Credentialism and Corruption: Neoliberalism in The “News” Room

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Readers liked our last post on life under neoliberalism and the salaried (or professional (or “20%”)) classes, and the question we posed: “How do these pepole live with themselves?” So here’s another one! This time, I’m going to compare and contrast life in the newsroom at the Las Vegas Review-Journa and The New York Times.

Looking at these classes, credentials matter. (Again, I should caveat that these are my people; I was raised the child of professors in America’s Golden Age of higher education and shaped for that sort of career myself; back in the day, when tenure was a realistic possibility for many, and academics didn’t have to hold outside fundraisers for their projects. And when there were careers.) For example, attaining an M.D. is different from learning a skill; as a doctor, one takes the Hippocratic Oath. CPAs have a required ethics exam. Even lawyers!

If economists ask themselves “What good is a degree?” the answer is “to signal a requirement for a higher salary!” (because it’s not easy to rank the professions by the quality of what they deliver). We as citizens might answer that professionals are in some ways amphibians: They serve both private ends and preserve public goods, and the education for which they are granted their credentials forms them for this service. For example, a doctor who prescribes medications for his patients because Big Pharma takes him golfing is no doctor but corrupt; he’s mixed up public and private. He didn’t follow his oath. Similarly, a reporter (see Terry Pratchett’s wonderful The Truth) who only serves the interests of his publication’s owner is no reporter but corrupt; a public relations specialist, say. Or a servant.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal

First, let’s look at an episode at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. As readers may remember, the LVJR was purchased by Sheldon Adelson, international gambling squillionaire, publisher, and campaign contributor (Israel). I won’t use the word “corrupt,” but feel free to think it. Hilariously, Adelson did not disclose his purchase — no problems with optics there! — and it was left to the LVJR reporting staff to treat the matter as a story, and reveal their new owner. Here’s the story the LVJR broke:

After six days of uncertainty surrounding News + Media Capital Group LLC — a newly formed Delaware-domiciled company backed by “undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry” — the Review-Journal on Wednesday confirmed that Adelson’s son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, arranged the company’s $140 million purchase of the newspaper on behalf of the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands. …

Last week’s sale saw News + Media pay around $38 million more than New Media Investment Group paid in March for all of Stephens Media LLC, a national chain of eight daily newspapers that included the Review-Journal.

It remains unclear if that inflated purchase price came with strings attached to the Adelsons.

“The way the Adelson family began its ownership of the Review-Journal — with secrecy, deception, and one opaque announcement after another — does not inspire confidence,” said media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen. “Possibly this rocky start could be overcome, but the place to begin would have been with the public announcement of the purchase. In that announcement there is nothing about preserving the independence of the Review-Journal newsroom from undue influence by Sheldon Adelson, who as everyone knows is one of the most powerful people in the state and in Republican politics nationwide.

“What creative measures were announced to insulate news coverage from the enormous wealth and power of the Adelson family? None that I can see. And that does not inspire confidence,” Rosen said.

(This post only scratches the surface of the carnage. What you’re going to read is bad enough.) To nobody’s surprise, Rosen’s concerns for the independence of the newsroom were all too prescient. From the New York Times:

Whether Mr. Adelson will ultimately try to shape the paper’s coverage remains to be seen. But in the weeks since he has owned the paper, reporters said, several articles about the paper have been heavily reviewed and edited to remove quotes that could be viewed as unfavorable to the new owners.

An article about Mr. Hengel’s resignation was trimmed before it was published from about 20 paragraphs to three and stripped of nearly all of Mr. Hengel’s comments, according to people familiar with the article. The article ran on Wednesday inside the paper. Similarly, an initial article on the paper’s website about the sale was edited after it was published to remove references to the buyer’s unknown identity.

It got worse. From Politico:

Within five hours, the immediate inherent conflicts of Adelson ownership made themselves highly apparent. The Review-Journal reported that Adelson had met with the ownership of Oakland Raiders football team, hoping to lure them to Las Vegas and into a new “public/private”-funded $1 billion domed stadium.

The new publisher has reviewed each stadium story since, and the stories have seen numerous Moon-directed edits, several sources confirm. Those edits include removing key points of fact on what may turn out to become a $600 million-plus public investment in a football stadium. At least one stadium story was killed, as well, my sources confirm.

It is near impossible to overestimate the depth of the conflict involved in the Adelson ownership. As a major player in the gaming industry in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore, top donor to Republican Party candidates and now the booster of a “public-private” funded football stadium, Adelson-related stories have appeared in the R-J for years. For years, the paper has “lawyered” each Adelson-related story, given the magnate’s history of litigiousness. Now that review is being done in house, with very different results.

And now the latest, from NPR:

Las Vegas Columnist Quits After Ban On Writing About Adelson

“If I can’t do my job, if I can’t hold the heavyweights in the community to account, then I’m just treading water,” the columnist, John L. Smith, told NPR in an interview. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there was no other decision to make — at least in my mind.”

Smith had written columns for the Review-Journal for nearly three decades, with a frequent focus on Adelson, one of the most powerful figures in Nevada gambling and national Republican politics. The billionaire sued Smith for libel over a passage in a 2005 book about power players of Las Vegas.

Smith prevailed in court, but paying the fees helped bankrupt him. (NPR told that remarkable story, including a rabbi’s offer of a secret $200,000 payoff from Adelson for Smith to admit libel, earlier this year.) Years later, the case has helped trigger the end of Smith’s career at the Review-Journal, as his new bosses cited it as a conflict of interest [!!!].

Now, all of the above is prelude to John L. Smith’s resignation letter, of which he left a copy on every desk in the LVJR news-room:


Clearly, John L. Smith is somebody who can live with himself.[1] And now we turn to the New York Times.

The New York Times

Here, I’m simply going to quote a great slab of Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan’s column (who ought to be missed by Times executives, but probably will not be[2]).

