A Sliver of Sunshine at the New York Times
It turns out that conservative Republicans aren’t the only ones who think the New York Times has a liberal bias.
Sure, the paper has a bunch of liberal columnists who rarely surprise us with their opinions. And the editorials in the Times are predictably progressive. But that’s acceptable. Opinion writers, after all, are entitled to their opinions.
But now we have a column in the Times from its new public editor, the journalist who monitors the paper and listens to complaints from those who consume its news. Her name is Liz Spayd and if her latest offering is any indication, there is a sliver of sunshine peeking through the clouds at the most important newspaper in the entire solar system, as the journalists at the Times like to think of their paper.
Under the headline, “Why Readers See the Times as Liberal,” Ms. Spayd shares with us a few observations that showed up in her inbox. There’s an email from Gary in Manhattan who writes: “The NY Times is alienating its independent and open-minded readers, and in doing so, limiting the reach of their message and its possible influence.”
Another (unnamed) reader from California says she believes journalists at the Times are trying to convince readers to think they way they do. “I never thought I’d see the day when I, as a liberal, would start getting so frustrated with the one-sided reporting that I would start hopping over to the Fox News webpage to read an article and get the rest of the story that the NYT refused to publish.”
And one more, from James in Arizona: You’ve lost a subscriber because of your relentless bias against Trump – and I’m not even a Republican.”
When people who aren’t Republicans think Donald Trump is getting a raw deal, it’s time to take notice, which is exactly what Liz Spayd has done.
“You can imagine,” she writes, “what the letters from actual conservatives sound like.”
When she went around to journalists in the Times newsroom, asking what they thought of the bias claims, she got just what many of us would expect: “Mostly I was met with a roll of the eyes,” she writes. “All sides hate us. We’re tough on everyone. There’s nothing new here.”
I spent 28 years at CBS News and it’s been my experience that journalists are not especially introspective. Their reaction to charges of bias -- after the eye roll – is to circle the wagons. Bias, they will tell you, is in the eyes of the beholder. If you think we’re biased than that proves just one thing: that you’re the one who’s biased.
Ms. Spayd is rightly skeptical. She says there are a few things the Times can do – “some small steps on a longer journey,” as she puts it – to make the paper at least seem less biased and more fair.
For example, last December the Times ran an editorial calling for gun control. Fair enough -- except they ran it on Page One.
How about “leaving editorials on the editorial page,” she says. That might cut down on perceptions that the Times is relentlessly liberal. And she’s right.
Then there’s the “drumbeat” of campaign ads for Hillary Clinton campaign on the website. “Even for me,” Ms. Spayd writes, “who fully knows an ad from a news story, seeing Clinton’s smiling face when I’ve come to read the news can be rather jarring.”
Here’s an ideas, she says: What about banning campaign ads from the home page.
Another good idea.
Then there are the reader comments attached to political articles. The vast majority of those comments come from liberals. Conservative comments, she writes, “occupy just a few back-row seats in this giant liberal echo chamber.” The problem, she says, isn’t that they’re screened out by editors, it’s that they don’t show up in the first place.
Maybe conservatives don’t write to the Times because they figure they’d be wasting their time. I’ve written several letters to the editor, all polite and civil, taking on the liberal bias of this article or that. They almost never see the light of day. So after a while what do you think happens? You stop writing.
The other day I shared with you a few letters the hard copy of the Times published on the day Donald Trump chose Governor Mike Pence as his running mate. One said Governor Pence “is not merely right wing; he’s cruel and racist and uncaring. But then, isn’t that what today’s Republican Party is all about?” Another said Mike Pence “has the personality, the charisma and the star wattage of a rutabaga.”
You expect this kind of trash on the Internet – not the New York Times. But the letters editor at the Times saw no problem in giving space to an angry liberal who thinks the entire Republican Party is “cruel and racist and uncaring.” And when did childish name-calling become acceptable at the high-minded New York Times? Mike Pence “has the personality … of a rutabaga.” This kind of nonsense doesn’t only make the letter writer look foolish. It makes the New York Times look foolish, too.
Let me submit to Liz Spayd, and anyone else at the Times who might care, that this is another reason that many of us – in the words of the headline – “see the Times as liberal.”
This is how Ms. Spayd ends her column: “Imagine what would be missed by journalists who felt no pressing need to see the world through others’ eyes. Imagine the stories they might miss, like the groundswell of isolation that propelled a candidate like Donald Trump to his party’s nomination. Imagine a country where the greatest, most powerful newsroom in the free world was viewed not as a voice that speaks to all but as one that has taken sides.
“Or has that already happened?”
What the New York Times needs is a little more diversity than they have over there. Actually, a lot more. Maybe they should consider an idea that they’ve championed many times over the years: affirmative action.
But this time it would be affirmative action for conservative journalists, a tiny minority in the progressive New York Times newsroom. Think of it as some small steps on a longer journey.