The New York Times public editor , Arthur S. Brisbane penned his final column today, and came up with a trenchant observation, diplomatically expressed though it is.. While he started his gig at Pravda-on-the-Hudson convinced that accusations of leftist bias and slanted coverage were totally unfounded, two years of working at the paper convinced him otherwise:
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.
Stepping back, I can see that as the digital transformation proceeds, as The Times disaggregates and as an empowered staff finds new ways to express itself, a kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper's political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space.
It's a huge success story - it is hard to argue with the enormous size of Times Nation - but one that carries risk as well. A just-released Pew Research Center survey found that The Times's "believability rating" had dropped drastically among Republicans compared with Democrats, and was an almost-perfect mirror opposite of Fox News's rating. Can that be good?
In other words, the Time's leftist bias is engrained, and it has now become like MSNBC - geared towards a select audience that shares that bias, rather than operating as a straight news outlet.
This is a major admission from the man whose job it's been for the last two years to comment on and address reader complaints, charges of bias and outright misstatements of fact and media criticism.
While I appreciate Mr. Brisbane's attempt to equate this with FOX, there are a couple of major differences. First, FOX goes to some lengths to include voices from different sides of the spectrum ( Juan Williams, Susan Estrich, Geraldo Rivera, Democrats Greta Van Sustern and Chris Wallace, etc.)while the Times, with very rare exceptions, does not.
And second, while by Arthur S. Brisbane's own admission the Times is hemorrhaging money and its appeal is, in the classic line from Spinal Tap, becoming 'more selective', FOX is hugely profitable and its audience has the kind of numbers the suits at Pravda-on-the-Hudson would poison puppies and murder babies in their cribs for.
I'm not at all surprised, however, that the Times printed this. Editor Jill Abramson's response tells you why:
Times executive editor Jill Abramson says she disagrees with Brisbane’s “sweeping conclusions.”
“In our newsroom we are always conscious that the way we view an issue in New York is not necessarily the way it is viewed in the rest of the country or world. I disagree with Mr. Brisbane’s sweeping conclusions,” Abramson told POLITICO Saturday night.
“I agree with another past public editor, Dan Okrent, and my predecessor as executive editor, Bill Keller, that in covering some social and cultural issues, the Times sometimes reflects its urban and cosmopolitan base,” she continued. “But I also often quote, including in talks with Mr. Brisbane, another executive editor, Abe Rosenthal, who wanted to be remembered for keeping ‘the paper straight.’ That’s essential.”
Ah yes, that 'urban and cosmopolitan base' - as opposed to those knuckle dragging, neanderthal rubes in flyover country.
In essence, with those turgid comments Ms. Abramson just reaffirmed everything Arthur Brisbane wrote in his column..the Times is no longer a newspaper, but a proud organ for the left, who are of course smarter than everybody else.
I actually have no problem with that, but I do have one with promulgating the consistent myth that the paper is 'straight' or even a viable news source.
Contrary to what Ms. Abramson may want us to believe, Abe Rosenthal wouldn't recognize what the Times has become since Little Pinch Sulzberger took over.
It is the MSNBC of newspapers, shedding any semblance of balance or honesty in order to pander to its base audience.