Were Changes to Sanders Article ‘Stealth Editing’?

An article by Jennifer Steinhauer, published online, carried the headline “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years via Legislative Side Doors.” It described the way the Vermont senator had managed a significant number of legislative victories in Congress despite the political independence that might have hindered him.

The article stayed in essentially that form for several hours online – with some very minor tweaks — but in the late afternoon, Times editors made significant changes to its tone and content, turning it from almost glowing to somewhat disparaging. The later headline read: “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.”

And these two paragraphs were added:

But in his presidential campaign Mr. Sanders is trying to scale up those kinds of proposals as a national agenda, and there is little to draw from his small-ball legislative approach to suggest that he could succeed.

Mr. Sanders is suddenly promising not just a few stars here and there, but the moon and a good part of the sun, from free college tuition paid for with giant tax hikes to a huge increase in government health care, which has made even liberal Democrats skeptical.

(Readers will recognize that both paragraphs are heavily larded with Clinton campaign talking points.) Here I’ll skip Sullivan’s summary of the obvious problems with these changes; in addition to several readers, she links to Medium, Matt Taibbi, and Robert Reich, too. So, to the institutional issues:

I asked top editors at The Times, along with Ms. Steinhauer and her immediate editor, for response. (The executive editor, Dean Baquet, also responded to Erik Wemple of The Washington Post on Tuesday night, and Ms. Steinhauer responded to the Rolling Stone piece. Both said, in essence, that the changes were routine efforts to add context to an evolving story.)

[The reporter, Jennifer] Steinhauer, in a response to my email, suggested that I speak to editors because “it was an editing decision.”…

So, what happened here? Matt Purdy, a deputy executive editor, said that when senior editors read the piece after it was published online, they thought it needed more perspective about whether Mr. Sanders would be able to carry out his campaign agenda if he was elected president.

“I thought it should say more about his realistic chances” of doing that, Mr. Purdy told me. As first published, he said, editors believed that the article “didn’t approach that question.”

“There was a feeling that the story wasn’t written into this moment,” Mr. Purdy said. After the editing changes, he said, “it got to be a deeper story,” with greater context.

Three editors told me in no uncertain terms that the editing changes had not been made in response to complaints from the Clinton camp. Did the Clinton people even reach out?

“Not that I know of,” Mr. Baquet told me in an email. The article’s immediate editor, Michael Tackett, agreed: “There’s zero evidence of that.”

(“Not that I know of” and “There’s zero evidence of that” are both what somebody with a sufficiently cynical cast of mind might call non-denial denials.)

My take: The changes to this story were so substantive that a reader who saw the piece when it first went up might come away with a very different sense of Mr. Sanders’s legislative accomplishments than one who saw it hours later. (The Sanders campaign shared the initial story on social media; it’s hard to imagine it would have done that if the edited version had appeared first.)

(Note that the Sanders campaign had distributed the URL to original Times article. So, when the Times editors made their unannounced changes at the same URL, they pulled the rug out from the Sanders campaign, who would hardly have distributed a link to an article that supported major Clinton campaign talking points.

Comparing and Contrasting

From the reader’s perspective, is there any substantive difference between what the Adelson-owned LVJR did to its stories on Adelson, and what the Times did to its story on Sanders? Is there a substantive difference between removing material unfavorable to the owner or suppressing stories unfavorable to his business interests, and gratuitously inserting material egregiously favorable to a newspaper’s endorsed candidate? Especially when, in each case, the paper makes no mention of the change? I don’t think so.

However, from the newsroom’s perspective, there’s a very great difference indeed. The LVJR is a small paper; John L. Smith is two or three degrees of separation at most from Adelson himself, so its very clear who’s giving direction and why. The New York Times is a very large paper; the reporter, Jennifer] Steinhauer, was able to say “Talk to the editors,” and Sullivan, the Public Editor, talked to three of them. In other words, the social relations — we might even say the realities — at the Journal-Review and the Times are very different; the Journal-Review’s are so simple and clean that “How can you live with yourself?” questions come to the fore under stress. Not so at the Times; the institutional complexities make it possible for such questions to be masked or muffled. Corruption is clear at the LVJR; but corruption scuttles away into the masthead at the Times.

However, if we ask ourselves what the future of the average newsroom — modulo algos — is likely to be, I would imagine life will be a lot more like the LVJR than the NYT. I mean, who wants a masthead cluttered with supernumeraries? It’s going to be interesting to see what John L. Smith will do. Maybe he’ll start a blog?


[1] Let me add my standard disclaimer: I don’t want to come off as priggish. I don’t have dependents, and so my choices are simpler. If I had to support a family, especially in today’s new normal, I might put my head down and save ethics for the home. “Person must not do what person cannot do.” — Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time.

[2] Sullivan actually reads the Comments, and sometimes integrated them into her column.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. John k

    Subscribed for years, then just on line, but becoming so slanted, cut the cord last year.
    Worth exploring the various links between times and Clintons…
    Probably web like Corp structure. Must be a new culture there, Think op K etc.
    Wonder why circulation in decline… Maybe they’ll turn into a blog… Or frog… Frogs are kind of slimy…

    1. Brooks

      Any US administration can have tendrils into the Grey Lady, regardless of party.
      After reading it religiously since high school 45 years ago, I dropped it like a hot potato on May 26, 2004 as soon Judith Miller’s affair with Chalabi and Cheney came out. Haven’t looked back since. And look at Iraq today…

    2. stephen rhodes

      Maybe the NYT’s greatest boon to its reputation is severely undercut with this:

      To the Editor [The New York Times]:

      As a postscript to A M Rosenthal’s celebration of The Times’s publication of the Pentagon Papers 20 years ago (column, June 11):

      A few months after the publication of the secret study of the Vietnam War ordered by Secretary of Defense Robert S McNamara, I talked to Neil Sheehan, the Times reporter in Washington who brought the papers to the paper. Wasn’t he disappointed? How did President Nixon have the nerve to go on talking about “Hanoi breaking the Geneva agreements,” since the true story was now on record?

