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Why the N.Y. Times Sucks - Refuses to Publish McCain Op-Ed

By The Neville Awards
Posted July 21, 2008

Related Article
The Rapid Decline of the New York Times

"If the shareholders of The New York Times ever wonder why the paper's ad revenue is plummeting and its share price tanking, they need look no further than the hysterical reaction of the paper's editors to any slight, real or imagined, against their preferred candidate." -- McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb in response to NY Times charges of racism against Obama.

Several weekends ago, at the New York Times, that bastion of editorial balance and fairness, "editor" and ex-Clintonista David Shipley (isn't it amazing how liberal hacks like Hardball's Chris Matthews - ex-Jimmuh Carter aide - and George Stephanopolous - also an ex-Clintonista - always manage to find positions of authority in major media companies?) happily published the following op-ed from B. Houssein Obama:

My Plan for Iraq

In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness.

We can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops: I don’t know any expert on the region or any military officer that I’ve spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground.

Only by redeploying our troops can we press the Iraqis to reach comprehensive political accommodation and achieve a successful transition to Iraqis’ taking responsibility for the security and stability of their country.

We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months.

In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve.

After this redeployment, a residual force in Iraq would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces. That would not be a precipitous withdrawal.

One can only imagine the little woody Mr. Shipley had as he greenlighted the publication.

Last week John McCain wanted to respond to the op-ed but Mr. Shipley was having none of it.

McCain's piece just didn't "work for him." Shipley's decision to refuse McCain's rebuttal to Obama's 'My Plan for Iraq' op-ed has re-ignited charges of media bias in top conservative and Republican circles.

Shipley's response:

From: David Shipley/NYT/NYTIMES [mailto:XXXXXXX]
Sent: Friday, July 18, 2008 8:31 PM
Subject: Re: JSM Op-Ed

Dear Mr. XXXXXX,

Thank you for sending me Senator McCain’s essay.

I’d be very eager to publish the Senator on the Op-Ed page.

However, I’m not going to be able to accept this piece as currently written.

I’d be pleased, though, to look at another draft.

Let me suggest an approach.

The Obama piece worked for me because it offered new information (it appeared before his speech); while Senator Obama discussed Senator McCain, he also went into detail about his own plans.

It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama’s piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory — with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate. And it would need to describe the Senator’s Afghanistan strategy, spelling out how it meshes with his Iraq plan.

I am going to be out of the office next week. If you decide to re-work the draft, please be in touch with Mary Duenwald, the Op-Ed deputy. Her email is XXXXXXXX; her phone is 212-XXXXXXX.

Again, thank you for taking the time to send me the Senator’s draft. I really hope we can find a way to bring this to a happy resolution.

David Shipley

Gee thanks Dave. No doubt Shipley got another woody rejecting the McCain op-ed. And what precisely was Obama's "new information"... 16 month timetables, our troops performing heroically in the surge that Obama was against from the start, a comprehensive political accommodation, blah blah blah. It was just the same warmed over "retreat and defeat" crap we've been hearing for the last 4 years from the Democrats. Why doesn't David Shipley write McCain's op-ed piece for him.

Well, McCain's editorial works for us here at the Neville Awards:

In January 2007, when General David Petraeus took command in Iraq, he called the situation “hard” but not “hopeless.” Today, 18 months later, violence has fallen by up to 80% to the lowest levels in four years, and Sunni and Shiite terrorists are reeling from a string of defeats. The situation now is full of hope, but considerable hard work remains to consolidate our fragile gains.

Progress has been due primarily to an increase in the number of troops and a change in their strategy. I was an early advocate of the surge at a time when it had few supporters in Washington. Senator Barack Obama was an equally vocal opponent. "I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there,” he said on January 10, 2007. “In fact, I think it will do the reverse."

Now Senator Obama has been forced to acknowledge that “our troops have performed brilliantly in lowering the level of violence.” But he still denies that any political progress has resulted.

Perhaps he is unaware that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has recently certified that, as one news article put it, “Iraq has met all but three of 18 original benchmarks set by Congress last year to measure security, political and economic progress.” Even more heartening has been progress that’s not measured by the benchmarks. More than 90,000 Iraqis, many of them Sunnis who once fought against the government, have signed up as Sons of Iraq to fight against the terrorists. Nor do they measure Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s new-found willingness to crack down on Shiite extremists in Basra and Sadr City—actions that have done much to dispel suspicions of sectarianism.

