The political bias of the New York Times has not escaped the attention of Post reader David Zukerman. Counting letters from its readers the Times published over a recent 10-day period, Zukerman found “precisely one pro-Trump letter — and 18 anti-Trump letters.” He wonders, “I guess the question is, how did that pro-Trump letter get into the newspaper?”
Surely it was a mistake, and maybe a little head will roll for violating a blackout rule against positive views of Donald Trump. Standards must be enforced, you see.
Unfortunately, that is not entirely a jest, and even worse, the one-sided approach isn’t limited to the Gray Lady’s editors, reporters and columnists. There is growing evidence that Times readers expect the paper to always support Hillary Clinton and bash Trump relentlessly, and are furious on those rare occasions when they don’t get what they want.
The public editor is the portal for reader grievances, and the new person in the job, Liz Spayd, started out questioning why the Times is so liberal and faulted it for not covering Clinton’s false claims in an interview. But Spayd now seems to be drinking the Kool-Aid and wants the paper to be even more slanted than it is.
She sided with readers who complained that the Times was too hard on Clinton in its news coverage of Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal, and that it was too soft in its coverage of Trump’s visit to Mexico and his immigration speech later that night.
Spayd said readers were especially irate that the Weiner article in the print edition carried the headline, “Weiner’s Texts Cast Shadow On Campaign,” and agreed with them it was unwarranted.
She quoted a woman from Maryland who wrote, “I am appalled at the article about Anthony Weiner claiming that his behavior casts a shadow over Hillary Clinton’s campaign and somehow reflects on her morality. What has happened to the NY Times? This article belongs in The National Enquirer. Shame on the Times.”
Another reader, a woman from California, blasted the story’s whole concept as sexist, saying Weiner’s “actions have no impact on the public, so why the need to artificially link Weiner and the Clinton campaign?”
In fact, both letters are preposterous. There is no doubt that the Clinton campaign was rocked by the unwanted attention to Huma Abedin, Weiner’s wife and the candidate’s closest confidant, and by the unhappy reminder of the sexual habits of Bill Clinton, who officiated at the Abedin-Weiner wedding.
Times reporters were absolutely right to draw the obvious connections to the Clintons, and readers are dead wrong in demanding that the paper protect the Democrat instead of reporting the facts.
As for Trump, Spayd herself said his speech in Phoenix was full of “angry, aggressive rhetoric,” and cited a man from California who wanted the article to condemn Trump as a dangerous racist, writing: “This description of Trump’s speech seems simply false and diminishing of the extreme, off-kilter racist rhetoric he offered. As the paper of record, don’t you feel you have a responsibility to accurately represent the intensity of Trump’s rage and the danger he poses to American values?”
Carolyn Ryan, the Times’s political editor, who has presided proudly over the one-sided coverage, was quoted as saying she understood why readers wanted the paper to write about Trump’s “fiery language and belligerent tone.”
In fact, Trump’s speech was rousing and substantive, and any belligerence was directed at two main sources — illegal immigrants who commit crimes, and Clinton, who promises to use executive orders to grant amnesty to millions who are in the country illegally. Neither target was out of bounds.
The double standards are breathtaking. Clinton often shouts angrily at rallies, yet readers don’t want the Times to say so, and it rarely does. The paper routinely demonizes Trump in vile ways, yet readers and Spayd demand even more.
The partisan letters match a recent experience I had with a Times devotee at a dinner hosted by friends. When I called it a remarkable development that the Times had expressly abandoned its standards of fairness in its coverage of Trump, the reader objected, saying he liked the coverage. He didn’t want even news articles on Trump to be hobbled by traditional standards.
Besides, he added, The Post and other papers were guilty of favoritism, too.
Leaving aside his first point, which ignores the importance of standards in building the Times’ brand, there’s truth to his second claim, even as it diminishes that brand.
He’s basically arguing that the Times is right to play favorites because everybody else does it. It’s an admission that reinforces my case that the Times does not deserve to be viewed as the flagship of American journalism. Its standards are no longer the highest or unique, and the new reality should be acknowledged inside and outside the paper’s newsroom.
As I have argued, the collapse of standards defines the modern Times and makes it inferior to its golden past. By putting partisanship first, it forfeits its status as the most principled source of news.
Nowadays, its core readers want only comfort food, and the Times is eager to dish it out.