Richard Reeves

Rupert Murdoch's New York Times

WASHINGTON -- William Kristol, a big thinker among American conservatives, has just called for the troops of the right to rally 'round the flag and put out their own newspaper to replace the "ignorantly disdainful" New York Times.

The words in quotes are his, and so are these:

"A solid majority of our fellow citizens are enjoying the misery of The New York Times. ... The simple truth is that a democracy like ours deserves a first-rate newspaper of record. And The New York Times isn't it. The last couple of weeks make clear that there is no real hope that the Times, under its current regime, can become that paper. ... In sum we need, and deserve, a great daily newspaper. ... Who will found it?"

Well, Bill, how about your boss -- that paragon of world-class journalism, Rupert Murdoch? He's certainly got the money. In addition to financing Fox News, Murdoch is the holder of the money behind any number of newspapers, including the New York Post, and even a few other journals, including The Weekly Standard, of which Mr. Kristol is his editor.

The American Right is in a blissful frenzy over the current troubles of the good gray Times, which Kristol -- who knows better -- and others seem to see as a Trotskyite vestige of revolutions past. They are so excited because of one sleazy reporter and a couple of editors who were asleep at the switch. So two weeks of embarrassment and jokes by Jay Leno, some think, can be used to undo more than 150 years of growth that turned the Times into the greatest newspaper in the world.

It isn't that easy. I would refer Kristol to a conservative newspaper, The Washington Times. Last Wednesday, that paper's editorial page editor, Tony Blankley, a former writer for President Reagan and for Newt Gingrich, too, wrote a spectacular -- and truly fair and balanced -- column about the Times' misery: I quote:

"As a conservative Republican political operative ... I grew to loathe the liberal editorials, op-eds and partisan analysis pieces in The New York Times. ... But even then, I deeply appreciated the depth, quality and comprehensiveness of The New York Times' news reporting. Whether I was writing a speech for President Reagan, or otherwise publicly asserting facts about the news of the day, I was always confident that if I read it in The New York Times, it was as accurate as daily news journalism could make it. I cannot recall ever having that confidence misplaced."

"That statement remains as true today as it was 20 years ago, as it was 50 years ago," said Blankley after writing of the depth and breadth of the Times' coverage.

And he continued: "The New York Times has been at the pinnacle of (a) small group of reliable sources. I hope it remains there, because such a status of reliability cannot be built in a day or a year -- or perhaps even in a generation or two. Such quality is the product not only of sustained, large financial investment, but of a tradition of its employees built up over the decades -- and now over the centuries. It is the imbued news consciences of thousands of Timesmen and women that has consistently produced such quality. ... Once destroyed, it will not soon be replaced. There simply will be a gap in the fabric of objective, comprehensive news sources. Conservatives as well as liberals would be the worst for it."

I was one of those thousands of Timesmen, and I'm proud of that. I was, for a time, part of what Blankley called "a great and needed institution."

I was surprised by the opinions of both conservatives, Kristol and Blankley. These are smart people, a pleasure to disagree with. Now here are my suggestions regarding their passion for journalism:

-- Bill Kristol, who I would wager has read the Times every day of his cognizant life, should, on principle, stop reading The New York Times. If it's so bad, get your news from Murdoch's rags.

-- The New York Times should hire Tony Blankley as a columnist.

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