Liberals buying a subscription to the New York Times, and proudly announcing it on social media, was one of the strangest reactions to the result of the 2016 election that I have ever observed.
I thought to myself: Was everybody driven over the edge by Trump’s victory? Did everyone just simultaneously take leave of their senses? Did we just forget what we all went through, collectively?
But this phenomenon seems to have a root in a misguided notion from the left that has reared its head again after the Times published a climate change denial column from former Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, along with a column from Ross Douthat normalizing the fascist Marine Le Pen.
Liberals think the New York Times is an ally. This is wrong.
I believe liberals mistakenly believe this because they have largely bought into the hype about the Times acting as an institution of the left. Because, yes, the Times editorial section is on the left and has reliably endorsed Democratic candidates while also publishing liberal columnists like Paul Krugman, Charles Blow, and Nicholas Kristof.
But the New York Times is not an ally.
The New York Times is the largest newspaper in the world, and the most influential news organization on the planet. It has some of the best reporters there are, and more resources for journalism than the Lord himself. But it is not a liberal ally. It is a business, designed to sell newspapers to the public at large and create profits and dividends for its shareholders and management.
It is not a part of the left in the way that the Democratic Party, unions, think tanks, and other outside groups are. At all.
When the Times decides to do great journalism, it rarely has a rival. The work it did to investigate Fox News and Bill O’Reilly’s secret payoffs to women who accused him of sexual harassment was exemplary. There have been dozens of stories over the years where the Times excelled.
But the New York Times is also the news outlet that played up every drip and drab story about Hillary Clinton’s emails on the front page as if it were Watergate. It is the paper who ran Bush administration lies about weapons of mass destruction on the front page. It is the outlet of Pulitzer Prizes as well as Jayson Blair, of William Safire who called Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar,” and Maureen Dowd who has written the same terrible anti-Clinton column for years and years and years.
The Times’ business is eyeballs and subscriptions and clicks, not advancing the progressive message. Many liberals believe because the Times’ exemplary journalism has been something they can rely on to make the case for fact-based progressive advances, that the paper is “part of the team.”
One only has to see the derisive manner in which the Times reacts to progressive criticism (especially its current cool kids squad on the politics beat, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) to understand how incorrect this is, quickly.
And I wouldn’t want them on the team. I don’t want a replica of Fox News, a party newsletter masquerading as a journalistic enterprise. I want the Times to report the news, fully and fairly, and if that means digging up dirt and investigating a Democrat, so be it. That’s what the fourth estate is all about.
But liberals should understand that rewarding the Times with subscription dollars after they spent a year on the Clinton email beat, following the marching orders of Breitbart and Steve Bannon, a decade after acting as the Bush/Cheney mouthpiece for invading Iraq, is sending the paper a bad message.
Abuse the left, be rewarded, is what you’ve told them – and we’re seeing it now, in story after story apparently profiling every Trump voter under the sun while continuing the media’s code of silence on Clinton voters. You would think nobody voted for her, instead of the plurality of 3 million votes she earned, flawed campaign or not.
The Times does good work, and when they excel at it they should be rewarded, but they’re not above criticism. Like everybody else they screw up, but unlike anybody else in the media who screws up, the Times reverberates through everybody else and people can die. The Times sets the agenda, they aren’t some mom and pop news organization out in Podunk. When television news chooses what stories to cover and amplify, the Times is more often than not their defacto news director. It is patient zero for modern news, and when it screws up it has to be called on the mat, just like everyone else.
And for the left this means to stop acting like they’re a part of the team, because they can do better and know better, and nobody is helped when we treat them like their poor journalistic choices were inevitable or an aberration.
They don’t take critiques from the left seriously, but it’s time for us to take them on when they screw up, because the consequence of allowing them to continue on this path without some form of push back is disaster.