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The Gray Lady Winked by Ashley Rindsberg

book by:
Ashley Rindsberg

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On October 8, 2021
Last modified:October 8, 2021

Summary:

The Gray Lady Winked spends each chapter focusing on a different impactful period in the history of the New York Times, and thus the history of the United States. In each case, Rindsberg succinctly explains the historical circumstances before describing the paper’s mendacity and the employees responsible. By the end of the book, the reader is left with a veritable rogue’s gallery of journalistic malfeasants, each of whom were summarily blinded by either their political convictions, personal ambitions, or both – and either obscured the truth or outright lied to the Times’s enormous audience. In the final chapter, he veers from the comfortable pattern of exposition, explanation, and argument that he sets in previous chapters, and settles on some acute commentary that admittedly has little to do with his central thesis. That said, his conclusion wraps his primary subject neatly, and contains a clever observation: “To believe that the truth is ‘mine’ is to believe it does not exist.” But, as Rindsberg himself says – it does. And, as anyone who leafs through a single chapter of The Gray Lady Winked will soon discover, the truth is no friend of the New York Times.

To hear Ashley Rindsberg tell it, the story behind his journey to get The Gray Lady Winked published was rife with trials and tribulations – and after reading it, it isn’t hard to see why. Rindsberg, a well-traveled author and journalist, gives the titular “Gray Lady” a well-deserved verbal thrashing in his latest book; any one of its 10 chapters is filled with enough evidence to damn any publication without the fortification of one of the nation’s oldest and largest media institutions.

The New York Times, aptly referred to as a “former newspaper” by the great Andrew Klavan (whose interviews with the author were what inspired this reviewer to pick up a copy), is undoubtedly a juggernaut, the crown jewel of America’s news media, and its considerable effect on public opinion served as a bulwark against Rindsberg’s efforts to get this work into the hands of American readers. As he explains in the book’s preface (this book is sure to delight fans of precursory content, boasting not only a foreword, but a preface and an introduction as well), Rindsberg was turned away by all major publishers, explaining “[the] executive editor of the most influential literary agency in the US said he could not risk his relationship with the [New York Times], on which he depends for reviews and publicity.” Furthermore, he describes a “widespread fear” of the paper and its influence, resulting in his decision to self-publish his findings about the venerated paper’s sordid past. It’s a good thing he did, though it may not be read by those who would most benefit.

The Gray Lady Winked spends each chapter focusing on a different impactful period in the history of the New York Times, and thus the history of the United States. In each case, Rindsberg succinctly explains the historical circumstances before describing the paper’s mendacity and the employees responsible. By the end of the book, the reader is left with a veritable rogue’s gallery of journalistic malfeasants, each of whom were summarily blinded by either their political convictions, personal ambitions, or both – and either obscured the truth or outright lied to the Times’senormous audience.

These so-called journalists that Rindsberg details run the gamut from cartoonishly vapid to nearly heinous. One of the more memorable cases is that of Herbert Matthews, whose embarrassing fawning over Fidel Castro rendered the warlord a near messianic figure in the eyes of the Times. Rindsberg writes, “Matthews’s flowery descriptions of Castro’s movement as a movement of the people, of the youth, of all economic classes, and, most importantly, of democracy, traveled around the world,” and also notes that his “report would have meant very little had he not worked for the New York Times.”

Matthews had spent considerable time working alongside figures like Ernest Hemingway and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, developing a taste for the “romantic”, which certainly bore out in his reporting of incidents in Cuba and elsewhere. Evidently, Rindsberg points out, though the Times seemed to realize the error of their ways and replaced Matthews with Tad Szulc (whose coverage of Castro was “only slightly less adulatory”), the Gray Lady’s influence on American public opinion of Castro was so powerful that the man himself recognized the paper’s contributions: “the newly installed Cuban leader was so grateful for what the Times had done for him that he felt it incumbent to show his appreciation – and to do so in person.”

Other prominent figures in Rindsberg’s investigation include Walter Duranty and Guido Enderis, who made tremendous efforts to downplay the atrocities committed by Stalin and Hitler, respectively – the latter of which is but one of many events in an increasingly antisemitic bent in the Times’s reporting. Rindsberg delves into the subject at length, expounding on the Times’s patron Ochs-Sulzberger family and their continued efforts to avoid almost all reporting of violence against Jews.

The New York Times, Rindsberg argues, “actually downplayed, and, for all practical purposes, obscured the story of the Holocaust because they were Jewish” (emphasis author’s). Rindsberg’s chapters on the Times’s reporting of the Second World War demonstrate a disgusting pattern of behavior in which the editors and journalists of the paper downplay countless tragedies in order to promulgate their own views.

Rindsberg continues to walk through history, detailing the development of the atom bomb and subsequent bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the disastrous events of the Vietnam War, and the aftereffects of the wars in the Middle East – all with an incisive critical lens on the Times and its reporters.

One particularly damning series of Times stories is entitled “War Torn”, ostensibly a sobering look at the effects of PTSD on American soldiers. These stories not only bent the truth and twisted events in an effort to sell a political narrative at the expense of suffering veterans, but completely invented statistics based on anecdotes and unsubstantiated rumors. The Times’s reporting, Rindsberg argues, “does not rely on data or reliable investigation to arrive at a conclusion … Rather, it draws conclusions out of … preconceived belief and then fits real life examples into the mold it has already sculpted.”

Rindsberg’s best work comes in his final chapter, in which he tackles the infamous 1619 Project spearheaded by notorious Times reporter and race-baiter Nikole Hannah-Jones. There is too much excellent material in this final chapter to capture it in a single quoted passage, but Rindsberg not only effectively debunks the entire manifesto (using quotations from leading scholars in American history like Gordon S. Wood), but also diverges into a sharp, but all-too-brief evaluation of some of the 1619 Project’s foundational tenets – namely critical theory, social justice, and the belief in the sanctity of  wokeness. Rindsberg aptly compares woke ideology to a religion: “true believers will go to any lengths to protect the sacredness of [a ‘safe space’].”

The rest of Rindsberg’s book is interesting (if at times a bit dry), but an entire volume could be dedicated to the contents of his final chapter alone. He veers from the comfortable pattern of exposition, explanation, and argument that he sets in previous chapters, and settles on some acute commentary that admittedly has little to do with his central thesis. That said, his conclusion wraps his primary subject neatly, and contains a clever observation: “To believe that the truth is ‘mine’ is to believe it does not exist.” But, as Rindsberg himself says – it does. And, as anyone who leafs through a single chapter of The Gray Lady Winked will soon discover, the truth is no friend of the New York Times.

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