Sunday, July 25, 2004

Who Knew -- The NY Times is liberal!

This is the admission from the Times' outgoing ombudsman, Daniel Okrent (whom the Times called a "Public Editor"). The title of his last real column: "Is the New York Times a Liberal Newspaper" is answered in his first sentence: "Of course it is."

No kidding?

But the real story is not just Okrent's public proclaimation that the Times is a liberal newspaper, it is the various bombshells that Okrent drops on the Times' own conceit as the nation's paper of record.

First, there's this comment:

[On] the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others . . . if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed.

But if you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world.

Okrent also excuses the Times for being a "product" of New York City -- urban, chic, ultraliberal. But this only reflects part of the city -- the elite, upwardly mobile or ultimately pretentious -- essentially the "Sex in the City" sensibility of NYC as Manhattan from Columbia University south; not the middle-class and blue-collar people who have lived in the city (and predominantly in the other four boroughs) for generations. Here is Okrent's comment:

The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word "postmodern" have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year - true fact! - and if that doesn't reflect a Manhattan sensibility, I'm Noam Chomsky.

But it's one thing to make the paper's pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward or other like-minded souls (European papers, aligned with specific political parties, have been doing it for centuries), and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear. I don't think it's intentional when The Times does this. But negligence doesn't have to be intentional.

Manhattan sensibility. Manhattan is home to less than 10% of the City's residents, and less than 5% of the NYC metro area. In other words, the Times is elitist and only matters to a small slice of the City that it serves.

To his credit, Okrent flames not only the Times' editorial leanings, but how its worldview slants coverage throughout the newspaper -- Sports, Lifestyle, Movies and Arts -- and most of all, News, by failing to give any weight to perspectives and information that could counter the Times' innate agenda. He says it more nicely than that, of course, but he says it nonetheless.

Read it all.

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