The publication of Russ Braley’s Bad News represents a landmark moment in the history of current affairs. No longer will it be possible for some enthusiastic and devoted reader of the New York Times to argue his position without recognizing the extent to which this newspaper has systematically colored the major events of this century. Bad News, a fine book, is a counterweight to a narrowly parochial perception of modern history. This is by no means a polemical work. Mr. Braley provides a selective history of major American news stories from the Hungarian uprising and Suez crisis in 1956 to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 in a factual and dispassionate manner. Occasionally the reportage is almost dry, as if the author believes that the facts speak for themselves and require no interpretation. But the cumulative effect is staggering.

What this history conclusively demonstrates is that the New York Times has routinely encouraged reporting of the news that supports its political orthodoxy. This orthodoxy includes: an accommodationist spirit with the Soviet Union, a resistance to the deployment of American troops abroad for any reason, an unreasoning hatred of Nixon Republicanism, a desire for retribution against any anticommunist hardliners, and an insouciant belief that any self-proclaimed revolutionary represents the indigenous “will of the people.” Braley doesn’t say this; he doesn’t have to. The evidence speaks compellingly and the conclusion is unavoidable. The New York Times does not report “all the news that’s fit to print”; it reports all the news that’s print to fit.

When Hungary was besieged by Soviet tanks sent to crush the modest opposition to the Kremlin’s puppet government, James Reston called for “restraint” on the part of the American government and for the spontaneous “development of Titoism.” When Fidel Castro represented a small contingent of doctrinaire communist rebels against the Batista regime, Herbert Matthews wrote, “There is one fight the Cuban people will not and cannot lose, and that is the fight for freedom.” So intransigent was Mr. Matthews’s position that even when Castro made his formal treaty with the Soviet Union, he still proclaimed Castro’s independence.  There appears to be little doubt that the American government’s position on Cuba was influenced as much by Matthews’s editorials as by Batista’s tactical errors and Castro’s grandstanding for the consumption of American sympathizers.

When the communists were ensconced in power, eviscerating the last semblance of democratic institutions, Matthews wrote; “[Most Cubans] today do not want elections. The reason is that elections in the past merely meant to them the coming of corrupt politicians seeking the spoils of power.” Abandoning democratic elections in Cuba was justified for Matthews, but any modification in electoral practices conducted by Diem in South Vietnam five years later was considered a tragic consequence of dictatorial rule. Here is the graphic truth about New York Times editorials: A left­wing government can be excused any violation of human decency and political freedom; a right-wing government must be like Caesar’s wife. For the Times there is a dialectic at work in the world in which the competition of political ideas inevitably results in the establishment of left-leaning governments. Should those governments end up as proxies for the Soviet Union, so be it. It is little wonder that some detractors believe the ghost of Lenin lives at the New York Times editorial office.

The Kennedy campaign gave the newspaper its opportunity to create a knight in shining armor. So one-sided was its presentation of the Kennedy­Nixon debates that Reston wrote: ”Nixon is aiming lower and concentrating on stopping bad things while Kennedy is concentrating on starting new things.” Reston neglected to say that Kennedy’s ” new things” were the Bay of Pigs preparations and his acquiescence to the construction of the Berlin Wall. It is instructive to compare the Times response to Kennedy’s “new things” with its recent reaction to Gary Hart’s “new ideas.” Our history does indeed repeat itself—as farce.

When the Soviets openly supplied Cuba with offensive missiles in 1962 Senator Keating continually attacked the do-nothing attitude of the Kennedy Administration. Once again the Times supported Kennedy and castigated his opponent. In an editorial that must have proved to be embarrassing to Kennedy and even to Times writers a year later, it was argued that “no organized combat force, no Soviet military bases, no offensive capacity” exists in Cuba. How could there be? The shining knight said they don’t exist, ergo they don’t exist. The Times also unabashedly rewrites contemporary history by removing from the record those statements by its friends that might prove to be embarrassing. When, for example, John Kenneth Galbraith on a diplomatic mission for the Kennedy Administration unequivocably contended that Diem must be deposed, Hedrick Smith later reported that dissatisfaction with Diem evolved over time, not that a trusted aide called for his ouster.

David Halberstam and Neil Sheehan have both admitted that they wrote reports about events in Vietnam as early as 1963 designed to persuade the American people that the war was being lost. They used the pages of the Times to promote their own view of reality and in the process helped to alter the course of American history. Those who didn’t buy the party line about Vietnam were expunged from print whenever possible. After the celebrity status was conferred on Halberstam and Sheehan, no one at the Times wanted to be left out of the anti-Vietnam War reporting business. Harrison Salisbury went to observe and report on the effects of the Americans’ “bombing of civilians” in North Vietnam. He toured the country with Wilfred Burchett as a guide—the same Burchett who was probably the interrogator of American prisoners of war in North Korea. Salisbury’s dispatches described waitresses taking up rifles to fire at American planes and praised the unity and determination of the North Vietnamese people. At no point did he mention North Vietnamese atrocities in the south, open graves in Hue, or acts of barbarity the northern government visited upon its own people. It was open season on the Johnson Administration and the way into the hearts of the Pulitzer Prize committee was to take to the field.

