines of its eight TV stations, two radio stations and 17 newspapers – to deliver the coup de grace.
The Times Co spends millions to wine and woo politicians and bureaucrats in Washington. And when its lobbying priorities are pitted against those of its newsroom, journalistic caution is often the result.
In its 2001 filing to the Federal Communications Commission, for example, Times Co. management asked decision makers to loosen prohibitions against newspaper-broadcast crossownership in a single market. "In light of today's great diversity of media voices in virtually all communities," Times management wrote in its official filing to the FCC, "no legitimate public purpose continues to be served by the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule."
The Times Co. promised that the public will benefit from "efficiencies" of cross-ownership, resulting in "greater, not less, local diversity of news and information." At the same time, the newspaper gave scant coverage to this issue, fearing the public backlash against consolidated Big Media that eventually took shape in 2003.
Shouldn't their readers and viewers be informed about the Times' efforts to lobby government to own additional media outlets, asked Jeff Chester. "Will their ability to act as a check on private and public power be further weakened as they grow larger, with increasingly diverse interests other than news and public affairs?"
More to the point: Does intensive lobbying of the powerful by management seep into the newsroom, influencing Times editors' ability to serve as watchdogs -- and, when needed, attack dogs -- against the powerful?
The answers is lurking somewhere between the lines of today's editorial.