Before I get into my article/statement/rant, I’d like to mention that I do think that the New York Times is one of the better mainstream newspapers because it does have some valuable information and original reporting, while many other major newspapers are packed with filler news and rewrites of Associated Press wires. However, using the term “better” when describing mainstream media isn’t necessarily a compliment. It’s like saying that Ashley Simpson is a better singer than Paris Hilton. Unfortunately, when people aren’t regularly exposed to alternative media (like “Mother Jones” magazine, indymedia.org, or smaller community-based papers like The Austin Chronicle), the Ashley Simpson of newspapers can look pretty good. Many people are pretty savvy and know to read more than one source for balanced information, but living in a fast-paced world forces many of us to simply trust what we hear on TV or what the headlines are in the traditionally reputable Times. Here are just a few examples of what has bothered me about the NY Times:
1) THE FOOD FIGHT QUOTE: This is the reason I decided to finally write about the issues I have with the NY Times. On August 19, 2006, on the first page of the first section of the paper, down on the bottom corner, the question that looked up at me was, “Will more healthful school lunches really make American children less fat?” If all the excess fat in the U.S. was collectively liposuctioned and placed in a heap in the middle of the Grand Canyon, it would still be smaller than the amount of collective stupidity needed for a newsroom to decide to print such a question. Have we really gotten to the point where educated people in charge of an internationally known newspaper aren’t sure whether healthy food will make healthier kids? I guess that’s a stupid question, too. The article argues that kids, and their parents, may have unhealthy habits outside of school, but I think we all know that eating junk all the time is worse than eating junk part of the time. To quote my friend Antowand, “Common sense ain’t that common.” Although, I would think at a major newspaper common sense would be a job requirement. Take a look at your daily paper, or the one they give you for free at the train station. I’m sure you can find at least one “article” that wears the clothes of research but is actually a tool in making us question our common sense.
2) THE PICTURES: We all know the old research. We know it so well and see it so often that occasionally we have to remind ourselves that nothing has changed. Yes, most of the pictures of black men deal with “criminals” and most of the pictures of white men don’t. It’s biased reporting, period. This propaganda is so ingrained that when, earlier this year, a fellow teacher at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center showed her students two newspaper pictures, one of a white guy and one of a black guy, and then asked the kids to figure out what the articles were about, the majority of kids said the black guy probably did something wrong and the white guy was hanging with his family. It turned out, the African American man had been named CEO of a company, and the white man was on death row. The NY Times has taken care in trying not to present such stereotypes anymore, but there are a few that still exist. The propaganda against African Americans has changed slightly: most of the “criminal” faces are now famous ones. Busta Rhymes, Lil’ Kim, and George Clinton are just a few of the African American elite who have been purported to have trouble with the law in recent years. It seems to me that if I were sitting on millions, getting arrested is the last thing I’d want to do. I’d be enjoying life, not causing any trouble, but somehow these folks keep getting pinched. I question the validity of these constant arrests. Shouldn’t the Times, too?
The other pictures I have an issue with are the ones where people with head coverings are represented. I am not going to name specific cultures/races because they are varied. Whenever these folks are pictorially represented, the picture either shows them in an angry stance or next to destroyed buildings or dead victims. Pictures are very influential and I do not want to associate people of certain cultures with anger or destruction or death. When these pictures are shown over and over and over and over, it becomes a tactic. One could argue that the photographers are simply showing what is happening in the news. There are many aspects of news that can be covered. How about folks praying for peace? How about families here, waiting in line to send letters and food/health supplies overseas? How about community leaders rounding up women/men to cook and care for the orphaned? I’ve never liked the racist way in which African Americans or Latinos are portrayed in pictures, so why should I accept it when it is done to people outside of my culture(s)?
