Earlier this morning, James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas released a new video that sheds light on the way the New York Times promotes its favored candidates and causes, from Barack Obama to Occupy Wall Street.
The video is an undercover recording of a recent seminar at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, taught jointly by professors Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky. Both have done work for the Times in the past–Rosen as a writer, and Shirky apparently as a consultant.
Rosen and Shirky openly admit that the Times is a “liberal” newspaper. In fact, they also argue that it should be more open about its bias, in order to regain the trust of its readers.
And Rosen and Shirky discuss the “dilemma” the Times faces as it shapes current events through its coverage without admitting to its readers, or even to itself, that it is doing so.
Shirky describes, for example, the way that the Times tried to legitimize Obama’s early candidacy for president–without appearing to do so, lest it be accused of bias:
…even if the Times says, OK, secretly we’re liberals and now publicly, we’re liberals, and there it is, they still have the dilemma of not wanting to create the news they cover. And it’s a difficult problem. They got around it in a really interesting way with Obama, their obvious second favorite candidate after Clinton. Clinton, the liberal consensus candidate, would have been their, I think probably was their candidate on the inside for a while. But the Obama story was the huge dilemma for horse race political coverage because no one would have given you even hundred-to-one odds in 2006, no one would have given you hundred-to-one odds on an African-American president. But they ended up covering Obama because of the newsworthy things that were happening around the Obama campaign. So you could not say, “Oh my goodness, for the first time there’s a viable African American candidate.” Because by the act of saying that, you would be creating the story you were nominally covering. So they, they hung up on it. But they could say: “Oh my goodness, Obama Girl, isn’t this funny? This funny video that this young woman did about now our future president, or about now our current president. Or Will.I.Am did a video, a huge breakout video on YouTube. And so they covered it, they covered Obama from the Internet culture angle. And, a bit at a time, it became acceptable to consider that he might be president. But they needed someone else to make the first move.
Shirky and Rosen also describe the way in which the Times may sometimes promote a partisan agenda through lack of coverage.
For instance, Shirky explains that the relative silence at the Times during the early days of Occupy Wall Street protected the protests, giving them time to consolidate and grow:
…the problem is, if you want Occupy Wall Street to succeed, you want them not to get press coverage in the beginning….So, in a way, although Occupy Wall Street loves to talk about the lack of press attention, the period between when they started going and when the press caught on [was] less than 10 days. And that was probably actually pretty good for them….It mattered so much to Occupy Wall Street that no newspaper sent them any traffic in the beginning. So that by the time the media stuff appeared, they had a cultural core that was solid enough to absorb that traffic. And if the Times–if the Times had thought they were doing them a favor by saying, oh, you know, twenty kids slept overnight in a park and this is going to shake the world, it would have shaken the world less than it has now. So even if the Times were being completely tactically liberal, they still wouldn’t wanna rush in and front run that story…
The professors stop short of saying that the Times explicitly intended to help the Occupy demonstrators. What they say is, effectively, “If the Times had wanted to help Occupy, here’s how it would have done so–and that’s in fact what it did.”
In the full and unedited audio, which O’Keefe provided to Big Journalism, there is also discussion of the way in which the mainstream media drops hints to political actors, whether deliberately or inadvertently–such as a recent article by the National Public Radio ombudsman that explained NPR’s lack of early coverage of Occupy Wall Street demonstrations by suggesting they had not yet involved “large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective.”
Though Rosen and Shirky are clearly sympathetic to the left-wing bias of the Times and other mainstream media outlets, they also believe–just as clearly–that the mainstream media should be more transparent about what they do, and why, rather than hiding their methods and goals.
That’s certainly something critics of the mainstream media would endorse. Whether the professors are willing to follow through on that belief is another question–which is where O’Keefe has come in, targeting the “media elite.”
ROSEN: We are the 1 percent.
SHIRKY: ….How is a person who only reads one newspaper ever, to know where that newspaper stands? So, one of the things that often happens is, elites are perfectly comfortable with there being information about how they make their decisions and what their biases are, as long as that only circulates among other elites. But the minute it goes out into the wider world…
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