A Crisis of Bias- The New York Times Meets The National Enquirer

Nothing brings a person face to face with reality like the specter of financial distress. Just ask Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr, publisher of The New York Times. Once the paragon of journalistic excellence, The Times’ political reporting, has of late degenerated to the point of mimicing a liberal tabloid- a high class version of The National Enquirer.

Not that The Times ever stooped to The Enquirer’s level of absurdity. To the credit of the editorial staff, The Times didn’t run any articles about space aliens invading the Trump Tower, kidnapping Donald and whisking him off to the mother ship. What the writers and editors did do was display an unconscionable bias in reporting about the Trump campaign.

The reporting was so biased that Mr.Sulzberger and executive editor Dean Baquet sent a letter to readers asking for their loyalty in the wake of, “the biggest political story of the year”, which “reached a dramatic and unexpected climax late Tuesday night…”. Sulzberger apparently understands that The Times editorial policy must change, and that the new direction may alienate some readers and cause them to look elsewhere for their news. Although reader alienation is unlikely to lead to a windfall for The National Enquirer, if a sufficient number of readers defect, it could well lead to financial distress for The Times.

In his letter, Sulzberger went on to compliment the editorial staff for tuning on a dime and doing what it has done for nearly two years, that being, “cover the 2016 with agility and creativity”. One can only wonder why Sulzberger would choose to reference creativity; given Times reporting of late, creativity would seem to equate to reporting that is infused more with imagination than with fact.

Delving deeper into his letter, it appears Sulzberger has seen the errors of his paper’s editorial ways. In spite of that, he seeks to spin the facts, rather than deal with them honestly. He states, “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.”

Would that be the same scrutiny that turned a blind eye to a host of Hillary Clinton’s lies and misdeeds, or the same scrutiny that covered every piece of dirt someone threw at Donald Trump? Would it be the same fairness of painting pictures of the Clinton campaign steam rollering its way to the White House and the Trump campaign running out of steam? And will the referenced independence continue to be a preponderance of political coverage that slants left?

Assuming an earnest attempt to achieve the honest scrutiny, fairness and independence that has been that has been missing, Mr. Sulzberger is between the proverbial rock and a hard place. His paper has cultivated a liberal readership which is eagerly awaiting then next article to bathe Donald Trump in the most unflattering light. Yet should Mr. Sulzberger not alter his paper’s pre-election course, he would validate The Times’s recently acquired reputation of being a de facto liberal tabloid. On the one hand, The Times needs its subscribers (hence his plea for loyalty). On the other, if Times articles unfairly report on the Trump Administration, reporters’ access to that administration, and their ability to file timely articles, will be compromised.

Sulzberger is clearly facing a challenging future, a future made even more difficult by his apparent lack of understanding of America in 2016. When he references the “inevitable questions” that arose from the election, he asks, “Did Donald Trump’s sheer unconventionality lead us and other news outlets to underestimate his support among American voters? What forces and strains in America drove this divisive election and outcome? Most important, how will a president who remains a largely enigmatic figure actually govern when he takes office?”

Only the last question displays a grasp of reality. Trump is enigmatic and there’s little indication of the manner in which he will execute the Office of President. But the head of a news organization wondering what “forces and strains” resulted in Trump being elected, demonstrates a disconnect from a significant part of the world his newspaper is supposed to be covering. In turn that would lead to a conclusion that either The Times fell into the abyss of biased reporting because Sulzberger doesn’t get it, or that he has come to realize that the biased reporting he accepted has backfired.

Asking if Trump’s “sheer unconventionality” was the driver that led The Times and other news outlets to underestimate his support is ludicrous. Trump’s support was underestimated because that’s what those news organizations wanted to believe. Indications of his level of support were abundantly clear on social media and in polls that were disregarded because they ran counter to conventional wisdom.

Had Times reporters made an effort to speak with middle class Americans, to understand their plight, and honestly report their findings, Mr. Sulzberger would not now be in such a quandary. He would have known the answer to his questions, because his newspaper would have reported the discontent of millions of Americans who want nothing more than the opportunity to earn an honest living, who were derided for wanting to “to cling to their Bibles and guns”, who were labeled as “deplorables”, and who lost hope after eight years of liberal policies breaking their financial backs. He would have known that millions of Americans had simply had enough.

And he would have known the frustration and anger that burned in the hearts and minds of these Americans who have been ignored for eight years by an administration that is more concerned with forcing them to accept a health care system they can’t afford, an administration that is more concerned with importing refugees, and more concerned with problems overseas, than with addressing the issues they must confront. These Americans had tired of an administration that viewed them as the silent majority that would pay up and shut up.

But they can’t pay up any more. Some can barely make ends meet. They have had enough of empty promises and false hope. So they went to the polls and spoke up; they voted to get their lives back. They voted to get their country back. These Americans are not racists, sexists, xenophobes, Islamaphobes, homophobes or misogynists; it is an insult and an injustice to consign them to the same “basket” as those who are.

Come to understand that, Mr. Sulzberger. Come to understand that to millions of Americans, “the land of the brave and the home of the free” isn’t just a feel-good phrase, but a true belief that is worth fighting for, come to understand that people are not racist, sexist or a host of other “ists” and “phobes”, when their concern is that their economic and cultural survival is being threatened by government, and The New York Times may again be the great newspaper that once rightfully had the respect of the nation.


1 Comment

  1. Excellent article, Dave. Watching the 60 Minutes interview last night it struck me that several questions were posed which would *never* have been asked of a President-elect in the past. The media is going to have to re-learn how to treat this man with respect.

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