It’s not often that a parenthetical aside is the most notable part of a speech or written document, but that’s exactly the case with an opinion piece published in today’s Washington Post by that paper’s columnist Robert Samuelson.
Writing, and brilliantly as always, about health care legislation, Samuelson takes The New York Times and The Washington Post to task not just for what he sees as their mistaken characterizations of this legislation, but for their inclusion of these mischaracterizations in the papers’ news pages.
Thus does his piece, titled “Obamacare: Buy Now, Pay Later,” contain these words: “[Obama’s] health care plan is not ‘comprehensive,’ as Obama and The New York Times (in its news columns) assert, because it slights cost control…. If new spending commitments worsen some future budget or financial crisis, Obama’s proposal certainly won’t qualify as ‘reform,’ as the president and The Washington Post (also in its news columns) call it.”
To fully appreciate the gravamen of this parenthetical charge, you have to appreciate the lengths to which newspaper editors will go to insulate themselves from charges of editorial bias, part and parcel of which being their frequent assertions that opinions are confined to the editorial and op-ed pages.
That this criticism issues from someone with such sterling journalistic credentials is also noteworthy. Far from being an outside critic, Samuelson is very much a part of the journalistic establishment, and for him to fault the papers’ journalistic judgment — particularly when it was extraneous to the subject of his piece — is sure to be noted by his editors and colleagues.
Which is just to say that it was a brave thing he did, and something that he probably would not have done had he not been seriously exercised by the subject, and the papers’ treatment of it.
That frustration resonates in these parts because, like Samuelson, The Media Institute too is closely allied with media companies — most notably by the fact that they provide virtually all of our operating support — and yet we have felt the frequent need these days to be critical of their journalistic performance.
Many years ago I co-authored a content analysis of The New York Times and published the results in National Review. The article was titled “Is It True What They Say About The New York Times?” and much to the dismay of many of NR’s readers, we found that the paper’s public affairs reporting, on its news pages, was balanced, and contrasted sharply with the opinions on the editorial and op-ed pages.
Hard to imagine anyone writing such a piece today, about the Times or the Post.