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The New York Times on Ron Paul’s Newsletters

December 27th, 2011 · 18 Comments

With Ron Paul’s now-infamous newsletters once again making headlines, I mulled whether I ought to revisit the issue, but ultimately decided that there wasn’t much to add to the long piece Dave Weigel and I wrote for Reason back in 2008, especially since I’d already elaborated in a couple blog postscripts written shortly after that article appeared.

Apparently, The New York Times agreed. On Monday, they ran a piece that amounts to a couple paragraphs of “fresh tops” aimed at trying to make the piece current, followed by a very light, very lazy rewrite of our article. It cites exactly the same essays and materials we did, takes for granted the identity of Paul’s chief ghostwriter and newsletter editor (which our article spent a fair amount of space publicly establishing for the first time), and even interviews exactly the same sources on the same subjects. (I’ll buy that any reporter would have phoned Ed Crane up; I’ll eat my left shoe if the authors had the first idea who Carol Moore or Mike Holmes were before they read our piece.)

Please don’t take my word for it, though: Compare for yourself. This isn’t a “follow-up” story. It’s a sloppy paraphrase whose authors expended the bare minimum effort of getting our sources to repeat quotes anew so they could use our material without citing the original source.  Or very nearly: A few sentences from the very end, they acknowledge one tidbit was “first reported in Reason,” which is a rather brazen implicit deception, given that the same is true of almost everything else in the article. The sad thing is, if they’d been willing to open with a candid reference and link, they could’ve saved the time spent revisiting ground we covered and actually contributed something to the story.

Unlike Dave Weigel, I’m no longer a journalist, so I actually don’t care about being credited for long-ago reporting on a topic I had no intention of ever returning to. What I do care about is de facto deception of the audience by lazy journalists eager to pass off their regurgitation as reporting—which seems to be rather  a habit at the Times. I imagine they get away with it because their scribes are normally lifting from people who aspire to work there one day—but since, again, I’m no longer a journalist, I don’t feel any particular qualms about pointing it out.  

I still probably wouldn’t have bothered with a post just to lob a brickbat at some lazy journalism, but in this case it’s actually germane to the substance of the story. The implication, after all, is that even though the newsletters were a focus of national attention four years ago, Paul’s fellow travelers were content to gloss over this ugly history—quietly complicit in this pandering to racism—until the bold bloodhounds at the Times sniffed out the scoop. It looks rather different if the Times is just rehashing the highlights of what a libertarian magazine explored in greater details years ago.  

As an ex-journalist myself, I get that it seldom makes sense to waste valuable column inches stroking the ego of every hack whose work you looked at before tackling a topic. The hack’s mom may care, but the average reader certainly doesn’t. When it’s an isolated factoid or a quote, I say lift and godspeed. When you’re doing little more than recapitulating an earlier article wholesale, however, and when it is actually directly relevant to the story that this topic has been exhaustively investigated and discussed within the very movement you’re writing about… well, in those cases, if you don’t have any professional scruples, at least have a little fucking shame.

Addendum: Just to clarify, I’m not annoyed about our reporting being “stolen”—you can’t “steal” public domain facts—or looking to get some kind of acknowledgement by name, which would be of no particular professional value to me at this point (and probably generate unwanted interview requests on a topic I’m happy to be done with). I’m annoyed that what I’d thought was a decent piece of writing and reporting got the equivalent of a rewrite by a stoned highschool student adapting a review essay for an overdue book report. So readers got this mangled account—including an incredibly confused idea of what the faultlines in contemporary libertarianism are about, assuming anyone cares about these internecine pissing contests—rather than a simple link to a more thorough treatment. While I appreciate the supportive comments, nobody should really be offended on my behalf here. Be offended that people who subscribe to the Paper of Record aren’t getting the quality of coverage they’re paying for because a couple of indolent hacks are too desperate to give the appearance of being real reporters to provide a reference and do original work.

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18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jas Dal // Dec 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    If, as a journalist yourself, you know the reporting of The New York Times to be lazy and unprofessional, perhaps there is something wrong with the state of the profession of journalism itself.

