Thursday, December 05, 2002

Howell Raines's critics get to howl. It's ironic that longstanding conservative criticism of New York Times executive editor Howell Raines has come to a head at the exact moment that liberals are finally beginning to speak up about the conservative media.

In recent weeks the Times has mounted a relentless, and incredibly boring, crusade to force the Augusta National golf club to admit women. Newsweek's Seth Mnookin reports all the messy details, going so far as to quote an anonymous staff member as saying that Raines is "in danger of losing the building."

Now we learn that Times managing editor Gerald Boyd -- perhaps acting on Raines's order, perhaps not -- killed two sports columns that took issue with Raines's anti-Augusta crusade. Romenesko has all the dirt, including a defensive, self-serving memo from Boyd.

Almost from the moment that Raines was elevated from editorial-page editor to executive editor, just before 9/11, conservatives such as Andrew Sullivan, as well as a few moderates such as Mickey Kaus, have railed against his supposed liberal bias on issues ranging from welfare reform to the Bush administration's regime-change policy with regard to Iraq.

Of course, the Times has always been the house organ of what Richard Nixon used to call the Eastern liberal establishment. But the Times' brand of liberalism was always polite, respectful, and not particularly ideological. Under Raines, the critics charge, that liberalism has become harsher and more confrontational.

Former Globe columnist (and Bush cousin) John Ellis has gone so far as to argue that this new liberalism may even be good for business, as the media marketplace may be changing from one that rewarded objectivity (always a dubious concept) to one that favors different ideological flavors for different audiences. (Ellis notes that those are merely the views of a Smith Barney analyst he'd talked to, and that he's not completely convinced.)

Recently the mediasphere has been abuzz with the revelation that Fox News chairman Roger Ailes has functioned essentially as a political consultant to George W. Bush, and with Al Gore's interview with the New York Observer, in which he accurately described the relationship between the Republican National Committee and such conservative news organizations as Fox, the Washington Times, and Rush Limbaugh's radio program.

But it looks like conservatives have managed to change the conversation once again. It's too bad that Raines himself deserves much of the blame.

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