Troubled Times

As a longtime loyal New York Times reader, it saddens me to have to critique the paper like this. The Times has always been a mixed bag, but some of their investigative reporting is very good. And really, the country needs a fully functioning New York Times — so we should all be trying to make it better, not destroy it.

That said, they have recently gone down a rabbit hole on their editorial pages. In their hiring decisions and topical obsessions, they have doubled down on a misguided attempt to not appear to have “liberal bias.” For example, they (or whoever specifically makes these decisions) have apparently bought into the hyperbolic, highly-distorting, and relentless Fox News obsession with a small number of overzealous college students as an attempt to smear all progressives. Fox’s game is straight from an authoritarian playbook, attacking academia and academics as the “real threat” to a free society, even as we are in the middle of an actual attempted fascist takeover of the country. (Meanwhile, Trump cozies up to people like Erdogan of Turkey, who literally throw academics in prison and fill populations with a sense of victimization at the hands of intellectuals, teachers, etc.) It’s worth noting that the Times actually hired as an editorial page editor a woman who, as a college student, was known for attacking professors who criticize Israeli state policies toward Palestinians.

Indeed, the Times’ self-righteous condescension towards, and stereotyping of, its own readership seems an awful lot like the attitude it chides “liberals” for displaying towards Trump voters — those saintly, salt-of-the-earth people who are definitely not racist (perish the thought!), and are above reproach.

Here are some suggestions for columnists they could have picked if they valued actual diversity of perspectives, and elevating underheard voices instead of dominant ones:

  • • An environmental expert commenting on climate change and the rampant gutting of environmental protections
  • • A Muslim, or Palestinian-American, who might talk about the criminally-neglected topic of Palestinian rights
  • • A woman of color
  • • An immigrant
  • • A critic of late capitalism, talking about how to innovate away from its worst excesses and power structures towards a more sustainable system of commerce

The country desperately needs the Times to rise to the occasion and help good people preserve democracy in America. Some readers have canceled their subscriptions, and this may or may not be an effective form of protest. I’m not sure about the best tactics here, but I hope the Times sees the light soon.


  • ACounter

    Jen, you make the great point that the NY Times could use a “.. critic of late capitalism.” But based on how the NY Times treated Bernie Sanders in 2015 and 2016, don’t hold your breath. Margaret Sullivan, the then-NY Times Public Editor, chided the Times for its coverage of Bernie Sanders in September 2015:
    “Here’s my take: The Times has not ignored Mr. Sanders’s campaign, but it hasn’t always taken it very seriously. The tone of some stories is regrettably dismissive, even mocking at times. Some of that is focused on the candidate’s age, appearance and style, rather than what he has to say.”

    For instance, Sullivan wrote, a Times Magazine interview of Bernie Sanders by Ana Marie Cox included this back-and-forth:
    “Do you think it’s fair that Hillary’s hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?
    Hillary’s hair gets more scrutiny than my hair?
    Is that what you’re asking?
    O.K., Ana, I don’t mean to be rude here. I am running for president of the United States on serious issues, O.K.? Do you have serious questions?”

    Later on, on the morning of March 14, 2016, a story entitled “Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years via Legislative Side Doors” was published online. It summarized Sanders’ career as a legislator. Initially, it was somewhat positive and detailed how he had had some success in getting amendments passed despite his independent status.
    But, Sullivan wrote, “.. in the late afternoon, Times editors made significant changes to its tone and content, turning it from almost glowing to somewhat disparaging. The later headline read: “Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories.”

    And these two paragraphs were added:

    But in his presidential campaign Mr. Sanders is trying to scale up those kinds of proposals as a national agenda, and there is little to draw from his small-ball legislative approach to suggest that he could succeed.

    Mr. Sanders is suddenly promising not just a few stars here and there, but the moon and a good part of the sun, from free college tuition paid for with giant tax hikes to a huge increase in government health care, which has made even liberal Democrats skeptical.”

    Someone high up at the NY Times didn’t want Sanders to look too good.

  • Mark Lungo

    A Native American columnist would be really interesting.

Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer Finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.