      He answered (I took it down), “As far as I know, no one in this Administration read the P. Papers. A very high official told me that commissioning the study had been a sign of weakness in McNamara. One should simply execute policy, he said.” I asked, “Well, what then about The Times itself?” Sheehan: “What about it?

      I: “Times semantics still depict a war between one attacking country and one defending country.”

      He: “A news story is just a piece of a whole story . The strength and the weakness of daily journalism is its specificness. A journalist cannot turn himself into a propagandist.”

      I: “But he is one now, for a Government line that was exposed, as let us say, unreal.”

      He: “No doubt an American journalist like all other journalists uses terms that reflect his social background. To me the Pentagon Papers help us keep our freedom to publish.”

      I: “Meanwhile, back in Vietnam.”

      He: “The Vietnamese are warriors. They have to do it themselves and they will. They defeated the Mongols. The spirit of man is stronger than all machines.”

      (signed) Hans Koning New Haven, June 12, 1991
      The writer is author of “Nineteen Sixty-Eight” (New York, 1987).

      P. S. Transcribed from my (paper) clipping of the original newspaper–S. R.

  2. DJG

    One problem with reporters is that they aren’t a separate profession with a standard code of ethics or standard form of credentials. And journalists should not be like lawyers, organized before the bar into a self-perpetuating and self-serving organization. That written, Frank Bruni is the great mysterious counterexample (what credentials? what qualifications? why?).

    Yet the lack of an organization with “teeth” keeps reporters on the defensive against the accommodationist editors, the advertisers, and the board of directors larded with the usual knuckleheads. Would that the Newspaper Guild had more power.

    Further, the credentials in the U S of A are now distinctly murky. Your quote:
    If economists ask themselves “What good is a degree?” the answer is “to signal a requirement for a higher salary!”

    The development of the M.B.A. and M.F.A. in the last thirty or so years attests to a degree as time served to get a better job. So the M.B.A. has given us endless talent-free bean counters trained in bad business practices and shoddy economics. The M.F.A. gives us endless first novels of a uniform middling quality and careers in burgeoning writing programs producing more of such snooze-filled novels. Among journalists, the masters in journalism has not proved to be protection or a stamp of quality, either.

    1. jrs

      Yea lawyers so self-serving at protecting their own profession that the laws are deliberately undecipherable.

      I suppose what the journalists need is just what anyone who works for a living needs: a good union to protect them and fight for them. Every worker should have one.

      I have my doubts anyone gets an M.F.A. to signal a higher salary though. Are they like “I wanted a higher salary so I figured I’d get the most economically worthless degree conceivable …” (even a bachelors in liberal arts indicates you at least got a bachelors which is seen to one’s credit – but an M.F.A. – really does anyone care you have an advance degree in something with no economic value?). I think people do the M.F.A. for love (or else pretentiousness). But love may be no guarantee of talent.

    2. jgordon

      You said something really important there that I’d like to expand on a bit. The MFA and the MBA both serve the same function in turning out uninspired, mediocre pablum to lubricate the cogs of our overly regimented and overly organized society. I’m sure stifling analogs can be found in every field.

      All is carefully studied and micromanaged for best practices, for social good, for psychological health, for profit, or whatever. Everything that’s new, vital, dangerous and uncertain is carefully weeded out and crushed. We become doomed to a straitjacket monoculture of decrepitude and assured decay that masquerades as safety and predictability. We became the boy in the bubble, waiting to be killed by a head cold.

    3. keithmo

      I studied journalism decades ago and worked briefly in the field before changing careers. There is a Society of Professional Journalists and they have a code of ethics:

      SPJ Code of Ethics

      However, journalists are not required to be a member like a practicing lawyer has to be a member of the bar. I would say the highest commandment of journalism is “never plagiarize” otherwise I find other violations of the code in some of our most prestigious newspapers. I still think good professionals in any field should do their best to follow the ethical standards of their profession or create them should they not exist.

  3. DJG

    John L. Smith as a person who can live with himself.

    The resignation letter is imbued in bromides. Weight class? Punch down? That’s all a form of self-censorship. One must never criticize someone claiming to be oppressed!

    Sometimes, mirabile dictu, for instance, an XX-chromosome person turns out to be an oppressor. And regardless of XX-chromosome status, that person deserves to be lambasted.

    I understand that I may be quibbling here, yet Smith’s rationale is overwrought, even by the standards of this baroque era. All he had to say was:

    Afflict the comfortable. Comfort the afflicted.

    1. reslez

      Quibbling? You’re injecting identity politics into a straightforward abuse of power by billionaires. How else could the malefactors of great wealth remain in control of this country? You wish John L Smith would speak more gently about corrupt media tycoons? Adelson approves!

  4. diptherio

    Allow me to translate for the Times’ editors:

    The story, as originally written, was based exclusively on verifiable facts. This is a great weakness in a modern news story and so we decided to add in some speculation and thinly veiled insults in order to bring it into line with contemporary journalistic standards. The job of a modern journalist is not simply to report the facts, but also to help people decide what to think about those facts…also we predict the future. Our critics have an outdated view of what a responsible journalism looks like in today’s hyper-competitive media environment.

    1. GlobalMisanthrope


      Oh, and listened to your podcast. Great. Please keep ’em coming!

    2. DanB

      I’m finishing a book about the fortunes of the intellectuals of the GDR, East Germany, as Germany was “re-united” in 1990. I did several interviews with members of the East German media, and it is my view that the differences between GDR media and Western media are in degree, not in kind. However, Western media is moving -has rapidly moved?- towards the GDR model of “Socialist journalism.” GDR journalists told me that their audience was not the people, but the Party. If you did not please the Party, you did not have a job -if you did not please the people, so what? Also, most of them believed they were working for the greater good of a socialist world, and presenting untoward facts would hurt this greater cause.

