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The New York Times Is Destroying Democracy

From the elimination of the Public Editor to their overweening both-siderism, The New York Times is the perfect evidence of how the media enables the Republican Party to kill democracy by a thousand cuts.
The New York Times Is Destroying Democracy
Image from: James Zogby

I regret that I had but one subscription to The New York Times to cancel, which I did at the beginning of 2017 in protest of their 2016 coverage.

Sadly, it doesn't appear that The New York Times has learned anything from their heinous coverage in 2016 (and those of you screaming "Judy Miller!" at your screens right now, before 2016 as well). And I will state unequivocably that the corruption of the Old Gray Lady is directly enabling the destruction of democracy.

For Exhibit A, I give you the above ad, reportedly paid for by RWNJ Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has so gone off the deep end that even Cory "LOVE everybody" Booker no longer speaks to him. Boteach's attack on Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib is based on the same right wing spin that airs continually on right wing radio and Fox News and targets Tlaib for the unforgivable sin of being an unapologetically Muslim woman rejecting the "don't question us" right wing support of Israeli policies on Palestine. The New York Times ran this oversized ad, which all but paints a target on Tlaib as the death threats against her grow. Contrast that, if you will, with how contrite they were when MoveOn ran the infamous "Gen. Betray-us" ad:

"I think the ad violated The Times' own written standards, and the paper now says that the advertiser got a price break it was not entitled to," wrote Clark Hoyt, who analyzes the newspaper's coverage as the "readers' representative."
[..]
"We do not accept opinion advertisements that are attacks of a personal nature."

So, the benefit of fifteen plus years of the Republicans gaming the system by whining about media bias against them has resulted in The New York Times being less afraid to publish personal attacks, as long as the target is a traditionally oppressed minority? Nice.

It should be noted that Clark Hoyt was The New York Times' Public Editor, a position that no longer exists (Consider this Evidence B).

That’s the direction the Times is going in — letting the public serve as the public editor, a position created at the Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal in 2003.


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“[T]oday, our followers on social media and our readers across the Internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office,” [Publisher Arthur] Sulzberger said in the memo. "We are dramatically expanding our commenting platform. Currently, we open only 10 percent of our articles to reader comments. Soon, we will open up most of our articles to reader comments. This expansion, made possible by a collaboration with Google, marks a sea change in our ability to serve our readers, to hear from them, and to respond to them.”

It's admirable in theory, but significantly less so in practice. Remember that fawning article about Hope Hicks I wrote about last week? That was written by Trump Whisperer Maggie Haberman, whom reporters will laughably claim Trump fears, but is also actually on his speed dial frequently as he tries to use her to frame the news (as well as other "unnamed sources inside the White House"). When the Twitterverse (or the readership Sulzberger claims to be listening to) slammed Haberman for such a schlocky soft-focus feature on Hope Hicks, The Times had all their writers circling their wagons around Haberman and defending her and insulting anyone who questioned her.

So clearly, listening to the readership is not working as well as Sulzberger seemed to believe. Jay Rosen points to the tension (emphasis mine):

Recently the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, said something that I believe touched on this anxiety.

We won’t be baited into becoming ‘the opposition.’ And we won’t be applauded into becoming ‘the opposition.’

By “baited” he clearly meant the taunts of people like Steve Bannon and President Trump. By “applauded” he meant, I think, the pressure coming from Times loyalists. For the most part these are people appalled by Trump who want to see him further exposed. They want the Times to be tougher on his supporters and more relentless in calling out his lies. They want Times journalists to see what they see — an assault on democratic institutions, the corruption of the American Republic — and to act accordingly.

But these people are perceived as a threat by the Times newsroom. The fear is that they want to turn the Times into an opposition newspaper. This is not how the Times sees itself. The fear is that they want the Times to help save American democracy. This too is not how the Times sees itself.

Remember when the Washington Post came out with its new motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness?” It put Post journalism on the side of keeping democracy alive. Dean Baquet, executive editor of the Times, made fun of it. “Sounds like the next Batman movie,” he said.

The snarkiness of Baquet's response leads us to Evidence C of how The New York Times is hurting democracy: DEAN BAQUET DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE THREAT IN FRONT OF US AND IS OVERLY CONCERNED WITH APPEARING TOO LIBERAL IN THE AGE OF TRUMP. Baquet has reportedly prevented his reporters from appearing on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show and Don Lemon's CNN show for the "perception of bias":

[O]ver the past couple of months, executive editor Dean Baquet has felt that opinionated cable-news show are getting, well, even more opinionated. Baquet and other managers have become increasingly concerned that if a Times reporter were to go on one of these shows, his or her appearance could be perceived as being aligned with that show’s political leanings. “He thinks it’s a real issue,” one of my Times sources said. “Their view,” said another, “is that, intentionally or not, it affiliates the Times reporter with a bias.”

I go back to Jay Rosen again:

I keep coming back to these words: If our journalists are perceived as biased… that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom. Dean Baquet — who approved these words and made them law — doesn’t seem to realize that if the perception of critics can edit the actions of his staff then he has surrendered power to enemies of the Times, who will always perceive bias because it is basic to their interests to do so. This is part of a larger problem in mainstream journalism, which is unable to think politically because it is constantly accused of acting politically by hyper-partisan critics peddling fixed ideas.

Phrases like “be especially mindful of appearing to take sides” (emphasis on appearing) are paralyzing and stupid in an asymmetrically polarized climate where journalists are treated as a hate objects by the president of the United States and honest reporting is dismissed as fabrication by Trump and his supporters.

Democracy is dying by a thousand cuts by the Republican Party: a little norm breaking here, a little obstruction there, outright gaslighting to keep people questioning reality. The whole reason that Freedom of the Press is enshrined as the first right in the Bill of Rights of our constitution is to have a Fourth Estate to hold the levers of government accountable. It is the mandate our Founding Fathers expected and demanded of the media.

And The New York Times is failing us, and failing democracy, EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. it continues these policies.

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