3) THE LBJ REVIEW: There’s a new biography on Lyndon Johnson called LBJ: Architect of American Ambition, and while I think the title is more than appropriate, the review made my jaw drop. In the New York Times Book Review of 8/20/06, Allan Brinkley stated, “…Lyndon Johnson was one of the greatest of all American presidents. He did more for racial justice than any president since Abraham Lincoln.” I’m assuming that Brinkley believes this because Johnson worked to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bill that John F. Kennedy had introduced and was being debated in Congress when he was murdered. To say that LBJ was a proponent of “racial justice” when he sent countless teenagers to unknowingly commit genocide in Vietnam is a sick distortion of history and it takes away the credit from a president who died for what he believed in. LBJ had to continue to support Kennedy’s bill in order to keep the U.S. from exploding. Remember, all the civil rights leaders were being knocked off at this time and if a bone hadn’t been thrown to the masses, who knows what could’ve happened. LBJ’s actions weren’t out of caring; they were a survival tactic to keep the status quo. If I can figure this stuff out, the NY Times book reviewers should be able to, too. Brinkley does mention that the biography acknowledges the Vietnam fiasco, but both he and author Randall B. Woods come to the conclusion that despite his flaws, LBJ was a great man. I must live on Pluto.
4) METS WHO?: I wouldn’t have known this if I didn’t have a baseball fan for a husband. Apparently, the Mets scores can be found in the NY Times about 1-3 times a week. On the other hand, Yankee scores can be found everyday, along with at least one extensive article on the team each day. Aren’t the Mets a New York team? Doesn’t this paper cover all New York interests? Favoritism? In a newspaper? Noooooooo.
5) COLOMBIA COVERAGE: On 8/19/06, the front page article, “Colombia’s Coca Survives U.S. Plan to Uproot It,” seems like a straightforward article. The dudes in Congress are debating whether the “Drug War” is worth it. Bush and his entourage say it is but others disagree. The Colombian man in the picture on page one is shown confident, in front of a huge pile of coca leaves, and his stance is representative of what the coca growers supposedly feel: “We’re gonna keep growing it.” There have been a lot of articles like this one for most of my life and I get pissed off each time I read them. There are several things that are left out of these articles every time, such as the damage that the supposed “Drug War” does to children and water supplies of the indigenous populations of Colombia. As long ago as 2000, children were found to have skin problems due to the chemical spraying of the “Drug War,” but we’re still spraying. Plan Colombia, in 2000, not only approved spraying, but its multi-billion dollar budget also included a 1.3 billion dollar donation from the U.S. and U.S. training of Colombian military. More money and training have been supplied by the U.S. since then. Many of these U.S. trained soldiers end up becoming paramilitaries. Colombia’s annual murder rate is at about 30,000 and paramilitaries are responsible for about 19,000 of those murders. Who are they murdering? Indigenous people who pose a threat to cattle ranches, mining sites, and OIL companies. In other words, the “Drug War” is actually a war on men, women and children who live on land that is in the interest of business people, including business people from the U.S. Did you know that Al Gore had invested in Colombian land? Did you know that Clinton approved of Project Colombia? All of this information can be obtained at the Project Censored website: http://www.projectcensored.org/publications/2003/3.html. If I can find this information, why can’t the folks at the NY Times? Why pretend that the “Drug War” is actually about the drugs? It’s clear that the drugs are still coming in. Why not tell people where their money is actually going? Why not represent the Colombian people in a more sympathetic light? Why not show how the U.S. has been trying to rape Colombia for decades and its only salvation is that the Amazon jungle is so thick and strong that somehow it and its people still survive?
I could go on and on. I have only focused on two days worth of articles and just look at the holes in the reporting. Most of my friends know to look beyond the immediate story, but there are so many out there who simply take “news” as fact. Just because it is on TV or in fancy newsprint does not mean it is the full story or that it isn’t biased. So much of our news is biased, even in our most reputable newspapers. I realize this isn’t anything new for some of you, but I also know that there are still young and old alike who blindly trust our institutions. One of the first things that I was taught in journalism school was that the first newspapers were made by wealthy men who wanted to smear political opponents. They had the money to do it and not much has changed. Lately, I tend to take my mom’s stance and I just don’t read it, but that’s kind of like ignoring weeds, no? I don’t have to look at it, but…shouldn’t something be done to counteract it? It ends up affecting the quality of new life, kids, our garden. Just call me La Weed Killer.