  5. jrs

    How are the people without a family to support supposed to be courageous and do the right thing, if most of the people around them don’t because “they have a family to support”. Or are they not supposed to pick up anything at all from their social context? I don’t think it usually works this way. I’m all for heroes, I just don’t think expecting ethical heroes to be the norm, if most people are selling their souls to survive, and we even make excuses for them, is likely to produce all that many.

    And by the way from whom besides their coworkers etc., did they learn to compromise their principles even if they don’t have a family to support? Why maybe from their parents! Who afterall had to do it “because they had family to support”! And round and round it goes. Yes I do believe we need a social solution (ie don’t let people and their families fall into poverty and/or unemployment so easily and they won’t be so eager to do anything to keep a job. Although some people seem attached to their jobs for irrational reasons like prestige rather than just the nuts and bolts of needing a means to pay their bills).

    Guaranteed survival is a radical proposal though when the ENTIRE economic system is premised on relying on the threat of starvation and homelessness to get people to do what it wants (and that includes ethically indifferent as well as entirely unethical things). I just don’t think the “get out of ethics free” cards (because you have a family etc.) help anything though.

    What was added to the Sander’s story is mostly notable for it’s complete absence of ANY actual content. And that really makes one wonder why they added it. The added part is like: but but .. Sanders success doesn’t guarantee he will be good at achieving things as President. Yes and it doesn’t guarantee he won’t either! But either Hillary or Sanders will face congress and anyone who took high school civics knows that. That additions are like: NEWSFLASH: FUTURE IS UNPREDICTABLE!!! Uh that’s not adding any news to the world at all. Might as well just add a tiny disclaimer: past performance is no guarantee of future results like the investments have.

    1. Jim

      jrs raises an extremely important issue:

      “How are people without family to support supposed to be courageous and do the right thing if most of the people around them don’t because they have a family to support.”

      The commonality among the two groups appears to be that most of us, with or without family, are going to do what we believe is necessary in order to survive.

      Acknowledging that this is the reality for most of us may be the first step toward moving beyond it.

      What we have in common is our human susceptibilities and our human vulnerabilities–and these emotions are a powerful foundation for arguing in favor of genuine political equality.

      Our tendency to compromise ourselves(because of fear) may be one of the emotions which unites us and an honest acknowledgment of this fact may create a platform for self-transformation as well as political transformation.

    2. cyclist

      Reminds me of something Martin Sheen said today on Democracy Now!, reflecting on the life of Daniel Berrigan (RIP). People will ask those performing acts of civil disobedience, in this case, damaging nuclear warheads (I paraphrase): “How can I afford to do such a thing? What does the future hold for my children if I get locked up?” And Berrigan replied, “What does the future hold for them if you don’t.?” It really takes bravery that most of us don’t have.

  6. ke

    The “developed” world has subjected itself to demographic collapse, but you aren’t going to get that data for a very long time, because it is not consistent with the programming of the entitlement cohort. The central banks are reporting GDP but they are making decisions on GDP per capita, which is why they are following Japan into the hole.

    You can exploit artificial demographic variability, carry it on your back, or employ it as a counterweight, providing negative feedback. Injecting anything into that recursive RNA wheelhouse is going to have far more unintended than intended consequences. Good thing obamacare is programmed to profit on the positive feedback unleashing degenerative disease. Even a clone is not a true copy.

    1. ke

      You can only be replaced if you assume that the empire is something more than conditioned psychology, fulfilling a self fulfilling prophesy for the wizards of wall street.

  7. timotheus

    I couldn’t help thinking in the midst of this piece that the obvious slants of both the LVJR and the NYT would matter less if we had the kinds of clashing partisan newspapers of yore such that one could say, Hmm, Let’s see what Sheldon Adelson has to say about that [turns to LVJR] followed by, I’m interested in how the city’s unions see the matter [picks up the LV Tribune] and just for fun how the Democratic nomenklatura is spinning it [tracks down a copy of Neoliberalism Today]. It would never occur to me to dig into the NYT for a truly balanced piece on Sanders or HRC, and a media environment with plenty of openly biased sources is quite manageable for readers with working brains. Perhaps the demise of the traditional broadsheet is taking us to just that state of affairs, albeit an electronic one. And one could seek journalistic employment in the serene knowledge that no one expects you to be neutral, readers know exactly what they’re getting, and if you don’t agree, you either pretend you do, go elsewhere or become a CPA.

  8. EndOfTheWorld

    Newspapers are rapidly becoming obsolete, like tv news. The internet is where you have the modern-day “clashing partisan newspapers of yore.” (eg. Alex Jones vs. Thom Hartman or Naked Capitalism vs. Zero Hedge.)

  9. Felix_47

    And half of all surgeries done in the US are unnecessary……just as 90% of all litigation is. The degree holders have a lock on public funding. I suspect that if we took medical, legal and military and defense industry out of the economy there would not be much left. But to break free of the stranglehold people would have to be willing to give up patient satisfaction in medical care, disability claims based on “medical findings”, personal injury lawsuits based on “medical findings”, patent trolling and defense related or defense supplier related jobs. And without a huge chunk of lawsuits a lot of insurance people would be out of work…..Our whole economy is run on a corrupt foundation.

    1. Yves Smith

      I have to tell you, having had to threaten to litigate several times and having carried through a couple of times, I challenge you to provide a link re litigation Litigation is costly in financial and emotional terms. People do not enter into it casually and the overwhelming majority do it only when they have exhausted other means. Litigation is sadly often necessary to get people to live up to the terms of a written deal. If you want to talk about people with degrees doing damage, you have much better targets. Start with what MBAs have done to higher education and the medical industry.

