Abortion-Marching N.Y. Times Reporter Says Other Reporters Marched -- With Press Credentials

Almost twenty years ago, New York Times Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse marched in a pro-abortion march, causing outrage at the utter lack of concern about the appearance of bias that represented. In an interview posted Friday on the liberal website Radar, Greenhouse revealed she is still angry at her bosses for suggesting it was a breach of media ethics, suggesting none of her colleagues on that day objected when she told them, that it was "completely routine" and "It was just obvious to everybody that, as a private citizen, I had a perfect right to do what I was doing."

But she added something new: "I knew some people from the Times, who I won't name – some of whom had editorial responsibilities, who had come down from New York and had also marched. The difference was, they had given themselves the cover of getting press credentials...So I felt that there was a great deal of hypocrisy, and failure on the part of some to have the courage to speak up."

Greenhouse was interviewed by Radar media critic Charles Kaiser, a former colleague of hers at the Times in the Seventies:  

Let's talk about the march you were in that got so much attention.

It was in 1989. It was a march that was organized by NOW, and its aims were to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which believe it or not was still an issue then, and support abortion rights. And it was a march on Congress.

Before you participated, did you ask any of your bosses if this was a good idea?

Well I didn't ask them, I told them. Howell was the bureau chief. And I made it perfectly clear in the office that I was doing this. Nobody raised an eyebrow. It wasn't a big deal to anybody. And, in fact, during the march there was a party at Howell's house which was a going away party for Steve Roberts. So after the march I went over to the party and said, you all missed a great march, and I told them all about it. I swear to God, nobody turned a hair. It was just obvious to everybody that, as a private citizen, I had a perfect right to do what I was doing. I went with three friends from my college class. You know, it wasn't under a banner that said "New York Times Reporter For Choice." We were just four women in a group of half a million. And so, it was no secret; it was no testing of boundaries, it was not in your face. It was just completely routine as far as I was concerned. It seemed to me, as far as anybody was concerned.And you know what happened was, Len Downie, over at the Washington Post -- who of course believes that you shouldn't even vote -- Len learned that some of his reporters had also been at the march and he started railing against this. Some of my friends at the Post said, 'well, what's the big deal? Over at the Times, Linda marched, and it was completely in the open and nobody said anything about it.' At that point Eleanor Randolph, who had the press beat at the Washington Post, called Max Frankel to say, 'Well, what about this?' Because here at the Post, our executive editor takes a dim view of this. Well, Max was not going to be "out-ethiced" [sic] by Len Downie. And so he said, 'Well, this is terrible, this violates all kinds of rules.' Which, actually, it didn't. So he came down on me. He made Howell call me in and read me some kind of riot act. [In the Washington Post, Randolph quoted Raines as saying, "As it turns out, it is Max Frankel's strong feeling that this should not be allowed."]

You were pretty angry, weren't you?

Well, I was quite disappointed. I was disappointed in the fact that I knew some people from the Times, who I won't name -- some of whom had editorial responsibilities, who had come down from New York and had also marched. The difference was, they had given themselves the cover of getting press credentials. I, of course, had a chance to get press credentials too, since abortion was something I wrote about it. But I declined press credentials because I said, 'I'm not covering the story, so I'm not going to take press credentials.' So I felt that there was a great deal of hypocrisy, and failure on the part of some to have the courage to speak up. But it is ever thus.

Greenhouse is also still angry that somehow, someone would find her a little careless about restraining herself ideologically in public when she gave a caterwauling speech in 2006 against conservatives, talking about how she sobbed through a Simon and Garfunkel concert at how Sixties liberals had failed America, and how "our government had turned its energy and attention away from upholding the rule of law and toward creating law-free zones at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, and other places around the world. And let’s not forget the sustained assault on women’s reproductive freedom and the hijacking of public policy by religious fundamentalism." Greenhouse was somehow oblivious enough to claim "It wasn’t a political rant at all," but "a generational narrative."

My next little encounter with journalistic ethics was in the fall of 2006. That was about a talk I gave at Radcliffe upon receiving their highest alumni honor that year, the Radcliffe Medal. It was a lunch talk to invited alums. I gave a kind of generational narrative. It wasn't a political rant at all. It wasn't intended by me to be a political speech, nor was it received by the audience that way. It was a generational tale, and the question I asked was, did we, the generation of the '60s, who thought we were going to change the world for the better -- have we made a difference? Is it better? I said that there were a few troubling things, like the creation of a law-free zone in Guantanamo by the Bush administration -- and P.S., this was two years after the Court had ruled there could not be a law-free zone. It was two years since the Court struck down the administration's notion that federal judges had no business in Guantanamo. It wasn't a new idea coming from me. I said that it's disturbing that the administration has been conducting a war against women's reproductive freedom -- which is an obvious statement of fact. Obviously they have by signing the so-called partial birth abortion law -- things that any reader of the New York Times would know.

That was in June. In the fall I got a call from the media guy at NPR [David Folkenflik] saying, 'you made this speech at Radcliffe, and I've seen it because my mother went to Radcliffe.' And he said, 'you expressed opinions on things. What do you have to say about that?' I said, 'I don't have to explain myself to you. You obviously have the speech, so read it and do what you want with it.' So he went on the air and said this was a terrible thing. What he did -- and this was really disappointing -- he called up various people like Jack Nelson and the dean of the journalism school at the University of Maryland and read them those little raw meat sentences out of a half hour speech, and said, what do you think about them? And they, without endeavoring to get the full speech or to understand why I would have said these things, said, "Oh, that's terrible." When I asked these individuals later, 'By the way, did you have a chance to look at the whole speech?' No, they hadn't. So he reported this. And again, not to be out-ethiced [sic], Byron Calame, who was the public editor, wrote a column denouncing me for this. The editors failed to stand up for me. My strong belief was that they should have stood up for me. And they didn't do it.

Kaiser is also a gay activist, so they also denounced conservative rulings at the Supreme Court, and discussed the joys of their repeal:

How did you come down overall on whether our generation had made life better or worse?

I talk about gay rights quite a lot as a marker of how much better off we are. I believe that very strongly. I think that was probably the most gripping scene I ever witnessed at the Court—when Kennedy read the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas. Usually, when you go up to the Court, you don't know what's coming that day. But it was the last day of the term, and Lawrence was the last undecided case. So everybody knew, and the Court was filled with gay and lesbian members of the Supreme Court bar. When Kennedy got to where he said Bowers v. Hardwick was wrong when it was decided, it's wrong today, and we hereby overrule it, all these lawyers in the bar section started crying. It was just a wonderful scene. It was great.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis