Is the New York Times Platforming 'Far Right' Views?
State of the Union: Apparently, a David French column is evidence of the paper’s reactionary sympathies.
Some people think the New York Times is right wing. The premise of Twitter accounts like "New York Times Pitchbot" is that the Times, in a misguided effort to be "fair" to Republicans and conservatives, platforms fascists and reactionaries, bashes the left, and draws a false equivalence between the "far left" and the "far right." The far right, including most elected Republicans and their voters, wants to build concentration camps, while all the "far left" wants is health care.
That's the argument, and to those who subscribe to it, a recent example of the New York Times's mainstreaming "far right" arguments came, remarkably, in a recent column by David French.
On Jordan Neely's death on the F Train, French wrote:
It’s a failure of the rule of law that these questions [of how to respond when unstable people act out on the subway] come up so frequently. And this failure places passengers under serious pressure. It puts them in tense situations where the proper course of action isn’t clear. Both action and inaction have their risks. What if [Daniel] Penny had done nothing? Would everyone — including Neely — have emerged from that subway car unscathed? We can’t know for certain, and that lack of certainty creates the conditions for violence.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
To you, this might seem obviously true, and if anything, might seem to understate the case. You might recall that Neely reportedly yelled "I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die," before Penny put him in a chokehold. You might recall that he had schizophrenia, and had recently sucker-punched a 67-year-old woman exiting a subway car. You might think that not only don't we "know for certain" whether everyone would "have emerged from that subway car unscathed" had Penny not intervened, there is a reasonable chance, based on what we know of Neely's mental health and criminal histories, that people in that car were in significant danger.
But the Times-is-actually-right-wing group on Twitter presented this passage as evidence that the Times is running cover for the Klan. Michael Hobbes, a progressive podcaster, called part of the above passage an "example of how 'reasonable' center-right pundits launder far-right arguments into the mainstream," the "far-right argument" being, in this context, the perfectly true observation that allowing a man with untreated psychosis to menace subway riders "creates the conditions for violence."
Some people, perhaps like Hobbes, agree with Emma Vigeland of the Majority Report podcast that focusing on your and your neighbors' safety in these types of cases "privileges the bourgeois concern of people's immediate discomfort." But most people don't think that way. They care about their and their families' safety, actually, and when presented with a clear threat to that safety—such as, say, a psychotic man boasting that he doesn't "mind going to jail and getting life in prison"—they may intervene, in ways both proportionate and disproportionate to the threat in question. That doesn't excuse a person's excessive use of force, but it does give reason—for both the good of society and the disturbed—for officials to maintain order on the subways.