“The New York Times”


The New York Times … It’s held by some people to be “The Paper Of Record”, “The Grey Lady”, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”.

Why did my wise highly-educated well-informed brother-in-law, may he rest in peace, cancel his subscription to The New York Times decades ago?  Has The New York Times since proven his cancellation to be proof of his wisdom?

Debating the Fourth Estate is fundamentally American.  Surely an internet search is poor quality research.  Nevertheless, in reliance on an internet search, the following quotes by Thomas Jefferson offer an historical picture.  “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them, inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors”.  ”Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.  Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

Some people delight in and rely onThe New York Times, while other people detest and fear it.  More people than necessary daily tout their explanations for one side of the fence or the other.

Historically, The New York Times has stood strong for We The People.  As an example, we should not forget its publication of the “Pentagon Papers” in 1971.  For that alone, The New York Times deserves enormous credit and our nation’s most sincere gratitude.

In the years that followed, something changed.  My brother-in-law saw the change decades ago.  He really was very wise.  However, rather than quote him, rather than present my own thinking, I think it best to let the recent behavior of The New York Times speak for itself.

On February 8, 2015, before Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for the 2016 Presidential election, The New York Times published an article titled “Economic Plan Is a Quandary For Clinton ’16” at the top of the first page (the most important news portion of the page) of the first section (the most important news section) of its Sunday edition.  One can only wonder how much money The New York Times advertising department could have demanded for that publicity (for a non-candidate).  The bias or lack of bias in favor of Hillary Clinton by The New York Times during the election campaign has been debated.  The debate was resolved by The New York Times itself.  On November 13, 2016, its publisher and executive editor jointly published a letter admitting that they failed to “report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor”.

On August 5, 2019, The New York Times published an article about President Trump’s response to mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.  The article’s headline was “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism”.  Gun control advocates criticized the headline, so, to please them, The New York Times revised the headline in its subsequent editions to be “Assailing Hate, But Not Guns”.

On August 15, 2019, The New York Times’ executive editor held a staff meeting, in which the changed headline was discussed.  During the meeting, he said “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.” “our readers”, not “some of our readers”!  The New York Times writes for its readers, and it knows its readers are of one mind when it comes to who occupies the Oval Office.

On September 16, 2019, The New York Times tweeted “Having a penis thrust in your face at a drunken dorm party may seem like harmless fun.  But when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her, Deborah Ramirez says, it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale in the first place.”  On several levels, how can any decent intelligent person not conclude the The New York Times no longer is what it once was?  “Harmless fun”?  Miriam-Webster took umbrage by tweeting “Definition of HARMLESS … free from harm, liability, or loss; lacking capacity or intent to injure : innocuous”.  Yale apparently refrained from tweeting about its reputation.  But, whoa!  “when Brett Kavanaugh did it to her”?  Guilty without any presumption of innocence, without any testimony from the accuser, without any testimony from any witness, without any audio or video recording, without any photograph, without any right to confront adverse witnesses under oath, without the filing of any criminal or civil charges, without any indictment, without any trial by a jury of his peers?  And all this at this moment in time, when the 2020 Presidential election is all the news that the Fourth Estate deems fit to print?

Surely The New York Times readers would be able to present examples of its good journalism.  However, a question would remain?  How can any reader or non-reader know when The New York Times is publishing good journalism, as opposed to when it is behaving as described above?  When it comes to having a Fourth Estate We The People can trust, can democracy survive when there is no answer to the preceding question?

Can trust exist, when trustworthiness is unpredictable?

Is The New York Times an independent, unbiased, trustworthy component of a Fourth Estate that protects democracy, with honor and truth as did Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and Chet Huntley?  Or is it “The Paper Of Record” for its readers?

Stephen B. Benisch, September 16, 2019


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