Retired Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) passed away on Saturday following a years-long battle with cancer.
Coburn was, as the Associated Press described him in their obituary, a “Conservative Political Maverick.” As a senator, Coburn published the famous yearly “wastebook,” showing ridiculous expenditures from the federal government, including a 2014 payment of $171,000 to study how monkeys gamble.
Though Coburn was a steadfast steward of taxpayer dollars and a conservative hero to many, The New York Times’ obituary for him made sure to paint him in a negative light. The headline for the Times’ obituary reads: “Tom Coburn, the ‘Dr. No’ of Congress, Is Dead at 72.”
Coburn received the nickname because he voted against so many spending bills, but “Dr. No” is also the name of one of James Bond’s most notorious villains, and the way the Times framed its headline, the impression one walks away with is that Coburn is the Bond villain.
Further, the Times’ obituary begins: “Tom Coburn, an ultraconservative Oklahoma Republican and family physician who in 16 years in Congress crusaded for limited government, using a rule-book technicality to block so many bills that frustrated legislators called him “Dr. No,” died on Saturday in Tulsa. He was 72.”
Conversely, the Times described Cuban dictator Fidel Castro at the time of his death as a “fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died on Friday.”
Notice the use of more positive descriptive words like “bedeviling” and “defied” rather than “frustrated.”
The headline the Times used for Castro’s obituary read: “Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90.”
The Times on Twitter was no different. After Coburn died, the Times tweeted the opening paragraph of his obituary about the “rule-book technicality.” For Castro, the Times used its same spin, including a tweet that said: “Success in baseball and boxing helped give Fidel Castro grounds to taunt and defy the U.S.”
Here are the @nytimes wrote about two dead men. One massacred people; the other delivered thousands of babies free of charge.
Guess which is which. pic.twitter.com/BSE0VXn5wQ
— F. Bill McMorris (@FBillMcMorris) March 29, 2020
The NYT, everybody. pic.twitter.com/yL5ITkoea9
— James Hasson (@JamesHasson20) March 29, 2020
The Times even posted a lengthy article about how sixteen of its journalists worked on Castro’s obituary. In an article published months before Castro’s death, the Times talked about the fashion trends he inspired in the U.S., in an article titled, “Chanting Crowds and Camo Chic.” The article gushed that Castro “mesmerized” crowds.
The different takes from the Times is reminiscent of just last week when the outlet changed a headline to protect Democrats from criticism after they blocked a coronavirus relief bill – a courtesy the Times has never shown Republicans.
The Times is not the only outlet to go easy on mass murderers. In October, The Washington Post called terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi an “austere religious scholar,” before changing it to say he was the “extremist leader of Islamic State.” Quite a difference.
The body of these articles are no different. While Coburn’s legacy is repeatedly described in negative terms, dictators and terrorist leaders get glowing praise while their misdeeds are buried or downplayed.