The Times

The Times

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Fourth Leader

Dec 10, 1999
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Quality of news coverage:
  • Quality of editorial content:

Pros:What a newspaper should be

Cons:Not the most nimble of outfits

Most of what passes for journalism in the US has a numbing effect: after a while, one can block out even a toothache. Then one thoughtlessly crunches an ice cube, and it's Katy-bar-the-door. The _Times_ operates as that metaphoric ice cube. After the pabulum of the New York paper of that name, the _Washington Post_, and most other US papers, between which and the McPaper, _USA Today_, there is increasingly little to choose, the *real* _Times_ is always a salutary shock to the system.

Cultural differences are diminishing, but Fleet Street (not that they're located there anymore, any of them, but it remains an imperishable synecdoche for the British Press) is still on the whole less confrontational than and less given to investigative journalism than are American journalists. The _Wall Street Journal_, staid though it is, would quite likely have uncovered the Nick Leeson / Barings story before the actual crash. In the US, it would have been some scruffy heir of Westbrook Pegler, not a political opponent, who 'outed' the Tory front-bencher and future PM, Mr Portillo. The _Times_ is as unlikely to engage in Woodward-and-Bernstein derring-do as is any other non-tabloid in the UK.

By the same token, it might not need to. As Stonewall Jackson, among others, noted, repeated victories make a force invincible; and the _Times_ is the beneficiary of generations of unparalleled access to the corridors of power, in Whitehall, Westminster, Buck House, the Old Bailey, and elsewhere. Today, moreover, the _Times_ is freer than on occasion it was in the past to use that access in ways the British Establishment may wish it would not: the unfortunate coziness of, say, the Dawson years, when the paper was the organ not merely of the Tories, but of Hoare, Halifax, and Chamberlain, is thankfully no more. And when the _Times_ does break a story, it brings to it a depth of competence, a capacity for analysis, a breadth of knowledge and context, and a respect for the English language that, on this side of the Atlantic, was last seen when the Richmond papers were in the hands of Virginius Dabney and Dr Douglas Southall Freeman, and Vermont Royster was editing the _Journal_. It is, among print vehicles (or print-origin vehicles: this side of the Pond, one is well advised to get it on the Web, for timeliness's sake), the paper of record and of first resort for international news. Indeed, its American coverage is superior to that churned out by the hacks in Manhattan and DC. Equally, the law reports are not to be missed ('Rumpole' fans take note).

But the real quality of the _Times_, at least as a torchbearer of good, Fowlerian English and of quiet British humor, is best seen in the classic trinity of the obituaries, the proverbial letters to the editor, and the leading articles (editorials). Be especially alert for the 'Fourth Leader' (which will be the third and last of that issue's leading articles; it's a traditional in-joke), which appears from time to time, and is invariably witty, moving, profound, or all three. It may concern the annual swan-upping, water bailiffs, or West Country farmers, but whatever tack it takes, it ought not be missed. The same holds true for the paper as a whole.

Recommend this product? Yes

Describe the newspaper's political views: It is moderate

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