First, let me ask your pardon for my absence since yesterday, and the unprecedented (for this blog) delay in approving comments. We moved out of town into a house we bought out in Starhill, closer to my parents and to our church. The move took much longer than we anticipated; I finished my part at 8:30 last night, but poor Julie is still at the old house cleaning as I write this at 10:45 pm. Wifi is not working in the new house, and frankly, I’m too damn tired and bleary-eyed to get on the iPhone and try to approve comments. [UPDATE: It's Saturday, and I had to go to a store in a nearby town for more moving supplies; I'm sitting in the parking lot of a coffee shop just long enough to transmit this. No time even to approve comments. -- RD] I’m writing this late Friday night, having just settled the kids into bed, walked the dog, and stretched out for the first time since six a.m. Friday. God willing, the only other move I will have to make will be just down the road, to the Starhill Cemetery, when my time comes.
Second, I want to say a little more about my cancelling my New York Times subscription over the Josh Barro tweet.
After I posted yesterday, I learned that my friend Alan Jacobs had cancelled his Times subscription earlier in the week, furious at a stupid and bigoted column by Timothy Egan that compared the five Catholic Supreme Court justices to ISIS and Boko Haram. Alan wrote that he’s finally had enough of the Times‘s attitude on these matters, which in his view seeks to make it impossible for traditional religious believers to live in this country (I’m paraphrasing; I can’t access at the moment the tumblr post in which he announced this.)
I completely agree with this. Nobody cancels, or should cancel, their newspaper subscription over a single offensive column, or a single arrogant tweet by a reporter. It’s far, far more true that no one should cancel a subscription to the best overall newspaper in the world over a single incident, or two incidents. And I did not. Nor, I suspect, did Alan.
What Barro’s tweet was for me, and Egan’s ope-ed for Alan, was the tipping point. I have been reading the Times as a subscriber for nearly 20 years. It sometimes made me furious, it sometimes thrilled me, it usually made me think, and I was almost always grateful for it. I started my Times subscription in south Florida, kept it when I moved to New York City, held on to it when I moved to Dallas, then in Philly, and stuck with the digital version in St. Francisville. I’ve been with the Times for longer than I’ve known my wife. We have a relationship, that newspaper and I.
It has never been friendly to conservatives, of course, and that’s just part of the deal. But the Times plays things reasonably straight — except on coverage of social and religious conservatives. This is not just my view; it’s the unapologetic view of Bill Keller, the former executive editor. A few years ago, Keller said at a conference in Austin that the paper didn’t even try to be evenhanded in its cultural coverage.
“We’re liberal in the sense that … liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted, during a recent dialogue recorded at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. … We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”
Even though I care about culture and religion more than anything else, I gritted my teeth and read the paper anyway. It was worth it. Besides, they employ David Brooks and they hired Ross Douthat, and that counts for a lot in my book.
I’ve noticed, though, that as gay rights became more prominent in the public square, and as the Times took on a no-holds-barred advocacy role (it’s not just me saying that; two former NYT ombudsmen have made the same observation; I don’t have the links available to me, but you can easily look it up), it’s attitude toward religious believers anywhere to the right of the Episcopal Church left became increasingly nasty. Now the Times not only didn’t try to be fair, it seemed to go out of its way to be hostile. Look, I expect the Times to give ample coverage to gay issues, given the particular prominence of the gay community in NYC, and among the creative elites the paper keeps its eye on. I’m not sure when it happened, or why it happened, but at some point I started to think that the Times really does hate social and religious conservatives. I mean hate.
I worked as a newspaper journalist in New York City, and I perfectly well know that people like me – normal and mainstream in most of America — are considered freaks in that milieu. Again, it’s just part of the deal. You roll with it. Yet now, we are seeing the world change very fast, to the point where simply holding the views I do as a Christian about marriage and sexuality – views that were nearly universal when I was born, and views that are deeply and explicitly grounded in sacred Scripture – marks one as a pariah. For me, the Brendan Eich thing was a defining moment, one that told me the kind of thing orthodox Christians are going to be fighting for decades.