In 1968 the events in Vietnam were briefly eclipsed by the Soviet bullying in Czechoslovakia. But the view of the Times was quite consistent. Anthony Lewis quoted the usual unnamed diplomatic source to announce that “The West can help most by remaining quiet and calm. “The editorial page argued that most Czechs did not want help: “They seek to settle the conflict as a ‘family affair.’ It is their best chance.” Can you imagine a similar comment made by Times editorial writers if uprisings by blacks in South Africa were to be crushed by government tanks?

Perhaps the event that had the most chilling effect on American public opinion during the Vietnam War was the account by Seymour Hersh of the My Lai massacre. Hersh compiled first- and secondhand accounts of the incident and distributed them through Dispatch News Service, a subsidiary of the radical left Institute for Policy Studies which was actively involved in spreading antigovernment disinformation about the U.S. Vietnam policy. Hersh won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on My Lai and wrote two internationally acclaimed books on the subject—all without his ever having seen Vietnam. As Mr. Braley notes, “the Times index of 1969 contains three and a half pages of fine print reference to My Lai stories, while it has only minor references to the Communist massacre of an estimated 4,800 persons, dead and presumed dead, in Hue at the same period.” When, by 1973, the Times had secured the Pentagon Papers and a decision was made to leak them gradually through rewritten versions of the original documents, it was clear the newspaper had become an actively antiwar instrument. There wasn’t even a pretense of objectivity. If the war should be won by the U.S. and its South Vietnamese ally, the Times would be lined up with the losers. The publication of the Pentagon Papers in direct defiance of government strictures was an unalloyed attack on the Nixon Administration which “could not be allowed to win or draw in the war. “Two years later the New York Times got what it wanted.

The triumph of the Times made it the Fourth Estate, a coequal member of government that was not accountable to anyone but its own officials. So powerful did its voice become that influential government officials did its bidding, including those who testified that the paper did not violate national secrets with its unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers. While this view was challenged by military experts and later borne out with the tactics deployed by the North Vietnamese army in its final assault on the south (the tactics were in fact suggested in the Pentagon Papers), the tide of public opinion had shifted to the side of the Times. Many Americans were by now convinced that the military officials could not tell the truth.

Only one victory was yet to be won: the ousting of President Nixon. Although the leadership in this campaign was seized by the Washington Post, theTimes was not to be outdone. The Times, not known for balanced reporting, entered into a game of one-upmanship with the Post for public attention and approbation. Nixon had acted unwisely, perhaps foolishly, but in the vise created by the Times and the Post he was considered a threat to the continuation of the Republic. Joseph Kraft wrote, “There was a systematic effort to set up what amounts to a police state.” Nothing, of course, was further from the truth. Nixon, a somewhat insecure man, was on the defensive from the outset, “placed in the bullseye of the media,” as Braley puts it, and was unable to dodge the vicious, unrelenting darts that were thrown at him. That there was an inexorability to the Vietnam War—the Pentagon Papers—NorthVietnamese victory—Watergate is made patently clear inBad News.

By the mid-1970’s the Times was urging the American people to reattach itself to the comfortable but specious position of isolationism. How could most people know this view was wrongheaded? The Times has the largest, if not the best, staff of foreign correspondents in the world. Those who are good reporters—and there are many—often become captives of the Times ideology. In the Washington bureau and the home office, John Oakes, James Reston, Tom Wicker, and Anthony Lewis hold the keys to advancement Herbert Matthews, David Halberstam, Seymour Hersh, and Harrison Salisbury won Pulitzer Prizes and serve as the models of success. Before them it was Walter Duranty, an avowed apologist for Stalinist crimes who reported the Potemkin Villages as the new Eden, who ruled the empire on 43rd Street in Manhattan.

One cannot survive in public life and take on the paper. It istoo big, influential, and close to the levers of power. The Times has developed a world view that suggests that people in the developing world and revolutionaries everywhere must be placated, mollified, solicited, and appeased so they won’t challenge the privilege, authority, and power the paper has arrogated to itself. If the prestige of this nation is lost in the process, that is only a small price to pay for the survival and apotheosis of the Times.

Bad News makes it apparent that our nation has been routinely undermined in the pursuit of its foreign policy by media representatives who stand above the law, beyond the reach of the electorate, and on top of a self-created altar of perceived wisdom. This book may not be widely read, as it will undoubtedly receive little media exposure. It probably won’t win any awards. How can it when the Book Critics Circle and the National Book Award Committee are in alliance with the extended New York Times family?