Arguing With Liberals: The New York Times
We were discussing a memoir written by novelist Joyce Carol Oates: A Widow's Story: A Memoir. JCO is the perfect picture (and almost a self-parody) of an academic leftist liberal, having taught writing at Princeton since 1978. This is what she wrote in her book: Post 9/11 America! The war in Iraq! The coolly calibrated manipulation of the credulous American public, by an administration bent upon stoking paranoid partriotism! Avidly reading the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and Harper's, like so many of our Princeton friends and colleagues, Ray is one of those choked with indignation, alarm; a despiser of the war crimes of the Bush administration as of its cunning, hypocrisy, and cynicism; it's skill at manipulating the large percentage of the population that seems immune to logic as to common sense, and history. Ray's natural optimism--his optimist-gardener soul--has been blunted to a degree by months, years, of this active and largely frustrated dislike of all that George W. Bush represents.
And I said: That's probably as perfect a description of the leftist condescending elitist academic "smarter-than-thou" class as I've ever read. Joyce seems to stop just short of blaming Bush for her husband's death, since this description comes in the scene that has him hunched over the kitchen table the morning he took ill, surrounded by his newspapers and magazines: the implication--distress over Bush knocked out his immune system and put him at risk for the pneumonia that killed him. That evil man, George Bush.
And she said: As for the leanings of the New Yorker, well, I sort of lean that way myself, so I might not have noticed their leaning - a phenomenon of parallel lines [emphasis mine--no shit, Sherlock.]. I just hope I don't come across as condescending. There are merits to a lot of points of view. (That doesn't mean I'm going to be kind to Republicans who want to keep farm subsidies and cut food stamp allocations, however.) I have rather conservative relatives in Ohio, and I've very careful not to criticize their views, although discussion on issues sometimes reveals that they don't get much of a variety of news source [this is code for: THEY WATCH FOX NEWS]. I suppose some would say the same about me, but I feel sufficiently ambivalent about the issues to suggest at least some variety. Huh?
And I said: I don't have any problem with the NYer leaning left, although as I said, I think they made a mistake changing their "no endorsement" policy. My problem is with readers of the mag who don't even know which way it leans, or who insist it has no agenda, that it's somewhere "in the middle" or apolitical. All I'm asking is that magazines such as this, newspapers such as The New York Times--admit who you are! What's wrong with that? When I read The Weekly Standard, for example, I have no problem acknowledging their right-leaning stance. Why can't the left do the same thing?
And she said (finally--I knew she would say this or something like it if she didn't run away from the conversation first): I have heard many conservatives claim the NYTimes is left-leaning, to which I say, wow, what would you have thought of the old Village Voice, the Nation, Mother Jones, the Progressive, etc etc. The old Grey Lady seems pretty middle-of-the-road to me, and always has.
And I said: Just because you can site farther left-leaning rags than The NYT, that doesn't therefore prove your argument that The NYT is moderate.
Let's assume that a paper's editorial board drives the content of the paper--can we agree on that? Then let's look at the people on the Editorial Board if you think The NYT is "in the middle." If we made this a "which of these people leans left" drinking game, we would be plowed before we got halfway through the list:
Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal (Check out his coverage of the Bush 1992 presidential campaign if you think he's "moderate")
Deputy Editor Carla Anne Robbins, who holds an M.A. and PhD in poli sci from Berkeley (enough said--or do you think 6 or so years at Berkeley would encourage someone to be "middle of the road"?)
Science Editor Phillip M. Boffey, who, for example, writes about global warming as established science.
National affairs/national politics editor David Firestone. His recent article about Obama's State of the Union speech starts this way: "With his lips pursed, body tense and applause sparing, John Boehner was restless in the speaker’s chair during President Obama’s State of the Union address." Really? Did Firestone ever have anything to say about the seal-clapping, eye-blinking, jack-in-the-box behavior of Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair? I doubt it.
Law, civil rights, and national affairs editor, Dorothy Samuels, who served for four years as executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the largest affiliate of the national A.C.L.U.
Education, race (race??), and culture editor, Brent Staples, PhD in psychology from the U of Chicago.
Economic Issues and Tax Policy editor, Teresa Tritch, former contributing editor for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Seriously, I told my liberal friend, there are plenty of fine conservative think-tanks where The NYT could find someone with excellent qualifications for a position of "economic issues and tax policy editor"--or any of these other editorial positions--if they were really looking for a balance or looking to be "middle of the road".
Can you find even one right-wing conservative on the editorial board? --But wait, you've said the paper is "pretty middle-of-the-road," so for that to be true, wouldn't you need to find that half of the editorial board is conservative? I'd settle for 40/60. Even 30/70.
Look at the paper's presidential endorsements if you think they're "pretty middle-of-the-road": 2008, Barack Obama, Democrat; 2004, John Kerry, Democrat; 2000, Al Gore, Democrat; 1996 and 1992, Bill Clinton, Democrat; 1988, Michael Dukakis, Democrat; 1984, Walter Mondale, Democrat; 1980, 1976, Jimmy Carter, Democrat; 1972, George McGovern, Democrat. You have to go back to 1956, Eisenhower, before you find The NYT endorsing a Republican for president.
Look at not only their editorial stance, but also at their stand in the articles on issues of the day: global warming, Obama's health care bill, what to do about our U.S./Mexican border, the U.S. energy policy, what is happening with Gov. Walker and the unions in Wisconsin.
Anywho, that's enough for me. I do not find it to be an outrageous or even inaccurate statement to say that The NYT "leans left." And as I said before, what bothers me (and part of this is of course my own speculation) is that probably most of the people who read the paper would say, like you, that the paper "seems pretty middle-of-the-road."
And she said: "...crickets..."