    Where are it’s principles? Why aren’t they practiced?

    Is it just laziness – or something more?

    Maybe dust off your journalist hat and give us a professional investigative look at the current condition of the profession of journalism itself.

    You would be doing the world a world of good.

    If not you, who will? (don’t look to the press).

  • 2 Jas Dal // Dec 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    And just for the record:

    “Racism is simply an ugly form of collectivism, the mindset that views humans only as members of groups and never as individuals.

    Racists believe that all individuals who share superficial physical characteristics are alike; as collectivists, racists think only in terms of groups.

    By encouraging Americans to adopt a group mentality, the advocates of so-called “diversity” actually perpetuate racism.

    Their intense focus on race is inherently racist, because it views individuals only as members of racial groups.

    …The true antidote to racism is liberty. Liberty means having a limited, constitutional government devoted to the protection of individual rights rather than group claims.

    …Rather than looking to government to correct what is essentially a sin of the heart, we should understand that reducing racism requires a shift from group thinking to an emphasis on individualism.” – (Ron Paul)

  • 3 Julian // Dec 27, 2011 at 8:25 pm

    I have enough on my plate without “dusting off my journalist hat”; if I wanted to do that, I’d have stayed a journalist.

  • 4 Ryan Cooper // Dec 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    Just out of curiosity, if you’re not a journalist now, what are you exactly? Researcher?

  • 5 Frank Adrian // Dec 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    A little shame? Oh pshaw! It’s the Christmas season – no one wants to work this week. They just helped themselves to a late Christmas present…. be a little charitable for those too lazy and slow to put in the time and effort.

  • 6 poicephalus // Dec 27, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Popped over from Brad Delong’s place to say kudos, man.

    I especially liked that you could leave the fuck for the last sentence.

    You should look into a career in Journalism.

    C

  • 7 Grant Gould // Dec 27, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    FYI, the bio in your “about” section still lists you as a “writer and journalist.” If that hat’s well and truly hung then you might amend that bit.

    I wonder if the NYT is following the Cooks Source “Yes, Monica” principle: You are meant to feel grateful that your betters at the Grey Lady have seen fit to copy-edit your piece for you and get it so much free exposure.

  • 8 Vaneeesa Blaylock // Dec 27, 2011 at 10:09 pm

    Hey Julian, I love your work and I’m sorry you were ripped off, but I must point out that you’ve made a classic mistake of 20th century thinking!

    Wikileaks is a journalistic organization. (or was)
    The New York Times is a publicity firm.

    If you don’t keep this distinction straight, you’ll be frequently disappointed.

    Keep up the great work!

  • 9 Eric T. // Dec 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Hey, at least they noted they got something from you. When the NYT ripped me off during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, they didn’t bother to note that I had written the story up first:

    http://www.newyorkpersonalinjuryattorneyblog.com/2009/07/nyt-sotomayor-associates-becomes-an-issue-for-nominee-and-white-house.html

  • 10 julian Sanchez to Jim Rutenberg and Serge Kovaleski of the New York Times: "Have You No Decency, Sirs? Have You No Decency?" | FavStocks // Dec 28, 2011 at 4:26 am

    [...] The New York Times on Ron Paul’s Newsletters: With Ron Paul’s now-infamous newsletters once again making headlines, I… decided that there wasn’t much to add to the long piece Dave Weigel and I wrote for Reason back in 2008…. Apparently, The New York Times agreed. On Monday, they ran a piece that amounts to a couple paragraphs of “fresh tops” aimed at trying to make the piece current, followed by a very light, very lazy rewrite of our article. It cites exactly the same essays and materials we did, takes for granted the identity of Paul’s chief ghostwriter and newsletter editor (which our article spent a fair amount of space publicly establishing for the first time), and even interviews exactly the same sources on the same subjects. (I’ll buy that any reporter would have phoned Ed Crane up; I’ll eat my left shoe if the authors had the first idea who Carol Moore or Mike Holmes were before they read our piece.) [...]

