Yesterday, under the headline “Iran Backs Away From Key Detail in Nuclear Deal;” the New York Times published the latest word-game by David Sanger and Michael Gordon as if it were real news, rather than what former Times editor Max Frankel used to call “a thinly-disguised Q-head.”
There’s a fine line — only Frankel knew exactly where to draw it — between a thinly disguised Q-head, or news analysis, and sheer propaganda.
The Sanger-Gordon piece, by whatever name, was part of a recently intensified media campaign to sabotage the talks in Switzerland between Iran and the P5+1 nations seeking an agreement on what Iran can and cannot do within the nuclear program first given to it by the United States half a century ago.
They “key detail” was Iran’s supposed “agreement” that as part of the deal it would allow most of its stockpile of nuclear fuel to be shipped to Russia to be converted into a form that could not be used for weapons.
The Times based its “backs away” report entirely on a single off-the-cuff remark made by an Iranian negotiator in a briefing of Iranian reporters.
Today — in what might have been (but wasn’t) headlined “Sanger and Gordon back Away from Key Point in Sabotage of Nuclear Deal” — the Times published a sort-of “oops!” The negotiator’s remark was only an “apparent change of position,” Sanger/Gordon wrote.
“Contrary to the report in The New York Times,” they wrote, “the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively,” a senior State Department official said in a statement that was emailed to reporters.
Even though the lede was buried in the seventh paragraph, today’s story amounted to a rare concession to truth by the Times reporters.
Typically, their Sunday story was loaded with hedges, a clumsy effort to disguise its bias: “. . . that could make . . .”; “nonetheless . . .could raise a potential obstacle. . .”; “‘ ‘ ‘ is bound to intensify . . .opposition . . .”; “If . . .particularly if . . .could give . . . if . . .questions about suspected nuclear design. . .; . . .not clear . . .”; “If . . .”; “. . .if . . .”If . . . even if . . .”; “ . . . leaked estimates. . .”.; “ . . . competing estimates could pose. . .”; “. . .could provide fodder. . .”
Oh my. Maybe the sky is falling, Chicken Little!
When the legendary news editor, Ted Bernstein, created an internal Times house organ called Winners and Sinners, it quickly achieved Biblical status, what one Times staffer called “the force of law.” In the late 60s and early 70s, a debate raged over whether Times style should allow direct quotation of some of the most colorful street slang of the era. Resist the temptation, Bernstein ruled; “be a motherfudger.” Thus the act of motherfudging came to be enshrined at The Times with the force of law.
But that law was anchored in the era when journalists used typewriters. Not even Bernstein could have predicted how much motherfudge could be concocted in the computer era by the likes of Sanger and Gordon.