      1. inode_buddha

        ” If you want to talk about people with degrees doing damage, you have much better targets. Start with what MBAs have done to higher education and the medical industry.”

        Actually how about what they have done to all industry, full stop. Seems to me the only thing they haven’t damaged is themselves. One could write a 30-volume encyclopedia about it and employ a room full of fact-checkers to counter the propaganda of the last 40 yrs. If I ever hit the Lotto I’m gonna do just that.

        Just IMHO.

        1. Yves Smith

          That is just as ill informed as saying everyone who works in a bank is evil. I can name plenty of MBAs who don’t fit your cartoon image. What is wrong is the prevailing ideology, which was borne out of the leveraged buyout industry of the 1980s and is now treated as orthodox, namely that companies should be run to maximize shareholder value. And that was not invented by MBAs but by Milton Friedman, in a 1971 New York Times op-ed. However, it was popularized by a Harvard B-School prof, Michael Jensen, who has since repudiated that view.

          1. inode_buddha

            Well then, I will stand corrected. Mr. Jensen and Friedman have their work cut out for them tho…

      2. TimmyB

        Most people don’t sue when they have a valid claim. It’s a pain in the ass, and no one is ever fully compensated. If you win 100% of what you deserve, you still have to pay your lawyer.

  10. Softie

    “The primary freedom of the press lies in not being a trade. The writer who degrades the press into being a material means deserves as punishment for this internal unfreedom the external unfreedom of censorship, or rather his very existence is his punishment. ”

    Karl Marx – On Freedom of the Press 1842

  11. ng

    the times has long been the same: do not afflict the powerful. the great sidney shanberg who wrote the killng fields about the horrors in cambodia, was given a column by the times. he resigned in 1985 when they cancelled his column after his incisive criticisms of the westway highway mess. i could see it coming. he had been criticizing the new york’s rulers, the real estate interests for weeks. now, except for maureen dowd, terrible to see their thorough ass kissing of hillary. if a nose gets long from lying, does it get brown from ass kissing?

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      This may be a dated truism, but when I was coming up many years ago as a Times reader, the line was that it was “liberal” on national and international matters, but an integral part of, and thus supporter of, local and regional Growth Coalition projects. Sidney Shanberg was, as said above, sacrificed on that altar, and the great Russell Baker was unceremoniously disappeared.

      Of course, now it maintains a seamless garment of neoliberal cant and premises, local, regional, national or international…

      The Grey Lady has a long history of dreadful columnists. Back in the day, C.L. Sulzberger (family connection, I assume) was a long term producer of verbal narcotics. A.M. Rosenthal was literally The Worst Writer In the World, and a nasty piece of work, but he at least had a previous career as an editor, and his column was understood to be in recognition of loyal service to the paper.

      And then, in our own benighted time, there’s the ultimate, talentless, shit heel stenographer of received thinking, Frank Bruni… proving that mysteries still exist.

      1. Ulysses

        Frank Bruni’s neoliberal paradigm wasn’t so problematic when he was a food critic– helping rich people decide where to spend 2 month’s worth of a working person’s wages for lunch. The fact that he’s taken seriously on anything, other than fancy food, is a very sad commentary on our corrupt times.

  12. ekstase

    How to edit stuff:

    “the changes were routine efforts to add context to an evolving story.”

    “The Three Little Pigs”:
    “But the pig who built the sturdy house of bricks is trying to scale up, and there is little to draw from his small-ball approach to suggest that he could succeed.”

    “The Tortoise and the Hare”:
    “The tortoise is suddenly asking for not just a few stars here and there, but the moon and a good part of the sun, which has made even the hare skeptical.”

    “Hansel and Gretel Escape From the Witch”:
    “Via Side Doors, Two Children Won Modest Victories.”

  13. Cry Shop

    It’s good to be reminding of the rot in media, but we should not be surprised.

    “I come back to the United States and I apply for jobs at the Whitehouse, the CIA, and the Washington Posts, which in those days were essentially the same thing.”

    Lapham is pointing out that all three work for yet a greater power which isn’t the American people.

    All that’s happened in the scope of the corruption is that the barons of industry have re-established an environment where they don’t have to be so polite/politic about their hegemony. Anyone remember reading about the Yellow Press and our adventures in Cuba, Central and South America, the Philippines. Most people understood even then that the press was representing the Rockefellers, Morgan, (the non-media interest of) Hearst, Ochses and the Sulzbergers, etc. Yet the pandering worked.

    Anyone reading today who is also watching the South China Seas remembering that we did take part in invading China, extracted a considerable blackmail in silver and land (in Shanghai, and Weihai — which was turned over to the British for management in our interest when a few in Congress balked), all of this fully endorsed and encouraged by press interest owned by large corporate combines). Eventually the land and silver were returned to China, in particular the larger sums, when we found a need for an ally against a creature greatly of our own making, Imperial Japan (Teddy R. gave the Japanese empire a huge boost by handing them Korea). We’ve probably all heard it, but it slips the mind so easily.

    How many people remember our joining the UK, France, Japan to invade Russia Post WWI, until we shook out guarantees that Imperial Russian debts would be honored by the new revolutionary government when they assess how our sending Aegis cruisers to conduct war exercises right off Kaliningrad, the same port from which the illegal occupiers entered and with drew from West Russia? (and similarly Vladivostok in East Russia).

    At every step the press, for or against each action, was primarily driven by the corporate interest they represented. Whether domestic or international, “Follow the money”. It’s my first rule in filtering any information, even when it’s science news, how much more so fo financial.

  14. Lexington

    I admit to being somewhat mystified by these kind of posts. Is it really news that most people, when push comes to shove, aren’t actually going to sacrifice their economic and social standing out of some abstract commitment to “principle”? When you were in elementary school, and the popular kids were bullying the unpopular one, how many of your classmates did the right thing? Did you? When you fail the really small ethical tests in life what right do you have to believe when it really matters you will rise to the great ones? Here’s the unvarnished truth: most of us are cowards. What makes heroes heroic is exactly that they are not most of us (many of the legitimate ones – and the term “hero” has been subject to the most infamous abuse- when you come right down to it, were also pretty hard to live with).