The success of the surge has not changed Senator Obama’s determination to pull out all of our combat troops. All that has changed is his rationale. In a New York Times op-ed and a speech this week, he offered his “plan for Iraq” in advance of his first “fact finding” trip to that country in more than three years. It consisted of the same old proposal to pull all of our troops out within 16 months. In 2007 he wanted to withdraw because he thought the war was lost. If we had taken his advice, it would have been. Now he wants to withdraw because he thinks Iraqis no longer need our assistance.

To make this point, he mangles the evidence. He makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Senator Obama is also misleading on the Iraqi military's readiness. The Iraqi Army will be equipped and trained by the middle of next year, but this does not, as Senator Obama suggests, mean that they will then be ready to secure their country without a good deal of help. The Iraqi Air Force, for one, still lags behind, and no modern army can operate without air cover. The Iraqis are also still learning how to conduct planning, logistics, command and control, communications, and other complicated functions needed to support frontline troops.

No one favors a permanent U.S. presence, as Senator Obama charges. A partial withdrawal has already occurred with the departure of five “surge” brigades, and more withdrawals can take place as the security situation improves. As we draw down in Iraq, we can beef up our presence on other battlefields, such as Afghanistan, without fear of leaving a failed state behind. I have said that I expect to welcome home most of our troops from Iraq by the end of my first term in office, in 2013.

But I have also said that any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons. This is the crux of my disagreement with Senator Obama.

Senator Obama has said that he would consult our commanders on the ground and Iraqi leaders, but he did no such thing before releasing his “plan for Iraq.” Perhaps that’s because he doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. During the course of eight visits to Iraq, I have heard many times from our troops what Major General Jeffrey Hammond, commander of coalition forces in Baghdad, recently said: that leaving based on a timetable would be “very dangerous.”

The danger is that extremists supported by Al Qaeda and Iran could stage a comeback, as they have in the past when we’ve had too few troops in Iraq. Senator Obama seems to have learned nothing from recent history. I find it ironic that he is emulating the worst mistake of the Bush administration by waving the “Mission Accomplished” banner prematurely.

I am also dismayed that he never talks about winning the war—only of ending it. But if we don’t win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president. Instead I will continue implementing a proven counterinsurgency strategy not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan with the goal of creating stable, secure, self-sustaining democratic allies.

McCain's experience with the NY times this year has been less than exhilerating. Back in January, the Times endorsed McCain for the GOP nomination... it's been downhill ever since. Since the endorsement the NY Times has done the following:
  • ran a story about McCain and a female lobbyist, reporting that unnamed McCain associates years ago feared the relationship may have become romantic. Both the lobbyist and MCCain denied and the story was discredited.
  • a reporter repeatedly asked whether he had spoken to Democratic Sen. John Kerry about being his vice president in 2004...McCain had to cut her off.
  • just after the Op-Ed incident the NY Times has twice accused the McCain campaign of playing the race card because McCain dares to criticize the Democratic Messiah. "The presumptive Republican nominee has embarked on a bare-knuckled barrage of negative advertising aimed at belittling Mr. Obama," the editorial board wrote.
McCain's swift response:

"If the shareholders of The New York Times ever wonder why the paper's ad revenue is plummeting and its share price tanking, they need look no further than the hysterical reaction of the paper's editors to any slight, real or imagined, against their preferred candidate," said McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb, comparing the editors to a blogger "sitting at home in his mother's basement and ranting into the ether between games of Dungeons & Dragons."

And if you had any more doubts about the NY Times read the following article by Thomas Lifson posted on July 17, 2008.

It's about as much fun being a newspaper publisher as an airline president these days, so Arthur Ochs "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr. of the New York Times deserves our sympathy. Last quarter's earnings were dreadful. Earnings per share from continuing operations were down almost 75% from the previous quarter as newspaper advertising revenue declined over 10% -- a decline which according to the May earnings report accelerated to 11.9%. Just last week, Lehman Brothers forecast that in a year, its common stock would decline in value by almost half.

Pinch is trying to save the independence of the family-controlled publishing concern (regarded within the family as a public trust), but in the process has put a legendary newspaper empire on a path of decline, eating into capital to pay dividends to the shareholders, paying off employees who accept buyouts, and hoping that the comparatively small internet operations of the company will someday grow enough to balance the decline of the newspaper business.

If he succeeds, the New York Times Company will end not with a bang, but a whimper: Liquidated -- with all stake holders addressed, if not fully content. It is a dreadful comedown for a career that began almost regally.

