Thursday, February 6, 2014

Trouble at the New York Times

Like any news organ the New York Times has every right to offer its opinion on its editorial pages. Its larger problem, one that is not addressed in a recent New York Observer story is that it has been known to editorialize in news stories.

I have often had occasion to post about excellent Times reporting. When the Times is good it is very, very good. Yet, if you compare Times coverage to Abu Ghraib with its coverage of Benghazi or the IRS scandal, you notice that it was using Abu Ghraib as a cudgel to destroy the Bush administration’s Iraq policy while it has been letting most Obama scandals and malfeasance be reported as simple news stories. 

Like it or not the Times sets the agenda for the mainstream media. If the Times were reporting on the IRS scandal every day above the fold, President Obama could not have dismissed it as a triviality.

Like most news organizations the Times separates the news side of its operation from the opinion side. Andrew Rosenthal, editor of the editorial page does not report to executive editor Jill Abramson. He reports directly to CEO Arthur Sulzberger.

This week the New York  Observer explains that news reporters are grumbling about the editorial side. They are finding that Times editorials, to say nothing of Times columnists are an embarrassment.

They do not denounce the editorials for being too liberal. Not at all, they denounce them for not presenting anything like an important or compelling opinion. They are up-in-arms over the fact that when it comes to quality, the Wall Street Journal editorial page is vastly superior to that of the Times.

One reporter said:

It’s so obvious that people on the news side find what the people on the opinion side are doing to be less than optimal. And it’s not that we want their money; we want them to be awesome. The fact of the matter is the Wall Street Journal editorial page just kicks our editorial page’s ass. I mean there’s just no contest, from top to bottom, and it’s disappointing. 

One staffer implied that the editorial writers were just churning out boilerplate… and were not doing it very well:

They’re completely reflexively liberal, utterly predictable, usually poorly written and totally ineffectual. I mean, just try and remember the last time that anybody was talking about one of those editorials. You know, I can think of one time recently, which is with the [Edward] Snowden stuff, but mostly nobody pays attention, and millions of dollars is being spent on that stuff.

The staffer continued:

You know, the editorials are never on the most emailed list; they’re never on the most read list. People just are not paying attention, and they don’t care. It’s a waste of money.

Editorials offer an opportunity to shape opinion and to direct the debate over ideas. In that realm the Times has abrogated.

Of course, it’s not just the editorials. Times staffers are no less brutal in their evaluation of Times columnists. I have had occasion to demonstrate in detail the intellectual inadequacy of writers like Friedman and Co. In that I am hardly alone.

One reporter noted:

Tom Friedman is an embarrassment. I mean there are multiple blogs and Tumblrs and Twitter feeds that exist solely to make fun of his sort of blowhardy bullshit.

A former Times writer said:

As for the columnists, Friedman is the worst. He hasn’t had an original thought in 20 years; he’s an embarrassment. He’s perceived as an idiot who has been wrong about every major issue for 20 years, from favoring the invasion of Iraq to the notion that green energy is the most important topic in the world even as the financial markets were imploding. Then there’s Maureen Dowd, who has been writing the same column since George H. W. Bush was president.

Another staffer offered this:

I just think it’s bad, and nobody is acknowledging that they suck, but everybody in the newsroom knows it, and we really are embarrassed by what goes on with Friedman. I mean anybody who knows anything about most of what he’s writing about understands that he’s, like, literally mailing it in from wherever he is on the globe. He’s a travel reporter. A joke. The guy gets $75,000 for speeches and probably charges the paper for his first-class airfare.

Naturally, this would lead us to ask which corporate bigwigs are willing to spend $75,000 to listen to a windbag? And if the corporate types are willing to shell out so much money to hear Freidman, do you think that the average Times reader sees Friedman's deficiency?

The problem is not so much that reporters know how bad the editorials and columns are, but that the general public does not. How is it possible that the highly educated, intellectually sophisticated Times readership does not know that its favorite newspaper is feeding it swill?

Then again, maybe the editorial page has become a vanity project. If people are happy to be tole what to think in the news stories, they may feel that they don’t need to bother with the editorials.


Sam L. said...

How long has it been since I trusted the NYT? I'd guess 40-45 years.

Anonymous said...

There were certainly lots of Soviet elites and intellectuals who enjoyed Pravda. Lovely reading.


Dennis said...

James T. Callender is alive and well at the NYTimes.

In fact Callender would feel at home working for the NYTimes.

"Meriwether Jones, a friend and supporter of Thomas Jefferson and James Callender, had published an open letter to Callender in December 1802:
The James River you tell us, has suffered to cleanse your body; is there any menstrum [solvent] capable of cleansing your mind... Oh! could a dose of James river, like Lethe, have blessed you with forgetfulness, for once you would have neglected your whiskey."

The essence of the above quote would fit a significant number of those who populate the NYTimes.

I was kind of hoping DiBlasio would drive a lot of the money, and businesses, out of NYC so it would loss a lot of the "media" that reside there.
No offense Stuart, but we need to lessen the affect of a "media" that has its roots in just one area of the country at the expense of the rest of the country. Does one really believe Christe would be a continuing item in the daily news otherwise?

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Of course, we do. But isn't that what the internet is all about. One thing about the Times... it is not making any money. In truth, the only major media outlets that are making money are Fox News, and perhaps The Economist.