This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published October 4, 2015 by The Washington Times.
What, exactly, is a New York State of Mind?
In Billy Joel’s iconic song, the refrain begins, “It comes down to reality, and it’s fine with me ‘cause I’ve let it slide.”
At times, the world’s most exciting city seems to excel in avoiding reality. Interspersed with matchless art, music, restaurants, financial clout and sheer energy, there’s also nuttiness.
Last Monday, members of the New York City Council issued proclamations honoring the 100th birthday of communist spy Ethel Rosenberg, who with her husband Julius was convicted of passing top secret atomic information to the Soviet Union. Both were executed in 1953, an event that Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said was a “terrible stain on our country.”
Well, it might be a stain if the Rosenbergs had not been guilty of treason in the service of a regime that murdered more than 20 million people and wanted to destroy the United States. But they were guilty as sin, which has been heavily documented by author Ronald Radosh and others.
Nonetheless, New York’s city politicians wrapped themselves in head-scratching moral umbrage and faithfully repeated the leftist lament about unwarranted anti-communist “hysteria” in the 1950s.
If this were an isolated incident, you might chalk it up to temporary insanity, but there’s more in the Big Apple where that came from.
This is a city where Illinois native and Cubs rooter Hillary Rodham Clinton, fresh from Arkansas, got away with pretending for years to be a Yankee fan while snagging a carpet bagging seat in the U.S. Senate.
It’s where former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is now working around the country to defeat politicians who won’t push gun control, tried to make it a crime to serve soft drinks in large cups.
It’s where current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has allowed Times Square to morph back into a place where families might not want to tread, managed to alienate police to such a degree (to appease the Black Lives Matter mob) that more than 20,000 cops at each of the funerals in January for two slain officers turned their backs as the Mayor gave remarks.
Meanwhile, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wants legislation to allow foreign legal residents who are not citizens to vote in city elections.
Part of New York’s problem with reality can be traced to the daily impact of its most illustrious news organ, the reliably leftist New York Times, which has a huge skeleton in its closet — a Pulitzer Prize for foreign reporting in 1932.
Walter Duranty, the paper’s Moscow correspondent, was the recipient. A communist sympathizer, he worked diligently to cover up Josef Stalin’s war crimes, including a forced starvation that killed as many as 10 million Ukrainians.
Here, courtesy of the Weekly Standard, are a couple of Mr. Duranty’s more famous quotes:
“There is no famine or actual starvation nor is there likely to be.” (New York Times, Nov. 15, 1931, page 1.)
“Any report of a famine in Russia is today an exaggeration or malignant propaganda.” (New York Times, August 23, 1933.)
Duranty also dismissed the horrors by quipping, “to put it brutally — you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”(May 14, 1933)
The late, great Hoover Institution scholar Robert Conquest, who definitively exposed Stalin’s Ukrainian genocide in his book Harvest of Sorrow, wrote:
“As one of the best known correspondents in the world for one of the best known newspapers in the world, Mr. Duranty’s denial that there was a famine was accepted as gospel. Thus Mr. Duranty gulled not only the readers of the New York Times but because of the newspaper’s prestige, he influenced the thinking of countless thousands of other readers about the character of Josef Stalin and the Soviet regime.”
In 2003, the Pulitzer Committee considered for a second time yanking Mr. Duranty’s prize, but decided against doing so, saying that the 13 articles that netted the prize fall “seriously short” by “today’s standards” but that “there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.” Really?
The Times itself issued a statement criticizing Mr. Duranty’s reporting, noting that he had relied solely on official propaganda from the Soviet regime and had quoted “not a single” Russian citizen other than Stalin. That’s what won a Pulitzer back in 1932. The Times has not offered to return the award, noting that the paper “does not have the award in its possession.”
In a bit of rotten luck, the Times was also dealing with the exposure of reporter Jayson Blair’s prolific plagiarism and fabrications. On May 11, 2003, the paper ran a front-page story, “Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception.”
The New York Times does an extraordinary amount of in-depth reporting, and some of its reporters are first-rate. But in all too many cases, the paper’s biases, sometimes by commission, sometimes by omission, have an impact far beyond New York.
And therein lies the problem. As “legacy” news sources dwindle, the New York Times is still regarded by the New York-based national TV networks and many other outlets as the most important indicator of what’s worth reporting.
In this way, the Times lulls all too many into the progressively nutty New York State of Mind.