|Fraser P. Seitel|
The New York Times is, inarguably, the world’s most powerful newspaper.
Each day, the Times turns out 60-100 pages of originally-sourced news from around the globe, covering every subject imaginable. It reaches seven million people a day, 6.9 million of them online. Its daily news stories help set the agenda for governments and thought leaders throughout the world.
I’ve been a subscriber to the print edition of The New York Times for three decades. And I despise it. It was not always thus.
Oh sure, the Times has always been contemptuous of public relations people, traditionally characterizing them as “flacks,” disregarding their news releases and often going to great lengths to avoid mentioning their clients, no matter how eleemosynary the client-sponsored subject.
But the Times, traditionally, has also housed the finest domestic and international journalists. Its war zone foreign correspondents, like John Burns and David Rhode, were fearless truth tellers. Its obituaries, still authored by high craftsmen like Sam Roberts and William Grimes, are models of meticulous writing. And its opinion columnists from James Reston to Russell Baker to Johnny Apple were legendary.
Today, alas, the tree has fallen far from the Apple.
The Times news pages have been overtaken by an obvious left-leaning, liberal bias. Similarly, its editorial page has become a wasteland of monotonous anti-capitalist, anti-conservative, anti-democratic screeds, authored mainly by mediocre writers, united in their antipathy toward Republicans and their uncompromising hatred of Donald Trump.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with despising the truly despicable Trumpster, but sadly, ever since the Donald’s stupefying victory in 2016, The New York Times has given up all pretense of objectivity. It’s still not as far left as NPR or MSNBC, but it’s getting there.
Nowhere is this truer than on the once-revered editorial page, where a cavalcade of lesser lights is making its mark. Among them:
Charles Blow, the accidental humorist
Charles Blow—his real name—is without question the Times’ funniest columnist. Not that he intends to be funny; he doesn’t. But Mr. Blow is so angry, so enraged, so apoplectic in every column, you can’t help but chortle. He sees racists beneath every rock, sexists behind every smile, traitors around every tree.
There’s no subject that Mr. Blow confronts where the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance. Everything stands in peril, every column, every day. A cynic might argue that the only logical reason for a columnist to be so persistently, pathologically pessimistic is to attract clicks to the Times, which Mr. Blow does. An even bigger cynic might argue that he purposely writes over the top to attract interest from TV networks, which Mr. Blow has as an MSNBC contributor and Black News Channel host.
Technically, Mr. Blow is less a “writer” than a “stenographer,” in that most of his columns spend most of their space quoting the words of others. Typical was a recent offering that spent six whole paragraphs quoting President Biden’s Town Hall exchange with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Mr. Blow was positively hysterical that Biden hadn’t argued more forcefully to pass a national voting rights act.
Failure to pass the bill, the columnist argued in his characteristically restrained manner, would prove “cataclysmic,” thus leaving little doubt that among New York Times opinion writers, Charles Blow is, indeed, “hysterical.”
Michelle Goldberg, the wounded worrier
Michelle Goldberg is the Times version of Debbie Downer. She’s worried about the possibility of Trump coming back, about her Upper West Side kids getting enough COVID shots, about less privileged kids getting no COVID shots, about Trump coming back, about centrist senator Kyrsten Sinema derailing a desperately-needed $3 trillion spending bill and, most of all, about Trump coming back.
Like her opinion associate Mr. Blow, Ms. Goldberg imagines disaster lurking around every corner. Don’t read her column if you’ve recently installed a pacemaker. Typical was her recent upbeat view of the current political malaise:
“The Republican Party is as deranged and authoritarian as ever. Biden’s agenda is stuck in a congressional standoff that’s at once frustrating, terrifying and extremely boring. The pandemic is dragging on, without an obvious off ramp. We’re completely incapable of addressing the onrushing calamity of climate change. Burnout is marked by feelings of futility, and there’s a lot of that going around.”
On the bright side, unlike Mr. Blow, Ms. Goldberg doesn’t believe everything is wrong with the country in which she resides; just …. most things.
Tom Friedman, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, fading fast
The senior Times’ op ed triumvirate has grown old, cold and increasingly irrelevant. Each of them, the paper is quick to point out, has earned high honors for commentary. True but … Ms. Dowd earned her Pulitzer Prize three decades ago, Mr. Friedman earned his Pulitzer two decades ago and Mr. Krugman earned his Nobel Prize in Economic Science more than a decade ago.
Today, their columns often tilt toward nostalgia, e.g. Mr. Friedman writing longingly of his trip to Afghanistan with Joe Biden in 2002, or nastiness, e.g. Ms. Dowd describing the adversarial Sen. Sinema as “the Greta Garbo of Congress," or subjects about which they know little, e.g. the Nobel economist Mr. Krugman waxing on climate change, vaccine mandates and Mitch McConnell.
No longer, sadly, are the columns of the three stalwarts “must” reading; more like, read them if you must.
David Brooks, already gone
And then there’s once-commonsensical, once clear-eyed, once laser-focused Times columnist David Brooks. What in the world has happened to him?
His columns today are abstract, obtuse and impossible to wade through. Recent Brooks’ columns, for example discussed such pressing topics as “essentialism,” the belief that the groups we join are rooted in reality; the mirage of “self-awareness;” and “estrangement” within the American family.
All perfectly reasonable issues for say, Psychology Today, but for the daily New York Times? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, Mr. Brooks at least still tries to be even-handed—although he, too, despises Trump!—which is more than you can say for most of the newer Times contributors—writers like Lindsay Crouse, Kara Swisher, Jamelle Bouie and Farhad Manjoo—whose views cover the spectrum from left to far left, from merely radical to downright revolutionary. Mr. Manjoo, for instance, recently extolled the virtues of a “post-job, antiwork world,” where “people wrest the reins of their lives from the soul-sucking, health-destroying maw of capitalism.” (His treatise failed, however, to give due credit to Vladimir Lenin.)
It is, indeed, a dismal lot. Then again, there are …
Gail Collins and Bret Stephens, a sign of hope
Somehow in this gloomy galaxy of eminently forgettable New York Times opinion writers, someone somewhere came up with the bright idea of teaming liberal Gail Collins with conservative Bret Stephens in a weekly op ed dialogue. And they struck gold.
Ms. Collins, whose career as a satirist nosedived when she couldn’t find anything funny to write during the Trump years, and Mr. Stephens, who almost got fired when the Times realized he was an actual Republican, are a breath of fresh air on the opinion page. Their topical weekly give-and-take is inspired, intelligent, informative, witty and civil.
Pity it’s the only such column in the newspaper.
Fraser P. Seitel has been a communications consultant, author and teacher for 40 years. He’s author of the Pearson text “The Practice of Public Relations,” now in its 14th edition, and co-author of “Rethinking Reputation” and “Idea Wise.” He may be reached directly at [email protected].