    If anything things are in some ways worse now than ever before. Religion, at its best, once taught right from wrong and cultivated the discipline needed to choose the path of virtue (as Gandhi once remarked, one of the seven deadly sins was “religion without sacrifice”). Education once took the idea of ethics seriously and took it for granted that people who had never been challenged to examine their own beliefs or confront moral ambiguity could not be expected to make ethically informed decisions (granted, that was before our society counted people like accountants and computer programmers as “educated” in any meaningful sense of the world. Apologies to both). But we live in quite a different age now, in which each of us has a sovereign right to judged by our own standards, not by those of some mythical deity, or of a fascist community attempting to suppress sacrosanct individuality in the name of conformity, or those of long dead and vastly overrated white and (presumably) heterosexual men who authored most of the works in the Western Canon. Each of us chooses our own standard of integrity, and therefore by definition cannot fall short of it.

    It’s called progress.

    So why the hypocrisy of pretending that the actions of some can be judged ethically inferior to others? In this day and age what gives you the right to such presumptuousness?

    1. Yves Smith

      Speak for yourself. I intervened in a domestic violence situation at physical risk to myself, basically told a partner at McKinsey in the nicest way I could that what he wanted to do (figure out how to beat the foreign exchange market on four months of end of day trading data in four currencies) was a non starter (I regarded even attempting as ripping off the client), got McKinsey fired from another study because what the client wanted done was not achievable (in that case, to the amusement of the partner, since unbeknown to me he was doing the study as a favor) and also call out bad conduct in public even when it pissed people off and they start arguing with me. If you are a coward, fine, but don’t project your low standards on the rest of us.

      In fact, yu admit you enable bad conduct by others.

      And don’t give me this BS it was always this way. There is always some corruption is society because the cost of policing everything is too high, but many things considered routine, like the revolving door and Clinton accepting payments from foreign officials via the Clinton Foundation, while Secretary of State, would have been unacceptable 30-40 years ago. Social values are malleable and can change with surprising speed. The 1950s were followed by the 1960s. But cynics like you prefer to sit on your hand, snipe at people who demand better, and are therefore an active part of the problem.

      1. Lexington


        My comments were not directed at you personally, and I don’t think you’re in any way justified in assuming otherwise. Even at that would you say your conduct at McKinsey was typical of your colleagues or the financial services industry in general? The general tenor of NC’s editorial position leads me to strongly suspect it was not.

        In any case I see no point in debating specific instances. Exceptions can be found to every rule. My argument is based on my reading -which I assure is by no standard insubstantial- of 4000 years of recorded history. If we’re going to debate the inherent goodness of humanity let’s start there. There’s more than enough material to keep the discussion going beyond the endurance of any mortal.

        Also, I take exception to you making assumptions about my character based on my willingness to recognize human imperfectability. The choices I have made are between me, my conscience, and whatever greater powers may or may not govern the cosmos, but I make no apologies for acknowledging that I might not always have done justice to my best self. In this I don’t think I’m better or worse than the vast majority humanity.

        Present company excepted, of course.

        1. Yves Smith

          In fact in the old McKinsey, most of the people behaved in an upright manner. An entire team left a study in Tanzania in protest. I know a woman who went to the of the firm to call out the bad conduct of a partner on her study. He backed her over him. I worked on yet another study where we flat out told the client it should abandon an important strategic objective, something it did not want to hear. There were some scummy principals (non tenured partners) and their foibles were known and pretty much none of them made director (the tenured class) so the checks and balances on the whole seemed to work. But when I was there, the old McKinsey was already being displaced by the later McKinsey, which was more focused on competing with Wall Street for “talent” and therefore increasingly fixated on revenue generation, and then in the 1990s under Rajat Gupta, on director (top partner) pay. So McKinsey changes with the wider societal decline in values.

          Even Goldman was a paragon compared to now. That was partly because investment banking was more powerful then than the trading side, and investment banking then was all about reputation, relationships, and client service. I worked on for one account where the entire team was desperately trying to talk a house client out of an M&A deal it was salivating to do. We thought it was a terrible transaction, not a great fit and really overpriced. Now you could argue that concern was sort of mercenary, in that the Goldmanites were concerned that the client might wake up years later and realize what a turkey deal it was and blame Goldman for not stopping them. But Goldman hadn’t proposed the deal and clearly had not pushed it. It was just going to get an execution fee for being asked to help. But the M&A bankers succeeded in talking the client out of it without offending anyone.

          f you know history as well as you claim to, prevailing standards are not all of a muchness over time. There are periods of probity and moral rectitude and periods of corruption and even chaos. And if you look at social animals, they all exhibit both cheating and altruistic punishment, as in punishing cheaters for no gain and at personal cost. You eschew the important, indeed, essential role of altruistic punishment by shrugging your shoulders.

          And I do take offense because you are actively undermining what we are trying to do here. We are the ones who have to take our society back. Resignation assures nothing will change. Read another site more to your liking rather than sabotaging what we are about here. The web is a big place and I am sure you won’t have trouble finding material that is more in synch with your views.

          1. Lexington

            I have no trouble believing that what you say is true for the old McKinsey. Just as I have no trouble believing that there was a time -say, the 1940s- where the sons of wealth and privilege, people like JFK and George H. W. Bush, actually VOLUNTEERED for military service when they could have avoided it, and not only that, but specifically volunteered for combat duty. Even in the 1960s, in a conflict in which the line between right and wrong appeared much more ambiguous, people like John Kerry and Al Gore still clung to antiquated notions of noblesse oblige. Where did that get them? Their reputations were dragged through the mud while the draft dodger George W. Bush was elected president – twice. Yes, there are periods in history when virtue receives more recognition, but we are clearly not living in one of those periods. I think it’s important to ask why.

