“Gray Lady Down – What The Decline And Fall Of The New York Times Means For America” by William McGowan (from Encounter Books), is a carefully researched and devastatingly convincing critique of the New York Times losing its commitment to objective reporting.
It opens with the 2006 funeral of the paper’s famed Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, who retired in 1986. Though bad tempered and with a propensity to play newsroom favorites, Rosenthal is considered by McGowan the last lion of the paper’s once-serious commitment to journalistic objectivity, “allergic to Woodstock” and other left-wing pieties, holding the line against the left-ward drift seemingly inherent to a Manhattan newspaper. A 1970s anecdote on a recurring nightmare by Rosenthal (waking one “Wednesday morning” with no New York Times) reminds us that concerns over the decline of newspaper reading among the young didn’t start with the Internet.
McGowan flags the “Southern guilt” of Howell Raines, the editorial page editor who became executive editor in 2001, felled by the favoritism he showed toward young black reporter Jayson Blair, who came to the Times via a minority-only internship program and proceeded to disgrace it. The most blunt parts of “Gray Lady Down” involve race: “The Times racial script...has come to resemble the journalist equivalent of reparations.” McGowan delved into the paper’s archives to show what the paper thought of Malcolm X in 1966 and came up with the striking headline “Black Power Is Black Death.” Can you imagine that at the top of the Times editorial page tomorrow?