  • 11 Links 12/28/11 « naked capitalism // Dec 28, 2011 at 7:52 am

    [...] The New York Times on Ron Paul’s Newsletters – Dave Weigel and Julian Sanchez wrote about Ron Paul’s newsletters in 2008, which the NYT rehashed today without explaining to readers that they had basically reproduced much of Weigel and Sanchez’s work.  Grey lady, j’accuse! [...]

  • 12 Ron Paul, on Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell: "They enjoyed antagonizing people, to tell you the truth, and trying to split people" - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine // Dec 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    [...] political strategy laid out by Paul associates Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. Weigel and Sanchez have now both dinged the Times for adding little (besides obfuscation) to their original reporting. [...]

  • 13 George Washington // Dec 28, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Ron Paul 2012 Please
    Track Record and Substance OVER Flip Flopping Rhetoric
    Thank you

  • 14 Ron Paul, on Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell: “They enjoyed antagonizing people, to tell you the truth, and trying to split people” | Libertarios of America // Dec 28, 2011 at 6:00 pm

    [...] political strategy laid out by Paul associates Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. Weigel and Sanchez have now both dinged the Times for adding little (besides obfuscation) to their original reporting. [...]

  • 15 Ron Paul, on Murray Rothbard and Lew Rockwell: “They enjoyed antagonizing people, to tell you the truth, and trying to split people” | Robert Butler // Dec 29, 2011 at 8:08 am

    [...] political strategy laid out by Paul associates Lew Rockwell and Murray Rothbard. Weigel and Sanchez have now both dinged the Times for adding little (besides obfuscation) to their original reporting. [...]

  • 16 Cosmo // Dec 30, 2011 at 6:18 am

    It’s a pity that the Times did not link to the original piece; I very much enjoyed it.

    Moving beyond that, however, I thought the write up of your partner for that original piece, David Weigel, on why liberal gays are relatively un-disturbed by the newsletters to be fascinating. It just appeared over at Slate (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2011/12/ron_paul_s_anti_gay_newsletters_why_they_don_t_bother_liberal_gays.html) within the last couple of days, and I think it nicely analyzes what might be an even broader phenomenon–and it jives with what I’ve been feeling.

    These newsletters are not new news. The fact that your rather comprehensive article is from 2008 testifies to that. Maybe they will severely hurt Ron Paul this time around simply because he isn’t being taken as lightly anymore. I don’t think so though.

    I’m never going to vote for Ron Paul. I think that he’s just too radical in a number of areas–elimination of the Fed, for instance. However, as a liberal I am ecstatic with the take on foreign policy he has injected into to Republican primaries, and I’m willing to concede that his suspicion of big government, in conjunction with powerful lobbyists, is a justified one.

    I tell that loudly to everyone I talk about the primaries with–especially the foreign policy part. I would have a lot harder time with that if he had a track record of crazy racism, bigotry against homosexuals, antisemitism, etc. But the reality is, whether or not the guy believes those things, his conviction for libertarian principles has been strong enough to stop it from creeping into his voting record–to the point where, as Mr. Weigel notes, he voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004.

    In a field where candidates routinely speak of principles and a coherent guiding ideology while repudiating them in practice to “pragmatic” realities (i.e. Obama and transparency/the security state or Romney and his platform), Ron Paul appears to have committed to an ideology and principles and actually stuck with it, regardless of his personal emotions. To me, and, I think a lot of other people, that’s admirable.

    One last note, as a liberal: I’m not altogether happy that all of this is being injected into the conservative debate, like Weigel talks about. I’d much rather Ron Paul be taken seriously and people actually consider his foreign policy views than score cheap points on conservative strategies to appeal to rednecks.

  • 17 Howard Roark // Jan 12, 2012 at 2:52 am

    You’re not a libertarian, and never were: from “Objectivism” to Cato-ism you’ve finally realized what it’s all about: it’s all about YOU.

    Now fuck off and find some other movement: have you tried the Hare Krishnas?

  • 18 More Fresh Scoops from the New York Times // Feb 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    [...] is actually a good deal less egregious than some of the Times‘ other recent rewrites, and in any event, I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with [...]

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