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?
While the New York Times spent much of 2009 celebrating President Obama, the paper’s slant took a turn toward the nasty in 2010. From the surging Tea Party movement to a bipartisan backlash against his brand of big-government health “reform,“ Obama was challenged on many fronts. The Times reacted badly, seeing racial hostility behind every attack on our wise, hope-bringing, moderate president.
In an email exchange obtained by Times Watch, McGowan wrote to Tanenhaus on November 22 informing Tanenhaus that he had dropped off a copy of “Gray Lady Down” for review purposes, writing: “I think the book should be read as coming from the loyal opposition, a la [former Times Public Editor] Dan Okrent, and while it may not be everywhere flattering it is, to the best of my ability, everywhere fair.”
McGowan reminded Tanenhaus that he had previously told him “Gray Lady Down” would receive a review in the Times. (McGowan’s last critical appraisal of the Times, “Coloring the News,” was ignored by the paper.)