Arthur Brisbane, ending his tour as the New York Times’ public editor, went out with a slap in the face at his employer, suggesting that they reflect a liberal bias.
I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.
I don’t know if Brisbane is making a distinction between the editorial and news sides of the paper. The editorial board is largely liberal, despite giving ample space to columnists Ross Douthat and David Brooks, and routinely throwing up absolute drivel like that column last week from JPMorgan Chase’s William Harrison. The news desk, as Brisbane acknowledges, strives for what he calls “fairness and balance.” I assume that applies to something like Jackie Calmes’ hit job on Neil Barofsky’s book, for example. There are too many examples of this in the NYT, in my view, attempts to “prove” that they aren’t speaking from a particular perspective, expressed through a willingness to simply not tell the truth, or to smear someone on the wrong side of whatever point they’re trying to make. If there’s a political lean here, it’s one that’s extremely circumscribed around the concept of “safe” discourse.
And we should not forget the failue of the NYT, more than any other paper, in the run-up to Iraq.
The New York Times is a big organization that has a number of notably good reporters and opinion-mongers, and a fair bit of bad ones. Overall the organization makes a positive contribution to the discourse, certainly relative to the Politico/WaPo/WSJ complex. The hive-mind idea may be true in some respects, but more in the context of a hive mind hued to the familiar tropes that hamper modern journalism, from the “view from nowhere” idea of trying to stay out of ferreting out the truths in a story in sometimes comical ways, to the “church of the savvy” idea of making determinations on what matters and what doesn’t in the news. And of course, Arthur Brisbane is a part of that hive.