A Newspaper, Or The Oberlin Faculty Senate?
If you keep your eye on media news, you know that The New York Times, the most important newspaper in America, has been roiled internally over whether or not a headline it published over a Trump story (about his post El Paso speech) exonerated the president from racism. The original headline read “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.” After a staff revolt, the headline was later changed to “Assailing Hate, But Not Guns”.
The paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, met with the staff about the headline, and the paper’s coverage of race. Slate published the transcript of a leaked recording. I encourage you to read it to get an idea of how the people who put out the most influential newspaper in the world think about this stuff. They go on and on and on, torturing Baquet over this one measly headline that accurately and neutrally described Trump’s speech.
This question for Baquet from an unnamed staffer is classic:
Staffer: Hello, I have another question about racism. I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country. And I think particularly as we are launching a 1619 Project, I feel like that’s going to open us up to even more criticism from people who are like, “OK, well you’re saying this, and you’re producing this big project about this. But are you guys actually considering this in your daily reporting?”
Here’s a thought experiment. What if that staffer were a fundamentalist Christian, and his (her) statement was phrased like this:
I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of the Gospel of Jesus Christ being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is Christian, what isn’t Christian. I just feel like Jesus is in everything. He should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of Christian faith, and sort of how we’re thinking about Christianity as the foundation of all of the systems in the country. …
Would such a question even be taken seriously in the New York Times newsroom? Of course not, nor should it be. But see, progressives today take anti-racism as their religion. Baquet, who is black, may or may not agree with them, but it is remarkable that in this meeting, as you can see from the transcript, he had to defend professional journalism against his own woke newsroom. His standards as a veteran journalist are slamming hard against the pseudo-religious beliefs of the newsroom he leads.
A few years back, the black linguist John McWhorter wrote about how Anti-Racism had become a new religion. He uses a clever device: calling Americans the “Nacirema” (“American” spelled backwards) to frame us the way an anthropologist from another culture would regard us as a tribal people. Excerpt:
However, in 2015, among educated Americans especially, Anti-Racism—it seriously merits capitalization at this point—is now what any naïve, unbiased anthropologist would describe as a new and increasingly dominant religion. It is what we worship, as sincerely and fervently as many worship God and Jesus and, among most Blue State Americans, more so.
To someone today making sense of the Nacirema, the category of person who, roughly, reads The New York Times and The New Yorker and listens to NPR, would be a deeply religious person indeed, but as an Antiracist. This is good in some ways—better than most are in a position to realize. This is also bad in other ways—worse than most are in a position to realize.
It’s a great and insightful piece. If you read it, you’ll see that The New York Times is the Charisma magazine of the religion of Anti-Racism. That poor staffer who just “feel[s] that racism is in everything” is making a statement that, if Anti-Racism were Jesus, could be found in the mouth of a Pentecostal divine.
It’s extraordinary, the degree to which ideology has taken over that newsroom. Here’s something an editorial board member tweeted about its big new project:
— Mara Gay (@MaraGay) August 13, 2019
Look, I have no objection at all to the Times wanting to tell us more about the history of American slavery, this nation’s original sin. What is astonishing is that they want to claim “that nearly everything that has made America exceptional grew out of slavery.” A screenshot from one of the Times‘s essays in the series:
The importation of the first slave into the land that would become the United States is the “true founding” of America? That is a breathtaking — and breathtakingly ideological — claim. This is substantially different from claiming that slavery was a key part of this country’s identity — a claim that is indisputably true, and important to recognize. The Times — our newspaper of record — is on record now saying that the establishment of slavery was the Ur-event of American history. If you want to know how they managed to come to that conclusion, well, that transcript will give you an idea. A staffer who “feel[s] like racism is in everything” asks the executive editor why racism isn’t in every single story they write — and he responds not by challenging the premise of the question (if only from a professional journalism point of view), but rather by pointing him to the 1619 Project.
In his opening statement to his staff, Baquet said:
…In the coming weeks, we’ll be assigning some new people to politics who can offer different ways of looking at the world. We’ll also ask reporters to write more deeply about the country, race, and other divisions. I really want your help in navigating this story.
But I also want to [inaudible] this as a forum to say something about who we are and what we stand for. We are an independent news organization, one of the few remaining. And that means there will be stories and journalism of all kinds that will upset our readers and even some of you. I’m not talking about true errors. In those cases, we should listen, own up to them, admit them, show some humility—but not wallow in them—and move on. What I’m saying is that our readers and some of our staff cheer us when we take on Donald Trump, but they jeer at us when we take on Joe Biden. They sometimes want us to pretend that he was not elected president, but he was elected president. And our job is to figure out why, and how, and to hold the administration to account. If you’re independent, that’s what you do. The same newspaper that this week will publish the 1619 Project, the most ambitious examination of the legacy of slavery ever undertaken in [inaudible] newspaper, to try to understand the forces that led to the election of Donald Trump. And that means trying to understand the segment of America that probably does not read us.
I bet he actually believes that his team is “independent,” and actually wants to “understand the segment of America that probably does not read” the Times. To be fair, I know a handful of people who work at the paper, and I trust their journalistic integrity. But overall, I don’t trust the Times (though I’m a subscriber) to tell this story anywhere remotely close to straight and honest. Read the transcript of that meeting, and tell me that The New York Times is prepared to understand this country outside blue precincts! Remember, the upper management held this crisis town-hall meeting primarily because a number of people in the newsroom were upset because the Times failed to call Trump a racist in a facially neutral headline. And now we’re told by the Times itself that we have it all wrong, that America was founded for white supremacist purposes — and indeed that the best, most truthful way to understand America is as a slaveocracy from the start.
Is The New York Times a newspaper, or the Oberlin Faculty Senate with a website and a printing press? How could you tell the difference? The paper has committed itself to an ideological narrative. The only people who honestly think that it’s truly independent could fit into publisher A.G. Sulzberger’s office — and probably do.
UPDATE: Reader Jonah R.:
As I’ve written here before, I live in a county where the school system, social services, and law enforcement are being overwhelmed by illegal immigration. Tons of taxpayer money is going to ESL programs, gang interdiction, and programs for free immigration lawyers, and our county council hopes to re-work zoning laws to make it easier to pack more residents into houses (and garages, and sheds, and other outbuildings) in the areas where illegal immigrants happen to reside. Our county government, 100% Democratic, is obsessed with the needs of people who aren’t citizens and who’ve only been here for the blink of an eye, and they’re running us into debt.
Meanwhile, the county has neglected upkeep on the historic black cemeteries in its care. There are black communities without bus stops, and much of our mass transit system hasn’t been updated to make sure that bus lines actually pass conveniently through historically black areas. The county is paying no special attention to impoverished black schools. There are no new programs to help guide black youth, and no apparently interest in disproportionate black unemployment in a county that’s otherwise almost fully employed. Our government makes a few token efforts to fund black-history-month lectures and programs, and that’s it.
Most of the black people in our county are direct descendants of slaves who lived and worked here before the Civil War—but no one here in my county, the sort of place where Right-Minded People listen to NPR and read the New York Times, even gives a damn. Relatively small amounts of public money could drastically improve the lives of these descendants of slaves by providing equal public services at or near their communities. But for some reason, our Woke County Overlords are obsessed with Hispanic illegal immigrants.
So I disagree with those who think that the NYT series about slavery is battlespace preparation for the reparations debate. Rather, it’s pure, distilled virtue signalling so the sorts of affluent, mostly white Democrats who read the NYT don’t actually have to do anything about the legacy of slavery. Merely talking about it will prove sufficient.