Siren Songs and the New York Times

By Stephen Steinlight on July 1, 2009
"It is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts."
From Patrick Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech, March 23, 1775

Though “indulging in the illusions of hope…against a painful truth” is “natural to man,” in one of the greatest speeches in our history Patrick Henry warns us that its consequence can be to degrade our reason so profoundly we become indistinguishable from animals. How much more dangerous is this predilection when practiced by what many still regard as the nation’s newspaper of record?

Additional proof, were any required, that the New York Times is the truest of true believers in the absolute rightness of “comprehensive immigration reform” as well as in the inevitability of its passage within the near future – most ready to “indulge in the illusions of hope” – is nowhere more apparent than in its recent far-fetched editorial “A Way Forward on Immigration”.

The piece is so ideologically driven it simply takes leave of reality – something discernible to any reader, though not, apparently, to the editors of the Times. With its idée fixe on immigration and its authentic or theatrical certitude about the legislative process reminiscent of obsessional neurosis, the Times isn’t afraid – or, worse, it’s too politically committed to be ashamed – to editorialize about what events portend even if that necessitates reconstructing those events to endow them with a significance they otherwise wouldn’t possess. Its wildly optimistic assessment of what transpired at the June 25 White House meeting called by the President to begin the discussion of “comprehensive immigration reform,” attended by a bi-partisan group of mostly pro-amnesty congresspersons, is not so much contrarian as it is weirdly unique.

With the exception of the Times editorial, accounts of the meeting by participants reflected in interviews in news stories in such papers as the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, The Hill, the hometown newspapers of several key attendees – The Dallas Morning News and The San Francisco Chronicle – emphasize differing perspectives about the president’s level of commitment to “comprehensive immigration reform” in light of the other legislative priorities on the overflowing plate of his policy agenda (health care, the stimulus package, etc.) – not to mention the political feasibility of any immigration bill’s passage given current economic conditions. Though the separate narratives don’t amount to a display of radical subjectivity on the level of Kurosawa’s "Rashomon," what’s clear is that no unitary theme – and certainly no clear time frame – emerged from the White House meeting, and the messages were decidedly mixed. Before the meeting and after, both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate immigration subcommittee chairman Sen. Charles Schumer spoke optimistically of the chances of moving a bill. Schumer is the only attendee – other than the president – cited in the Times’ editorial, and its praise for him is unstinting. The Times also tries heroically to put a brave face on the president’s reticent, euphemized, highly qualified pronouncements about when a bill can be brought forward and reduces them to a more hopeful-sounding “It now seems more likely than before that Mr. Obama is ready to lead the way.” This surely doesn’t merit three cheers from amnesty supporters, and reading the comments of some of those who were, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Lamar Smith among them, giving the President even two would be a stretch. It would appear the photo op Sen. Cornyn feared the meeting would be was precisely what he got.

What the Times omits is as important as what it includes, and so single-minded is the paper, lulled as it is by the siren that’s led it to indulge in so much self-delusion when reporting on or editorializing about its current fetish, open-borders immigration, it uses a Procrustean bed to sort the facts in covering the White House meeting. It lops off those pieces of the story that don’t fit its political agenda. Thus, it doesn’t mention the presence of or quote the most important political player in attendance after the president – no, not Chuck Schumer – but Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff. Almost every other news source gives Emanuel the “final word” in the story. What is it? A coldly realistic assessment that there’s little likelihood any immigration bill will be moved this year. The Times has little love for Emanuel, but it could have included the identical assessment and attributed it to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs or one of the bill’s strongest boosters – Rep. Luis Gutierrez – who told the Wall Street Journal what Rahm Emanuel told everyone else: the votes are not there at this point to move the bill.

Only the Times believes – or wants us to believe – otherwise. Its editorial reassures us that while many feared the attendees might employ the meeting “to dampen expectations for a bill this year…The meeting was more encouraging than that.” However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, those who advocate “comprehensive immigration reform” have more than a little way to go to reach the end of the beginning. In the same vein, while the Dallas Morning News quotes Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Lamar Smith questioning the president’s commitment to getting the job done, criticizing the president for exhibiting insufficient concern for the national security part of the package, and for “stacking the meeting” with members of Congress that support amnesty, none of this is reported by the Times. The Times, instead, tells us about a “persuasive show of unity among Republicans and Democrats.”

There’s plenty more that’s downright dishonest in the Times editorial, but we’ve read it all before in other editorials or stealth editorial news stories on the subject of which it never tires. We’re informed that survey research (read push polls) tells us a majority of Americans want “comprehensive immigration reform;” Schumer’s phony genuflections towards “toughness” on illegal immigration are to be taken at face value; and that we’re in a new, creative, problem-solving discourse on immigration that has risen above the old, discreditable, and supposedly “phony argument” over “amnesty” or the “delusional belief that the mass deportation of 12 million people are realistic or desirable.” Not so fast. To most ordinary Americans, “amnesty” by any other name is still amnesty, as the Times will discover to its dismay when the real debate heats up and, as they surely know, no one advocates “mass deportation,” an ugly chimera that insults the decency not only of opponents of illegal immigration but also the American people as a whole.

Arguably the only interesting question about such odd and mendacious editorials is whether their analysis is best left to a psychiatrist or an ethicist: that is to say, are we dealing with a delusional mentality or a Machiavellian one? Past behavior – such as when the Times scored an all-time journalistic low by treating the findings of its own push poll as the lead news story on page one, column one, to influence the outcome of the Senate vote on S.1639 in June 2007 – had me firmly convinced we’re dealing with a consummate Machiavellian prepared to do whatever is necessary to advance its cause. Lately, however, I’m less certain. Writing that editorial about the White House meeting on “comprehensive immigration reform” is Machiavellian because it consciously seeks to mislead, but publishing something so palpably self-deluding simultaneously suggests the sirens’ transformational work is well-advanced.