If we bought the New York Times every day to find out which of our local supermarkets had the best deals on fresh crab, which happens to be in season at the moment, I wouldn't be complaining about the quality of the news reporting that appears in the paper from time to time. I'd just look for the crab ads. But we have been in the habit of reading the Times in the hope that we would find out what happened in the world yesterday.
I do realize that Bill Keller has to make some hard calls on his priorities, and there's no question he has to give a long leash to various columnists, especially when there is a truly world-altering event at hand with the appearance of Sarah Palin's seminal book. Not a surprise that Maureen Dowd is all atwitter, and here's guessing she will remain fixated on it in for weeks to come. How many columns will she be able to wring out of Rogue? Let's start counting.
But elsewhere, the President of United States is making his first sweep through Asia, establishing the new American profile, building trust. The most important of these relationships for at least the balance of this century, will be with China. So the lead story on the front page of the Times, naturally enough, gives us Obama in China.
And the Times, at least as reported by Helene Cooper, was not impressed. Yesterday, Obama apparently failed miserably in his efforts to turn China into a democracy, get them to radically change how they manage their currency, alter their manufacturing base, and shut down their coal plants, and start using American made silverware in their rice bowls.
Ms. Cooper in her first paragraph finds that China was "more willing to say no to the United States." In her second paragraph she finds that "China held firm" against most American demands. (I wonder how Ms. Cooper got the scoop that we were making demands on the Chinese. Doesn't sound like Obama's methodology to me. President Obama's modus, actually, is to look for common ground.)
By the third paragraph, unable to create more negatives on her own, Ms. Cooper resorts to the ultimate no-no from the discarded Times stylebook, the Unnamed Authority. In this case, the authority is something called an "analyst," used as follows: "...the trip did more to showcase China's ability to push back against outside pressure than it did to advance the main issues on Mr. Obama's agenda..." Here it comes -- "analysts said."
They did, eh? To whom did those analysts say it? Why are they anonymous? What are they analysts of? Where were they when they said it? In Ms. Cooper's closet? On this important information, Ms. Cooper remains mum.
The fourth paragraph -- still on the front page right-hand column for the whole world to see, is a complete quote from a named "expert," and it's a real hatchet job by Eswar Prasad, a "China specialist" at Cornell, (actually, Prasad is an economic theorist, not a diplomacy expert) who is quoted and quoted and quoted about how those wily Chinese somehow got that inept Obama "to make statements endorsing Chinese positions" that were good for the Chinese and bad for us. Ms. Cooper doesn't bother to say that Prasad also writes for the Cato institute, where he hammers his observations that the U.S. need to come to a Grand Bargain with China, and do it behind closed doors.
Frankly, if the Times is concerned about improving their balance sheet, they might work a little harder at finding more advertisers. And as for saving a few nickels on the news side, why not hire some eager young reporters who would report what actually happened without resorting to "analysts" and "experts" of murky persuasion.
On a more important front, we had our first crab of the season last night. Superb! And guess what we wrapped the shells in? Exactly. Try that with your Kindle.