Gray Lady Down by William McGowan

 GRAY LADY DOWN, WHAT THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE NEW YORK TIMES MEANS FOR AMERICA (2010) by William McGowan  leaves little optimism for the newspaper that for generations has set the standard for American journalism.

In this book, McGowan longs for a return to a New York Times under the stewardship of the legendary Executive Editor and newspaperman A.M. (Abe) Rosenthal and Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger.

McGowan lays the continuing problems at the Times squarely at the feet of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. who began his reign as publisher in 1991.   The author establishes through reference after reference that the Times continues an ethos of reporting with an “attitude,” something that Rosenthal would never allow. For decades, Rosenthal  with the full support of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger established and cherished independent news reporting at the Times, “clearly and sometimes defiantly separate from the editorial and opinion pages.”

Arthur Sulzberger Jr. according to McGowan brought his personal 1960s political views and attitude to the Times and hired and promoted reporters and editors who clearly supported his personal focus.  “The newspaper left the American mainstream to become obsessed with causes and societal change” to the point where McGowan establishes through the Times own reporting that during the 1990s the line between news and opinion was clearly crossed.  The “reporting with attitude” not only determined what was covered by the Times but who covered it and from what point of view.

As you read Grey Lady Down, you may think it to be a “hatchet job.”  Sadly, as you progress through example after example from the Times own pages you will see otherwise.  The reporting of  the Duke University Lacrosse Team rape accusation according to McGowan is one of dozens of unsettling  examples of how a story was covered by the Times based upon reporter’s perceptions.  McGowan makes strong cases in story after story that the “point of view” came from the “attitude” established in the corner office.

McGowan strongly believes that now more than ever America needs the Times of A.M. Rosenthal.  He correctly states that the New York Times continues to set the daily national news agenda. Whoever reports the news, print, broadcast, or cable ,the day begins with what is on the front page of the New York Times. “ The Times will continue to wield enormous influence over what the average American reads, hears and sees. Whether it appears in the paper or on a digital screen, it will continue to be the polestar for American journalism.”

Quoting Times Columnist Thomas Friedman  from Grey Lady Down, “The reason why Rosenthal was obsessed with keeping editors and reporters from putting their ‘thumbs on the scale’ was because he believed a ‘straight’ New York Times was essential to keeping democracy healthy and our government honest.”

McGowan does not see a return to the “Golden Age” during Times Executive Editor Bill Keller’s watch. 

McGowan also wrote Coloring the News, How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism ( 2001)

Another book of this genre I would commend to you is Bernard Goldberg’s Bias, (2002) an inside look at CBS News.  Goldberg spent three decades at CBS and came away with the belief that a CBS liberal slant on its reporting is not intentional but institutional!  Goldberg castigated television news reporting and reporters as being a product of the closed society in which the reporters themselves live and work.  The entire cast of TV news is present in Goldberg’s book and nearly all of the reviews took him seriously.

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