Rights of Censorship

Charles Pinwill

The debate about censorship in the past centred upon the right of Government to censor and was mostly focused on the right to limit offensive language and pornography.

On the other hand, the right of those who own media to practice censorship has been sacrosanct. They can ignore whatever news they choose, and apart from libel laws, print what they like. As there is no law against lying (except a moral law of course), they can say almost anything and suffer neither censor nor censure.

The right to censor the news that Americans hear has largely been in the hands of the Ochs-Sulzberger family since they acquired the New York Times around 1900. A book published last year (2021) The Grey Lady Winked, by Ashley Rindsberg, walks us through how their right to censor American news has been used in the last 100 years.

In each of the “lines” that the paper chose to take, a particular reporter, or sometimes more, was chosen and promoted to contribute the stories and take the responsibility for them too, if the management sought to dodge it. What the New York Times told Americans has, on occasion, been most extraordinary.

That about ten million people were deliberately starved to death by Stalin’s agricultural policies was never part of the NYT’s news. Many other newspapers reported it, but not the NYT whose key Russian correspondent, Walter Duranty, denied it.

This newspaper was extremely soft on Hitler from about 1922 when he got out of jail, right up to the time when the “Polish attack” upon Germany started World War II. The NYT’s correspondents Otto Tolischus and Guido Enderis were most prominent in Nazi apologetics.

A NYT’s reporter, Herbert Matthews, discovered Fidel Castro while he was an unknown jungle-dwelling revolutionary without support, and publicised him until he won popularity and his Cuban takeover was accomplished. After he took over Cuba he came to America in 1959 and in 1995 attending a UN anniversary in New York, and both times attended the NYT and greeted and thanked the head of the Sulzberger family. 

After President Kennedy negotiated a deal with the Diem government in Vietnam to remove 1,000 US military advisers in 1963 (which was done) and pull out all military advisers by 1965, it looked as though the coming war was not to happen. Then two NYT reporters stationed in Vietnam and with a near monopoly of reporting there, David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan, ran a protracted campaign imputing corruption on President Diem and several US Army personnel. This culminated in the assassination of Diem, and killed Kennedy’s withdrawal deal.

NYT’s science reporter William L. Lawrence, who in retrospect, was kept in the loop during the development of the nuclear bomb by the military, played the role of disinformation agent when the time came. The dropping of the atom bomb was reported in the NYT on 7th August, 1945. On the 10th of September he was reassuring readers under the headline “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin” and by the 12th September the NYT’s headline read “U.S. Bomb Site Belies Tokyo Tales” and said the stories of radiation sickness amounted to nothing more than “Japanese propaganda”.

With US soldiers returning from the Middle Eastern wars from 2002 onwards, the NYT’s reporter Jayson Blair wrote a whole series of articles on the psychological and emotional damage done to returned soldiers. The NYT’s editorial staff lapped all these up, even seemingly well-researched articles appearing with a rapidity of one a day. Alas, these reports were almost wholly fraudulent. Warnings from 12 months earlier were ignored and, in the end, it was a reporter from another newspaper who blew the whistle.

Perhaps the New York Times overreached itself completely with “The 1619 Project”. Named “1619” after the year when the first slavery ship came to North America, it was begun by NYT reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones. Her opening statement in the essay which launched it was “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written.” And also “Black Americans fought to make [these ideals] true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all.”

Rindsberg reports a whole series of bizarre NYT essays and persistent themes. One asserts that American capitalism was formed by slavery, another traced the failings of the present-day healthcare system to post-Civil War policies. Others connected today’s traffic jams to slavery in the South, and sugar-laden junk food (yes even that) to slavery. In them even Abraham Lincoln was an unrepentant racist, and as Hannah-Jones says, “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”

In trying to explain what allowed the wrongheadedness of the NYT to “blossom” through the decades, Rindsberg suggests misreporting, distortions, fabrication and “critical theory” type thinking. All these no doubt played a part, but responsibility falls squarely upon the ownership.

From the beginning the Ochs-Sulzbergers have offered the public Class A shares in their company. There is however a Class B of shares, and only these have voting power, so the family, which has never sold any of these to outsiders, has full control of the appointment of personnel and policy. While the complexity of cause might be admitted, America’s most influential news media which plays something of a “policeman’s role” over American expressed opinion, is the preserve of the family which paid good money to acquire the direction in which opinion in that country is guided.

The Grey Lady’s author finds it incomprehensively damning that a Jewish family would repeatedly run material apologetic about the Nazi regime, which he thoroughly documents, from 1922 to 1939. The NYT correspondent in Nazi Germany was Guido Enderis, defended and excused by the Sulzerberger management through into 1941.

From one geopolitical perspective it is more understandable. By 1917 the Zionist movement had large support, and in the Balfour Declaration of that year, Britain had promised to give them Palestine, although at that time it had yet to be taken from the Turks. Establishing a national home for the Jews in Palestine was not going to be an easy matter. Zionism may have had much by way of media companies and supporting banking families, but an absolutely key ingredient to nation building had to be inserted into Palestine. People had to be persuaded to abandon a then-civilised Europe and take up residence in an Arab infested semi-desert or the Jewish State could never happen.

Before the protest at this becomes too shrill, another Jewish author, Edwin Black, and his book “The Transfer Agreement” published by Macmillan in 1984 might be heard. It reveals the agreement made by Zionism with the Nazis as soon as they came to power in Germany in 1933, to transfer Jews to Palestine. Under this arrangement 60,000 were induced to escape the antisemitism by emigrating to Palestine before the War interrupted the programme.

Could it be that European antisemitism was the indispensable harbinger of the future State of Israel? Of course, those Zionists who saw the value of Nazism in building Israel and gently abetted it, wanted it to threaten, but not more than that. The thing got out of hand, but few are critical of Jewish figures who wanted a little bit of Nazism, because they are barely acknowledged as existing.

It is easy to suspect that the strong anti-czarist sentiment in pre-revolutionary Russia was carried forward into supporting Walter Duranty’s lying denial of Stalin’s genocide in the NYT. Rindsberg evidences Duranty’s private admission that the mass starvations did happen, and his dismissal with the words “They were only Russians”.

Although it is difficult to discern, evidence and advocate some logical motive to other documented “strange” activities - such as encouraging Castro in a continuing relationship, undermining a South Vietnam Government, inventing false and contrived tales of disturbed US soldiers returning home, the United States Constitution being written and invented to defend slavery, alleging weapons of mass destruction, and denying that the atomic bombs dropped upon Japan had radioactive danger - there is a pattern here. It is more than incompetence and misreporting; the mystery lies with the family ownership which “uncomprehendingly” allowed such to happen a little too often.

Rindsberg reports an incident where Arthur Sulzberger Jr was asked who, in a single combat between an American and North Vietnamese soldier, he would prefer to see killed. He answered “I would want to see the American get shot. It’s the other guy’s country”

Still, the Sulzbergers paid good money to enjoy the right to largely determine what America thinks. So, who can deny them this? It’s a free country, isn’t it?

Perhaps the real problem is that, with enough prestige behind it, Americans will tend to believe anything, and telling them “anything” is just a family joke after all, rather than ideologically conducted warfare in the arena of public misinformation.

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