            As to your point about moral standards fluctuating over time, I think it would be more accurate to say there are always people with higher and lower standards – but the lower standards are normative. I don’t think this is controversial – doing the right thing is hard, and people are lazy. It’s just easier to take the path of least resistance. To me acknowledging this isn’t surrendering to despair, it’s just a realistic appraisal of the difficulties that need to be surmounted. As a firm adherent to the sublime tradition of Western humanism I have great faith in the potential for human improvement, but in order to realize that potential we first need to recognize where we are as opposed to where we want to be.

            Your final paragraph initially left me baffled. Why would I continue to post here on a fairly regular basis if I wasn’t broadly in sympathy (some specific qualms, especially in regard to foreign policy, notwithstanding) with NC’s objectives? Indeed have my posts, considered in aggregate, been generally hostile to the positions you have taken? I feel quite confident in saying they have been the opposite (again, with certain specific exceptions). I finally decided that the crux of the issue might be that my original post could be interpreted as an attempt to tear down Lambert’s contrast between John Smith’s actions at the Las Vegas Review-Journal with the NYT’s editing of Jennifer Steinhauer’s article on Bernie Sanders. For the record I acknowledge the validity of Lambert’s point, as far as it goes. My issue is that I don’t think it goes far enough. The moral compromises the NYT made in butchering Steinhauer’s story to appease the Clintonistas are all around us. Anyone who has spent any time in the corporate world has seen these compromises occur in both small and large ways almost every day. To a greater or lesser extent -some far greater than others- we are all compromised by them. So my question is this: why are we complicit in these compromises? My original post was an attempt, however poorly executed, to inspire discussion on this point. It was admittedly polemical in tone because it sought to rouse people from their dogmatic slumber, so to speak. It was certainly not intended to be anti Lambert or anti NC however – I am fully in sympathy with the point Lambert is making, but I think in order to progress we need to take the analysis to another level.

                1. Norb

                  We need less analysis and more action. Action becomes possible when it is based on principle. This whole notion that the human spirit is based solely on self-interest is the false foundation neoliberalism relies upon to remain standing. It is always the go to argument to end discussion. The notion that we are all selfish at our core is a repulsive idea that doesn’t stand up to reality or most everyday experience.

                  Standing up and demanding that we are responsible for one another is the great change that is coming. You are either on board for that transformation or not. Either way, it seems inevitable- the contradictions of the current system are just too great.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      “So why the hypocrisy of pretending that the actions of some can be judged ethically inferior to others? In this day and age what gives you the right to such presumptuousness?”

      Do you feel that passive-aggressive rhetorical questions are an effective rhetorical stance? Or is it your view that they reflect deeper ethical or moral failings?

      1. Lexington

        The question was neither passive nor rhetorical. I’m asking a serious question about the basis for evaluating ethical behaviour. As Pascal said, “If there is no God then all is permitted”.

        The question wasn’t specifically directed at you however, I’m throwing it out there for general consideration.

        1. Jim

          My operating assumption when it comes to the issue of cultural revolution is that it begins with the collapse of authority and is often followed by the emergence of impulse as the guiding norm.

          I believe it was John Dewey who argued that impulse follows habit. Most cultures articulate a series of thou shalt nots or moral demands which function as a type of discipline.

          But if impulse becomes predominant in a culture then we are in a historical situation of the failure of such habit or discipline. I would argue that this is our present cultural situation in spades.

          Our contemporary cultural norms tend to associate the good with a type of incitement to desire when in fact a genuine good is about discovering the limits of desire.

          The issue of–if there is no God then all is permitted–is extremely important. I would argue that a new authority emerges out of a situation where desires are tempered and that finally no good can be achieved without the suppression of desire and the limit of power.

          Does the moral life begin with renunciation?

        2. Patricia

          Pascal was at the beginning of a fading cultural religion and could not see beyond it. Many Christians believe he was correct but that is because they, too, cannot see a way to appeal to goodness except through an outside Being. But unlike Pascal, these religious people cannot see because they have not given open-hearted/minded observation to those outside their current circles. They suffer a bubble-mentality, the same sort but different ilk, as that of the NYT.

          Some humans are plain awful, some are astonishingly wonderful, but the bulk fall in between. A bunch in the middle go either way, depending on the values/powers in a given society.

          We all agree that there is great need for more instruction of and commitment to ethics, especially because religious instruction has left our society. But even worse, IMO, is that the religions that remain are at least as corrupt (oftentimes worse) as the society in which we live. There can be no appeal to religion when that is the case. You will have to appeal differently.

          1. Jim

            “You will have to appeal differently.”

            I bring up the issue of cultural revolution because I believe our present historical situation demands not only dramatic financial/economic and political transformation but cultural transformation as well.

            I fear that most calls for shifts in political authority do not often touch our current cultural situation and, in fact such shifts may only reinforce our present cultural drift towards the belief that everything is possible.

            The political left often seems to embrace a culture of infinite possibility and individual impulse release ( the need for more of everything).

            Today, serious thought must now be given not only to social privilege and deprivation but also the interplay of impulse and inhibition in our respective characters.

            How would a different set of moral demands penetrate our character structure?

            Where would such moral demands originate?

        3. juliania

          I don’t think Pascal did say the above. Dostoievski did. Pascal’s contribution is his (somewhat tongue in cheek I think) Wager:

          “The Wager uses the following logic (excerpts from Pensées, part III, §233):

          God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives.
          A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up.
          You must wager (it is not optional).
          Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
          Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
          But some cannot believe. They should then ‘at least learn your inability to believe…’ and ‘Endeavour then to convince’ themselves.” [Wikipedia]

          Happy Russian Easter. (Lasts 50 days)

  15. C

    This is why I no longer read the NY Times. Not because I disagree with them or because they are “liberal media” but because they do not hold themselves to any basic standards. If you are in the business of sharing news and factual information you cannot be changing things by stealth.