The Times is a cheerleader for this kind of thing. Something snapped in me when I read the Barro tweet. He said out loud what I believe most people in news and editorial at the Times say only among themselves: that people like me should be ruthlessly driven out of the public square over our views on homosexuality and related issues. When I read it, I realized that the Times is going to keep doing this, and thinking themselves paladins of virtue for doing so.
People say, “Oh, so you think we should embrace anti-LGBT bias?” There’s the rub: for one, I don’t think the kind of things I and many orthodox Christians believe constitutes bigotry, but I know that’s not an argument I’m going to win with critics. But more importantly, I think that yes, we should tolerate a certain amount of anti-LGBT bias, and anti-Jewish bias, and anti-Christian bias, and on and on, as the price of living in a pluralist polity.
Anti-Christian bias hurts communities. I wish people didn’t hold it. But I don’t believe in ruthlessly tarring people who hate Christians, and making them outcasts in society. For one thing, who decides what is malicious anti-Christian bias, and what is fair criticism of Christians and Christianity? I think it fair to say that the late Christopher Hitchens was a bigot as far as Christians and other religious people are concerned. So what? Should he have been exiled from polite society, ruthlessly suppressed, and made unemployable and despised? Absolutely not! He was about far more than his prejudices, and besides, even though I believed he was a terrible anti-Christian bigot, I sometimes learned from his splenetic criticism from time to time.
Besides, I don’t want to live in a society in which anything that offends the majority, or a powerful minority, must be hunted down and snuffed out, and the people who believe those things pushed to the margins. In my town in the 1990s, a gay man with AIDS moved to die. He was a stranger. People from at least one of the churches helped care for him and his partner until he died. Do I think those people held what Josh Barro and the NYT considers to be “anti-LGBT bias”? Yeah, many, maybe most, of them probably did. But they loved that poor man, and helped him and his partner till the very end. I’ve seen white people who are deep down racial bigots go out of their way to help black people. If you look around outside of your bubble, you will find that people who hold views you would find despicable do good and noble works.
Why? Because people are complicated.
I want a world in which LGBTs, Christians, Muslims, atheist, libertarians, socialists, and the whole lot have a reasonable amount of freedom to live and work and practice their religion (or lack thereof), without being oppressed and stigmatized. It’s not a perfect world. But we all know that people who seek perfection and purity can easily turn into monsters in the process of purging the world of evil. If I could, I would outlaw pornography. But as a conservative, I know that the process of trying to purge the world of pornography would turn people like me into monsters, and probably cause a greater evil than the one I was trying to extirpate.
The world the New York Times is trying to bring about is a world in which the only thing that matters about Christians like me is our opinion on LGBT issues. They are actively anti-religious, except for Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) who behave like good dhimmis — that is, second-class citizens who know their place and who do not challenge the social order. The Times and its reporters and writers — Barro, Egan, and all the rest — are going to continue on with their hateful and illiberal and unjust project of purifying the public square of anti-gay thoughtcrime, and all manifestation of traditional religion that offends their progressive sensibilities.
But they’re not going to do it with my money.
I hope to be back online by Monday. Thanks again for your patience. All comments will be approved (or at least read) eventually.
UPDATE: One more thing, and I think it’s important. I can’t speak for Alan — I have not talked to him about this — but it seems to me a loss that he and I feel as if we can no longer in good conscience be part of the Times’s conversation. I subscribed to the Times for so long because it really and truly is a great newspaper. I care about a lot of the things it writes about, and loved the Times being part of my thinking, and of being part of the Times community, broadly speaking. I’m sure it was the same thing for Alan. He teaches in a university; I’m a writer. We are both part of diverse worlds in which we deal every day with people different — sometimes very different — from ourselves. To conclude that the Times is actively trying to create conditions in which people like us — orthodox Christians (he’s Anglican, I’m Russian Orthodox — are hated, stigmatized, and driven from public life is no small thing. For many, many years, I have defended the NYT from conservative friends who hate the paper, but who don’t really understand why it does the things it does, and what makes it great, and worth supporting, despite its flaws. I still do this with NPR around certain conservative friends (and I also support NPR financially). NPR is hopelessly liberal in its biases, but it’s also a great news organization, one from which I learn every single day. I get the idea that NPR doesn’t really understand people like me (social and religious conservatives), or care to learn much. But — and this is a key difference between NPR and the NYT — I also don’t think NPR hates us and would like to see us go away.
