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Ten questions with ‘Gray Lady Down’ author William McGowan

4.  What are the greatest problems you see with the New York Times’ coverage of issues today? And is there a particular area where they are especially bad?

The Times has been particularly bad on race, immigration, the growth of Islam in America, gay rights (especially gay marriage), the War on Terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The common thread is a mentality defined by a kind of “punitive liberalism” which holds that America at its core is somehow morally tainted and needs to atone — to “reclaim its soul” as one of its op-ed columnists put it.

5.  When the New York Times revealed a secret government program used to track terrorists through cooperation with financial institutions, some called the revelation treasonous. What are your thoughts on that incident?

You are referring to the SWIFT banking surveillance program, which was perfectly legal, had completely adequate congressional oversight and was quite effective. I wouldn’t call it treasonous to have run that story. But I think it was gratuitous. They ran the story because they could, and engaged in a justification campaign in the wake of the following furor that was both juvenile and transparent.

Of greater concern to me is the unreflective coverage of the War on Terror in general and the Patriot Act in particular. The Times crusaded against the Patriot Act relentlessly and inaccurately. The Patriot Act was central to the breakup of dozens of  terror plots and the prosecutions of the plotters. Yet the Times dismissed it, ignoring available information that proved it had done much, much more than round up, as one editorial put it, a motley crew of “hapless innocents.”

6.  Was there a golden age of the Times? If so, when?

When Abe Rosenthal was at its editorial head, the Gray Lady was in her best form. For Rosenthal, keeping the paper “straight” was the highest priority and he did so by making sure that reporters and critics kept their subjective political opinions to themselves in favor of a form of journalistic agnosticism free of cant and what he called “editorial needles.” Some thought him conservative. But Joseph Lelyveld said, Rosenthal believed you had to keep a firm “right” hand on the tiller, else the newsroom, left to its own inclinations, would drift to the left.

7.  Do you read the Times anymore? Where do you get your information on a daily basis?

I read the Times every day, though I read it differently than I used to, as through a filter that identifies its ideological biases and corrects for them. I also read the Wall Street Journal, the New York tabloids and a variety of websites, such as opinionjournal.com, National Review Online, Real Clear Politics, Timeswatch, Romenesko, Kausfiles, the BBC, NPR and others. As far as magazines, it’s the New Yorker, the Weekly Standard and the Atlantic.