Pinch represents the fifth generation male heir of the Ochs/Sulzberger family to head the corporation. In 1987, at the age of 35, Pinch became assistant publisher to his publisher father "Punch" Sulzberger, succeeding him in 1992. Today he is also the chairman of the board. Pinch inherited the pre-eminent newspaper in America and arguably the world -- a robustly growing and diversifying media conglomerate.

A family trust elects 10 of 15 directors, through control of 88% of the Class B shares of the New York Times Company (NYTCo). Class A shareholders, who supply roughly 90% of the firm's capital, elect the remaining 5 directors.

If all shareholders carried equal voting weight, the company would long ago have been a candidate for acquisition or breakup at the tender mercies of Wall Street fund managers. NYTCo has underperforming assets. The core newspaper franchise maintains its residual magic as a brand name; and within the lush niche -- urban professional high income people of sophisticated tastes and liberal politics -- the Times has carefully cultivated, its name remains incomparably authoritative.

It remains the best-known American newspaper worldwide. It is focused on its niche and tends to their needs, prejudices, and disposable income. Even those who criticize the media institution's editorial slant - as a recent Vanity Fair piece describes in detail - love to hate it.

Buyers with larger and more diverse media platforms, such as Google and Bloomberg (even Rupert Murdoch has been mentioned in a Times blog) could better utilize the information-gathering potential of the existing journalistic organization, while bringing more flair and money to the project of competing in the declining print newspaper business.

Two different Wall Street funds have already openly made runs at a proxy fight among class A shareholders, and one group succeeded in forcing the company to allow its representatives two seats on an expanded board. The family still maintains control, but outsiders now have access to internal data.

Keeping the family happy

But as long as the family supports his tenure as publisher and chairman, Pinch Sulzberger's job is secure. And it appears that he has attended to their needs zealously.

Despite collapsing advertising revenues, layoffs, and buyouts, (including a catastrophic $814.4 million writeoff of newspaper properties in New England purchased when the internet handwriting was already on the wall) and downgrades of its debt to uncomfortably close to junk status, Pinch Sulzberger increased the dividend almost a third in March last year, from 17.5 cents to 23 cents a share.

Family members hold about 10% of the overall equity through Class B shares, and hold another 19% of the equity via family holdings of Class A common shares, so almost 30% of the $33.3 million in dividends sent out in the first quarter of 2008 went to the family, while the company's equity accounts took a hit for $28.2 million, according to the company's most recent SEC form 10Q.

Unfortunately, keeping that enhanced dividend flowing may turn out to be a bigger challenge than Pinch and his CEO Janet Robinson believed. Lehman Brothers last week questioned whether it could be maintained, and the company's efforts to control costs, touted as a source of cash savings, have so far not yielded the forecast economies. In 2007, CEO Janet Robinson announced a planned reduction in their annual cost base of $230 million in 2008 and 2009, excluding the effects of inflation and one-time costs. That works out to $28.8 million per quarter over the two years, yet operating costs before depreciation and amortization decreased less than half of that in the first quarter of 2008.

Downsizing expenses

Those cost savings are proving very painful and expensive. The company has tried offering inducements to longtime journalists to retire, recognized $11.2 million dollars in expenses last quarter alone. (In addition, as of 3/31/08, the company's balance sheet also carried a further $21 million as "accrued expenses" of buyouts.)

But an internal memo from the paper's assistant managing editor Bill Schmidt, leaked to the New York Observer, told news employees that the buyouts were not enough to lure a sufficient number of volunteers, writing that the company "approach[es] it [layoffs] with a heavy heart."

The Murdoch threat

While funds drain away from NYTCo, Rupert Murdoch swims circles around the floundering flagship paper. He has purchased the Wall Street Journal with the aim of making it more of a general news national paper, targeting the Times' national edition's readers and advertisers. His New York Post already outsells the Times in New York City itself, and News Corp. is now reported to be in talks with the New York Daily News to combine business operations. With the financial muscle to cut prices and steal advertisers away from the Times national and metropolitan editions, Murdoch can force the Times to cut its own prices for the advertisers and readers who remain with it, further pressuring circulation revenue and readership.

The future looks grim indeed for Pinch Sulzberger and the company he leads. Slowly accelerating decline is the best case scenario at the moment. For a man born to wealth unto the generations, prominence, prestige, and a legacy to uphold, it must be humbling to see the future of the family patrimony crumbling before him.

Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of American Thinker.
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