Finally, let me underscore that for me, this is not just about LGBT (and for Alan, LGBT never came up). Timothy Egan, in his execrably anti-religion column, never mentioned gay issues. I have found, though, that on the issues I most care about, the Times uses LGBT as a way to marginalize orthodox Catholics, Evangelicals, and other religious conservatives. Look at this: according to figures you can get from the NYT’s own database, the NYT covers gays — a tiny percentage of the US population — more than it covers Catholics. Of course this is a problematic conclusion. “Gays” and “Catholics” are not exclusive terms, among other things. Besides, the gay community in NYC is much bigger than elsewhere, and more influential. Still, as a 20-year NYT subscriber, I agree with the past ombudsmen: the NYT is wildly disproportionate in its coverage of gay issues relative to other populations and their issues — and it distorts the paper’s perspective on its own biases. The men and women who run that newspaper literally do not understand their own country.
But it’s one thing to make the paper’s pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls (European papers, aligned with specific political parties, have been doing it for centuries), and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don’t think it’s intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn’t have to be intentional.
The gay marriage issue provides a perfect example. Set aside the editorial page, the columnists or the lengthy article in the magazine (”Toward a More Perfect Union,” by David J. Garrow, May 9) that compared the lawyers who won the Massachusetts same-sex marriage lawsuit to Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King. That’s all fine, especially for those of us who believe that homosexual couples should have precisely the same civil rights as heterosexuals.
But for those who also believe the news pages cannot retain their credibility unless all aspects of an issue are subject to robust examination, it’s disappointing to see The Times present the social and cultural aspects of same-sex marriage in a tone that approaches cheerleading.
That was 10 years ago. It’s only gotten worse. Former exec editor Bill Keller openly said that when it comes to social and religious conservatism, error has no rights to be treated fairly at the NYT. Now that we’re starting to see that “error has no rights” mentality applied to life outside the Times bubble in American life, I see the Times as a threat to my future, and the future of my children and my community.
UPDATE: Here’s Jacobs’s post:
The historical blindness, moral obtuseness, and self-satisfied pomposity of this op-ed by Timothy Egan is only the most recent in a long line of New York Timespieces meant to incite hatred of religious believers. But it’s the last one I’ll read. I have canceled my subscription and will no longer read anything published in that newspaper, with the exception of columns and blog posts by my friend Ross Douthat.
If journalistic integrity, elementary fairness, and the peace of our nation mean anything to you, I would suggest that you try to find a way to protest the combination of belligerence and utter ignorance that has come to characterize almost all of the NYT’s coverage of religion, especially American religion.
And I see from the comments section that the great Ken Myers, creator and host of Mars Hill Audio Journal, has also cancelled his Times subscription:
I’ve been reading the Times religiously (a paradoxical adverb, right now) since 1969. I just cancelled my subscription, and told the nice clerk who processed my cancellation that the Times’s smug prejudice toward traditional religious beliefs had just become too much. When asked what I liked about the Times, I told her the arts coverage and the seriousness of its international news. But those assets no longer outweigh its characteristics as (as Alasdair MacIntrye characterized it in 1988) “that parish magazine of affluent and self-congratulatory liberal enlightenment.”
For a while, I enjoyed Stanley Fish’s NYT blog, in which, honest postmodernist that he is, he attempted to gleefully deconstruct the untenability of Enlightenment reason. It was fun watching the altar guild huff and puff at his sacrilege. For a while.
Rod, thanks for defining a tipping point.