Nat Hentoff on the Shaming of the New York TImes

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June 1, 1960, Vol. V, No. 32

The Soft Decay of The New York Times

By Nat Hentoff

We're witnessing, it seems to me, the gradual decline of what has generally been considered the country's most distinguished newspaper. There is no disputing the Times' continuing usefulness as a paper of record, but printing complete speeches and Presidential press conferences is not enough to sustain the Times' previous reputation.

Take the question of news placement. This is one example of several in recent months that indicates an odd inability of the editors there to recognize an important story when they see one. On Tuesday, may 10, the Herald Tribune - which is much improved - ran a front-page story on the vitally important fact that for the first time the Food and Drug Administration had approved a pill as safe for birth-control use. Even the Daily News with its large Catholic readership printed the story on page 5 with the head "OK '100% Effective' Birth Control Pill." The N.Y. Times ran a five-paragraph AP story deep down on page 75 alongside the radio listings.

The Times has a huge, ponderous city staff, but the Times consistenly misses local news...There is simply no initiative any longer on the Times' city side. Not among the reporters, but among the editors. No wonder the Times is Robert Moses' favorite newspaper...

What may be the lowest point the Times has ever reached in its own self-esteem occurred May 16 on page 22. The head was "Times Retracts Statement in Ad." The story concerned an ad that had been placed in the Times by the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King. The ad was published March 29. Alabama's Governor John Patterson, an avowed white-supremacist, demanded that the Times retract assertions made in the two paragraphs of the ad. Every statement in those two paragraphs is entirely factual. Patterson also objected vaguely to "the publication as a whole" but specified no other sections.

In an extraordinary - and shameful - display of cowardice, the Times retracted the two paragraphs without explanation as to the specific facts therein it had presumably found to be untrue. The Times, underlying the fact that it had nothing to do with the ad, published the list of signers, among them myself. Is the Times saying I'm a liar? I'm mildly tempted to sue the Times, for defamation of character, but the Times has done itself such serious damage by its pusillanimous yielding to the Governor of Alabama that anything any of us tried to add would be superfluous...

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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