This week the New York Times established an editorial page blog, called The Board. Most of its posts are signed simply “The Editorial Board,” lending the paper’s entire imprimatur to whatever they post, no matter how far it strays from the facts, no matter what it glosses over or gets wrong, or how far it takes some comment made by someone The Board doesn’t like out of context. The Board also features open comments, so readers can correct The Paper of Record’s editorialists in real time. This is going to be fun.

In fact, it already is.

On Oct 15, The Editorial Board took this quote from Secretary of State Condi Rice and twisted it in a knot.

“If you don’t have countervailing institutions, then the power of any one president is problematic for democratic development.”

That’s what Rice said. Here’s the Times’ retort.

– Condoleezza Rice, quoted in today’s Times, expressing concern about the state of the judiciary, legislature and news media. In Russia.

Har de har. The Editorial Board is obviously using the Rice quote to take an ironic swipe at President Bush, but in doing so fails to take into account the vast difference in powers and the differences in record between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bush doesn’t control the legislature, since it’s in Democrat hands, and doesn’t control the judiciary just because he’s had the chance to nominate a couple of justices to the Supreme Court (a power granted to the executive in the Constitution). Bush certainly doesn’t control the news media, as the Times’ childish little swipe proves. Meanwhile in Russia, Putin controls all the levers of power across the government to the point that he’s nominated a successor that may allow Putin to continue ruling from the shadows, and journalists who cross him have been known to turn up dead. Rice’s quote makes perfect sense as long as you take the actual facts into account. If you don’t, if you’re just blinded by Bush Derangement Syndrome as The Editorial Board obviously is, then Rice’s line makes a nice gotcha against her boss.

And if you read the comments on the post, you’ll find something akin to the level of critical thinking that’s been on display for years at the Democratic Underground — albeit, without the profanity. Comment #25, for instance.

We have countervailing institutions…but they have been silenced!Effective politicking?

— Posted by Michael R Steinberg

Yes, silenced so much that you can pop off on the president on the web page of the nation’s most influential newspaper and never fear getting that knock in the dead of night. Silenced to such an extent that the opposition party controls Congress and is investigating every second of Bush’s time in office to date. Silenced so much that the judiciary regularly takes war powers onto itself and out of the hands of the executive branch.

As a whole, The Board reads like a toned-up Daily Kos. Lobbying in favor of the liberal government expansion of the day — check.
Egregiously mischaracterizing a Bush bench nominee — check. Mentioning a few Republicans in ethical trouble without also mentioning the many Democrats who are in similar or worse trouble — check.

Now, you might think that I’m banging my spoon about all of this, but I’m not. The Times should have established The Board a long time ago. The Board puts the Times’ bias right out in front. Just look at its first set of posts — not one conservative side of an issue even treated fairly. The Board shows us just how far to the left the Times really is.

Besides that, do you have any idea how much content The Board will probably serve up to conservative bloggers?

The Board’s existence may also make it harder for the Times to get away with the kind of things it’s become infamous for over the past few years. Imagine if The Board was around when the Times was on its ridiculous Augusta National crusade. Or when the Jayson Blair affair was going on. Or when Howell Raines was still on his disastrous run. When will The Board weigh on in the Morgan Stanley sale, and what will it say about it?

I think that The Board may make an honest woman of the Old Gray Lady of the Evening yet.

Update: This is why The Board leaves me somewhat optimistic — they’re getting schooled and ripped in their own comments, on the Feinstein post. Comments like this:

“The question is whether he is sufficiently sensitive to civil rights issues . . .”

I must be mistaken; I thought a Judge owed fealty and sensitivity only to what is written in the Constitution, not any of the “issues” of the day.

Bravo to Senator Feinstein for having the courage to stand apart.

— Posted by Brent Ayotte

And this:

Besides leaving out key facts in the case of the state employee (such as the standard of review), the editorial leaves out how Southwick took a leave of absence and volunteered for Iraq. The fact that he is a thoughtful, intelligent man may count at least as much as the fact that the Times can find two rulings to complain about years after the fact.

— Posted by Brian

And this:

The blog post about Judge Southwick fundamentally mischaracterizes his vote in the Richmond case, in which the Mississippi courts held that, unpleasant though an employee’s one-time use of the N-word was, the Mississippi Employee Appeals Board did not violate state law when it reinstated that employee, who had been fired for using the N-word (the Mississippi Supreme Court ultimately indicated the employee should be given a lesser penalty than being fired).

This wasn’t a “right-wing” or “racist” decision, but rather was seen at the time as a pro-public-employee decision; and both Democratic and Republican judges concurred in that result.

The decision applied state personnel law, which limits state officials’ ability to discharge public employees, does not provide for employment at will, and makes it hard to remove public employees absent egregious misconduct. Thus, the decision boiled down to whether the employee’s one time use of the N-word rose to the level of illegal racial harassment sufficient to justify her discharge.

And the U.S. Supreme Court stated very clearly in the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson decision in 1986 that a single use of racial epithet, not repeated, does not rise to the level of illegal racial harassment. Other case like Bolden v. PRC (1995) and Witt v. Roadway Express make this clear in rejecting racial harassment lawsuits based on just one or two uses of the N-Word.

The Mississippi Supreme Court just recognized that legal reality.

The fact that the Richmond decision was viewed as a pro-public-employee decision is illustrated by the fact that when the case ultimately reached the Mississippi Supreme Court, all the justices who dissented and would have upheld the initial decision to fire the employee were, ironically enough, conservative Republican justices, who tend to be more skeptical about limits on employment-at-will, and believe that government efficiency is promoted by allowing employees to be fired for less than egregious misconduct. By contrast, the court majority upholding the employee’s reinstatement were largely Democrats.

To be sure, there were some Republican judges who joined in reinstating the employee — like Judge Southwick, who did so while on the Mississippi Court of Appeals. But they tended to be the moderate Republicans, who like Democratic justices are less philosophically committed to the principle of employment at will.

But ironically enough, that was the exception rather than the rule. There were actually more Democratic judges ruling in favor of the employee than Republicans.

So it is very misleading to suggest that joining in the ruling makes Southwick “right-wing.”

Truth be told, if he were right-wing, he probably would have voted the other way.

By Mississippi standards, Southwick is moderate. The Administration probably thought it was extending an olive branch to centrist Senators by nominating him rather than a more conservative judge.

— Posted by Hans Bader

The Board will probably turn comments off eventually, but until they do we can look forward to the opportunity to correct the alleged paper of record on its own pages.