The New York Times Descends Into Lunacy
The battle between the paper's classical liberals and woke left has become impossible to ignore—and it's clear which side is winning.
Conservatives over the years have created a cottage industry dedicated to monitoring media bias at places like the New York Times. The formula is simple: Find some former liberal journalist who has repented of his ways (or at least a right-wing activist who knows his way around the press); create a blog or TV segment with a catchy name (*TimesWatch*); begin rooting through articles and transcripts for subtle examples of left-wing slant; slap them up on the screen; voila, instant outrage.
It’s a fun beat, one I once worked myself, though I do worry about its future. Because at least with the Times, there is no need for a middleman anymore. America’s paper of record has become patently and painfully ridiculous. No longer a rich if distinctly Manhattan chronicle of news, the Times today looks more like a Soviet satellite state written as farce, with woke purges and thoughtcrime convictions set to calliope music.
The latest example of this comes amid a controversy surrounding seasoned Times science reporter Donald McNeil, Jr. Back in 2019, McNeil represented the Times on a high school trip to Peru, where he was asked by one of the students whether a classmate should have been suspended for using the N-word in a video when she was 12. In answering the question, McNeil himself uttered the slur. He also reportedly challenged other woke shibboleths, such as that cultural appropriation is harmful. Parents promptly complained and Times editor Dean Baquet stepped in to investigate. He found that McNeil’s “remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious.” McNeil got off with a warning.
That is, until the rent-a-mob that the Times charitably calls “newsroom staff” got wind of what had happened. Out of the howling nether-regions of a Slack group chat came a furious letter signed by more than 150 Times employees that upbraided Baquet for being too lenient with McNeil. The signatories professed to be “deeply disturbed” by the paper’s response and to feel “disrespected” by McNeil. They then coughed up what may be the best description of postmodern American philosophic life that I’ve yet seen: “what matters is how an act makes the victims feel.” So said Socrates to Glaucon. Baquet quickly abandoned his deeply unreasonable position that decades of quality reporting ought to outweigh a single episode of insensitivity. McNeil was forced out. His witch trial is scheduled for next month.
Slurs have apparently become a real challenge for the Gray Lady as of late. Over now to Taylor Lorenz, the Times‘s culture reporter and glittering comet of Manhattan preciousness, who recently accused entrepreneur Marc Andreessen of using what she prudishly referred to as “the r-slur.” There was just one problem: Not only did Andreessen never use that word, the person who did say it, during a conversation on the social media app Clubhouse, was quoting the Reddit users behind the recent GameStop chaos, who referred to themselves as “the R-word revolution.” When this bit of context came to light, Lorenz deleted her tweet. She has yet to apologize to Andreessen, though she did find time to tweet praise for a “vegan burger from @gayburgerco” (the existence of which I personally find far more offensive than the R-word).
Then there’s the one and only Nikole Hannah-Jones. The Times‘ mastermind behind the 1619 Project was recently contacted by Washington Free Beacon reporter Aaron Sibarium, who politely asked about the drama over McNeil and her own use of the N-word in tweets. Hannah-Jones’s response was to dox Sibarium by tweeting out a picture of his email, which included his phone number. She later deleted the tweet in the dead of night—she has experience with this sort of thing—and a Times spokeswoman told the Free Beacon that the phone number had been posted inadvertently. Except that Hannah-Jones had already acknowledged the doxxing on Twitter after one of her sycophants had commented on it. (Doxxing Free Beacon reporters seems to be de rigueur in the legacy media these days. CNN contributor Asha Rangappa did the same thing to journalist Alex Nester last year.)
Such is the mantra at the new woke Times: compulsory empathy for abstract victim groups, self-satisfied viciousness towards those perceived of running afoul of them. And these are just examples from the past week. Flip back the calendar to 2020 and you find the Timessacking its editorial page editor because he dared to run a controversial op-ed by a Republican senator. You find columnist Bari Weiss quitting after she was harassed by far-left newsroom bullies on Slack and labeled a Nazi and a racist. You find a self-parodying essay by a media columnist repenting for the crime of having once liked Andrew Sullivan. You find an apparent faction within the newsroom that’s less interested in reporting on the world in all its variety than in pummeling anyone who doesn’t measure up to its uniform pencil mark on the wall.
I say all this not because I hate the Times; just the opposite. I still read it every morning, glutton for punishment that I am, grumbling and swearing my way through the front page. For all its silliness and slant, the Times at its best still provides something essential: authentic and wide-ranging journalism in an era when other newspapers are either shutting down or larding up with clickbait and ads. Its world section is the best around. Even its politics section often outscoops the competition without ever turning into a Politico-style innuendo machine. The Times‘s coverage of the Capitol riot and its aftermath has mostly struck a fine balance between seeking out the perspective of the rioters while maintaining the objective horror of that day. And some of its investigative journalism has been simply unforgettable—a detailed report into Iraq’s corrupt government, for example, and a profile of post-Freddie Gray Baltimore.
These are the kinds of pieces that make anyone who’s ever been a journalist ask “how?” As in: How did they penetrate that deep into the Iraqi state? How did they cohere and distill an American city so effectively? That kind of access and ability can seem to those of us on the outside like a dark art, and it’s become all too rare in journalism today, less profitable than quick write-ups of whatever is trending on CrowdTangle. This is why it’s in everyone’s interest that the Times not fall to the woke. Because the internal conflict there isn’t just between the old guard and new left. It’s between curiosity and dogma, heterodoxy and orthodoxy, the exhilarating truth and boring ideology. It’s between “a liberal is someone who can’t take his own side in an argument” and those who don’t even think there should be an argument in the first place.
That first approach might result in bias. Any conservative will tell you as much. But it’s still valuable and a hell of a lot better than the alternative.