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Friday, Oct 30, 2020

What is the point of the New York Times?

What is the point of the New York Times?

For several generations now the New York Times has been seen as America’s ‘paper of record’. You might have appreciated some aspects of it more than others, and it may have been a little dull, but it was reliable; even necessary. A sort of journalistic fibre. Then at some stage in recent decades, it started to exemplify a rot which has wormed its way through much of the legacy media. Its reporting became unreliable and its comment pages monotone. The paper became increasingly unreadable. If there was one reason above all, it was that it became untrustworthy.

Earlier today, Bari Weiss resigned from the New York Times and published a devastating letter of resignation on her website (also available here). There will be those who try to pretend that this is no big deal, or that it is just a storm in a journalistic tea-cup: they would be wrong.

For several generations now the New York Times has been seen as America’s ‘paper of record’. You might have appreciated some aspects of it more than others, and it may have been a little dull, but it was reliable; even necessary. A sort of journalistic fibre. Then at some stage in recent decades, it started to exemplify a rot which has wormed its way through much of the legacy media. Its reporting became unreliable and its comment pages monotone. The paper became increasingly unreadable. If there was one reason above all, it was that it became untrustworthy.

It first passed through a stage of appearing to believe that its job was to stand equidistant between the facts and the public. Then – and never more so than in the era of its nemesis, Donald Trump – it just came out for a particular side on issue after issue. It stopped being a newspaper and became an organ of opinion for one set of political positions.

Some time ago I became aware that I no longer trusted it even on issues that I didn’t know about. Because on every issue I did know about, I discovered that the paper was spreading untruths and lies. Take the bizarre animus against Britain (which I have written about a number of times here). It appears that the NYT at some stage made a decision that Brexit had something to do with Trump, and since the NYT hated Trump, it must not just report negatively against Brexit Britain, but campaign against it. Its London ‘correspondents’ must be among the least informed and most campaign-minded journalists in the paper’s history. The misinformation that the NYT has now published against this country is so extraordinary that nobody who actually knows the UK could possibly trust its coverage. And if you see that this is the case with things you do know about, then why would you remotely trust the NYT on things you don’t know about? And at that stage, what is the point of the paper? It’s not as though it is worth reading for the wit.

Anyhow – after recent sackings at the paper (relating to the publication of a perfectly reasonable opinion piece by Senator Tom Cotton) it became clear that Bari Weiss was one of the last couple of liberal voices (in the true sense) left at the paper. And as you could see from the deranged online behaviour of her colleagues towards her, it was clear she was not going to be long for the role.

Her resignation letter is damning. She alleges ‘constant bullying by colleagues.’ And in a memorable line she says, ‘Twitter is not on the masthead of the New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor.’ Ouch.

Of course there will doubtless now be more bullying and hectoring. All once again done by ‘liberal’ voices presuming that they are acting in the name of good. It is an extraordinary thing this, and in some ways emblematic of the age. Publications like the NYT, who profess to be most opposed to ‘fake news’, continuously turn out to have been the era’s biggest purveyors of the thing they complain of. And campaigning journalists, imagining that they are acting in the name of decency, turn out to behave so indecently that they bully out a minority, dissenting opinion from their ranks.

Bari Weiss has a bright future ahead of her. The same cannot be said of the paper she has just left.

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