Of even greater importance, however, is the wondrous and very unusual effort of the New York Times to actually commit journalism on its front page. Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes have written a superb analysis of the current health care battles entitled False 'Death Panel' Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots. This article has several elements that make it unlike any effort by the New York Times to commit ab act if journalism in over a decade and a half. First, it specifically labels the 'Death Panel' canards as 'False.' That is a clear statement that has been quite noticeable for its sad absence in political reporting out of Washington,D.C. for decades. Instead of presenting stenography and "he said, he said" reports and requiring readers to decide who is lying with no guidance, the New York Times has actually recognized and reported that the rumors are false.
Second, it specifically names the individuals responsible for creating and spreading the lie. The story points out that the lie was "Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator". Further information on the source of the lie is added:
the rumor — which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false — was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.But the surprising willingness of the New York Times to call the rumor a falsehood and to specifically name the purveyors of that falsehood pales beside the single most important aspect of this story. The third and most important element is that this story has actually been published by the New York Times itself. And not just 'published.' We are told that "... a version of the article appeared in print on August 14, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition." That's not in the back pages where inconvenient stories are sent to die a silent death. It's right up front where it is intended to be widely seen and to cause public conversation.
Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).
What makes this story so unusual is that, as Bob Somerby points out in his new Howler article on the subject, the New York Times itself has been the source and purveyor of most of the similar lies designed to destroy Bill Clinton and Al Gore, The very fact that the source of so much of the evil paranoid fear-mongering rhetoric that has polluted America's politics for the last two decades, the publication of this story is a real watershed. The question immediately arises - has their been a coup of sorts in the NY Times Editorial staff, or has someone there actually gotten a conscience and decided to commit journalism instead of pushing the right-wing ideology? Is the publication of this story a result of a personnel change, or of the personal change of an individual who approved it? That would be interesting to know, since it would tell us a lot about "the Grey Lady."
All three articles are well worth reading. The first two may indicate a watershed difference in American politics, and Somerby's Howler article offers some perspective and an explanation of the meaning of the publication of the first two articles. Something has appeared to be changing in American national politics since 2004, and these articles indicate that there may be a similar but belated change beginning to happen in the journalism of covering American national politics. It'll take time to tell what it means.