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Monday, July 9, 2012

New York Times v. Adelson

Clifford May
They have different agendas. But surely they have an equal right to promote their agendas.

The New York Times’ editorial writers — who reflect the opinions of the newspaper’s publisher and principal owner, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., who hires and fires them — have their knickers in a knot over Sheldon Adelson. What has the Las Vegas hotel-and-casino tycoon done? The Times asserts that he is spending his money “to advance his personal, ideological and financial agenda, which is wildly at odds with the nation’s needs.”

Readers of the Times are expected to take it on faith that Mr. Sulzberger, who came by his status through inheritance, accurately perceives the nation’s needs, and that Mr. Adelson, who over the course of his 77 years rose from dire poverty to fabulous wealth by building businesses, has not a clue.

Full disclosure No. 1: I spent some of the best years of my life working for the Times, as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor. Then, as now, some of the world’s finest journalists were employed by the Grey Lady. One thing they have had in common: They do not draw conclusions and level charges except on the basis of solid evidence. By contrast, the Times’ editorial writers no longer burden themselves with serious argumentation. They assert, they preach, they allege. I have heard Times reporters grumble about this — though not on the record.

Full disclosure No. 2: I know Mr. Adelson and, on occasion, he’s donated funds to the non-partisan, non-profit organization I head to support work on national-security issues he views as critically important. But not for that reason do I defend his constitutional right to spend as much of his money as he likes to persuade his fellow Americans that his agenda is preferable to that favored by the Times. I would just as vehemently defend the free-speech rights of George Soros, another multibillionaire who spends lavishly to promote his agenda — an agenda with which the Times largely agrees and I do not. The Times has never criticized Mr. Soros as they have Mr. Adelson. In other words: I am championing a principle without exception; the Times — not so much.

The Times promotes its policy preferences — again, we’re really talking about Mr. Sulzberger’s policy preferences — every day, using ink it buys by the barrel. The Times sees that as part of its mission, correctly. But private citizens are entitled to the same free-speech rights as the media — unless, of course, one embraces as a serious principle what I’ve always assumed the great journalist A. J. Liebling intended as a quip: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” It should not go unobserved that the Times rarely allows opposing views to be aired on its op-ed pages.

Much of the money that Mr. Adelson, Mr. Soros, and others give to political candidates is spent on communications — ads in newspapers (including the Times) and on television and radio. The ads run by the politicians Mr. Adelson is likely to support often rebut the opinions articulated by the Times and other mainstream media, as well as the “public media,” which are subsidized with taxpayer dollars.

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