    Whether or not those changes made the story “deeper” they clearly made it different, different in a way that a self-respecting organization would acknowledge rather than hide. That the editors either do not see this as a problem or do not care, shows that they have lost their way and it calls into question all of their reporting.

    What other stories are changed as an “editorial decision?” What other “deepening” and “context” is added to what reporters actually see?

    Since we cannot trust them to own up to their own changes except when they are caught, and then to offer passive voice excuses, what faith can we have in any of their work?

  16. MsExPat

    As a recent refugee from the world of journalism (30+ years), let me translate the following:

    [The reporter, Jennifer] Steinhauer, in a response to my email, suggested that I speak to editors because “it was an editing decision.”

    “Of course I’m pissed off they messed with my story and put words in my mouth and a completely different spin. But I’ve got a great NYT beat covering Congress and there’s no way I am going to the mat in public on this one. If you want a quote get it from my boss who wrote those lines.”

    I’ve had “after the fact” spinning done to me a couple of times by editors at different publications (including that one). When it is done in a righteous way, and REALLY meant to “deepen the story”, the editor will hand the piece back to you, and ask you the writer to flesh it out, answer their questions, etc. In a reported piece, it is expected that you will not only write a few lines but that you’ll also put some “meat on the bones” in the form of a quoted source or two.

    The big tells on this Bernie hack are: 1) No supporting quotes were added after the original publication 2) it obviously happened really fast, so fast that whoever wanted the hack did not give it back to the original author to “fix” but did it ham-handedly (him or her) self and 3) If “deepening the story” was so vital, why did none of the previous editors find anything wrong with it? (a longer reported piece like this will have at least two editors, and since this article wasn’t breaking news, these editors and the reporter had LOTS of time to go over it before signing off and publishing on the site.

    Anyway that’s how I became absolutely sure that someone from upstairs at the NYT laid a heavy hand on this article.

    So then the question becomes: why? Sure, it might have been the Clinton campaign making a phone call, but these things are rarely so quid pro quo. Having endorsed Clinton already, the NYT has an institutional imperative to promote her, as we’ve seen, and also to keeping the memes going (Bernie is ineffective, Bernie’s a hippie dreamer, Bernie’s done nothing in 25 years of Congress).

    The Steinhauer piece–written by the paper’s seasoned Congressional correspondent no less!–dared to challenge that meme. So it had to be tinkered with, not so much as to diss Sanders, but to save the face of the NYT.

    Scuttlebutt: I heard that one reason the NYT editors didn’t like Bernie when he came in for his editorial interview is that Jane Sanders came along too and did a lot of the talking….well, imagine that!

    1. Mark P.

      I’ve done time as a journalist also and that’s exactly how it would have gone down.

    2. Gina de Miranda

      Ms ExPat,

      Thanks for the incisive post-mortem. If the Times cannot deal with the idea that Bernie’s wife has a brain, then they are more intellectually impoverished than I realized.

  17. Anon

    As for the future of newsrooms, one of two things will happen:

    1. Every major outlet ends up being owned or compromised in some way (for a very recent example of this, see Arianna Huffington joining the board of Uber and running pro-Uber articles without disclosure. Or, prior to Jeff Bezos buying WaPo, how any article that was critical of Kaplan didn’t get posted there.This of course, is the cynical view.

    2. Even with the toll of mass surveillance, what’s to stop any of us from becoming our own newspersons or becoming contributors to esteemed sites like this one or any others? Obviously, this is the optimistic path.

    Alternatively, some future president brings back the Fairness Doctrine, but if I held my breath for that one, I’d never experience oxygen again.

    1. Gina de Miranda

      We need to demand some change. I am disgusted with Arianna H for more than this pecadillo. The woman appears to have absolutely no scruples as evidenced by her consistent unethical behavior.

  18. Ulysses

    “What’s to stop any of us from becoming our own newspersons or becoming contributors to esteemed sites like this one or any others?”

    Excellent question! Despite massive propagandizing and suppression of the truth, word does leak out. For that very reason, the alphabet agencies even now are attempting to form a thought police in the guise of “anti-radicalization” committees:

    The plan is to enlist teachers, clergy, social workers, nurses, etc. to inform and spy on their fellow citizens who might be in any way malcontents. Such a plan is doomed to fail.

    Why do I know this? The Stasi in East Germany literally had everyone informing on everyone else, but, as soon as it became clear the East German police and military would not gun down civilians in the streets, Honecker’s regime collapsed.

    1. reslez

      Our police already gun down people in the streets. People who object to it are accused of “shouting”. Maybe that gives our elites a leg up on the East Germans.

  19. casino implosion

    “(Again, I should caveat that these are my people; I was raised the child of professors in America’s Golden Age of higher education and shaped for that sort of career myself; ”

    Of course they’re your people. If they weren’t you wouldn’t be blogging about them at Naked Capitalism. That’s who criticizes elites—disgruntled members of the same class.

  20. ElViejito

    I’ve always liked the formulation put forth by Barbara and John Ehrenreich: The Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) . They were the first to use this term although the concept preceded them by authors as varied as Trotsky and Milovan Djilas. The best analysis of the Professional-Managerial Class I have seen was done by George Konrad and Ivan Szelenyi: Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power, written in Poland and published shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    The Ehrenreichs updated their analysis (PDF) to reflect the current ravaging of the PMC by privatization, outsourcing and technology. Their recommendation is that the highly educated support the rest of the 99% in our mutual quest for a decent life – over the strident opposition of (most of) the 1%. Hopefully as the PMC dwindles and continues its descent into the lower classes more and more of us will reclaim our integrity and use our skills to help bring about a better world.

    Or not. Just wish I had 50 more years to find out how all this turns out.

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