Yes, another piece on The New York Times – and those who don’t understand why the Times warrants constant scrutiny probably have no business reading a media column in the first place.
Two years after the cartoonishly left-wing Howell Raines was removed from the executive editor’s office, the Times shows no signs of reverting to even a semblance of balance in its news coverage. In fact, the Times’s liberal bias has never been more pronounced, its editorial enthusiasms – particularly its obsessions with race and gender – blatant in virtually everything it covers.
A large number of the Times’s most infatuated readers happen to be Jews – from secular Manhattan liberals for whom the paper long ago assumed the status of Holy Scripture to identifiably Orthodox businessmen who each weekday morning can be seen lovingly folding back the broadsheet’s pages in subway cars throughout the city. Not a few seem to believe the Times bestows on its readers an image of worldly sophistication, and they give the distinct impression that they would rather be found dead than publicly perusing the pages of the Daily News or New York Post.
At one time such devotion would have been at least somewhat understandable. For despite the Times’s shameful history on almost all things Jewish – an unfortunate consequence of the paper’s being owned for the last hundred years by a family of the hyper-assimilationist “Our Crowd” variety – there was no denying its primacy as a news-gathering machine of unparalleled size and scope. And the paper’s reporting – even given a number of notable lapses, such as Walter Duranty’s scandalous whitewashing of Stalin’s murderous purges in the 1930’s and Herbert Mathews’s hero-worship of Fidel Castro in the 1950’s – was generally viewed as objective and fair-minded.
The Times still boasts size and scope, but objectivity and fair-mindedness have gone the way of the Linotype machine, due mainly to a change in the early 90’s at the very top of the company. Because of that change, much of what appears in the Times must be approached with a skeptical eye and an awareness of the agenda that drives the selection, placement and angle of everything from headlines to stories to photography.
Author Harry Stein summed up the problem with the Times in his 2000 book How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace). “[O]n the most contentious social issues of the day – multiculturalism, feminism, gay rights – today’s Times is highly unreliable, scarcely even bothering to pretend to neutrality,” he wrote. “Indeed, having chosen sides, the paper itself often seems as interested in reshaping society as the most committed activists.”
Like many other Times-watchers, Stein blamed publisher Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr., who took the paper’s reins from his father, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, in 1992. A typical product of the sixties counterculture, Junior (he hates the nickname Pinch) stated soon after his anointing that if white males were alienated by his ultra-politically correct version of the Times, “we’re doing something right.”
Inevitably, wrote Stein, “under Pinch the paper was very quickly transformed into…a vehicle for the advancement of the kinds of social change being championed by those, like the young publisher himself, who imagine themselves the best and brightest of their generation.”
The result of that transformation, Stein lamented, is that “Quite simply, when it comes to any subject touching even remotely on politics, The New York Times just cannot be trusted.”
Six years later, others, both inside and outside the Times, have joined the anti-Sulzberger chorus. Seth Mnookin, in Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media and Ken Auletta, in a lengthy article in the Dec. 19, 2005 issue of The New Yorker, placed the blame for the Times’s loss of stature in recent years squarely on Pinch’s shoulders and quoted a number of Times staffers who share that assessment.
Making a bad situation worse, though, is the Times’s apparently ineradicable influence on the news industry. The Times, as Stein noted, “sets the agenda for the rest of the press, and especially for the geniuses at the networks, who scan it each morning to discover not just what’s important but what to think about it.”