It's Okay to Give the MSM a Little Credit for Ideological Diversity
Conservatives should embrace the New York Times hiring David French.
The other day, I read some bittersweet news. One of my favorite political, legal, and cultural writers, David French, announced that he had taken a job with the New York Times as an opinion columnist.
I was immediately happy for him. It was clearly something he wanted — writing regularly, on important topics, for one of the country’s most read and recognized news publications. My only dismay was that he would be leaving the pages of The Dispatch, the great conservative-leaning news-site he was a big part of for the last three years. I’m a longtime paying subscriber and loyal reader of The Dispatch, and I’ll certainly miss French’s insightful columns there.
But that’s my own selfishness talking. I think this hire by the Times is good, meaningful, and potentially consequential… for reasons French’s former National Review colleague Jay Nordlinger points out:
“The mainstreaming of American conservatism.” If you’re an American conservative like me, that should sound pretty good to you. And Nordlinger’s not blowing smoke with his praise. French is just as described — an honest, principled, and persuasive commentator. He doesn’t write to satisfy a political base (right-wing, left-wing, or otherwise), and he covers topics that he believes are culturally important… with thoughtful views and perspectives that he hopes readers of different backgrounds will consider.
Now he’ll have a louder megaphone from which to do that.
One of the persistent, most valid criticisms that conservatives have directed at prominent mainstream-media outlets like the New York Times has been that they lack intellectual and ideological diversity. The paper (along with most media-institutions) has long leaned decidedly left. So, it sure would seem to be a good sign that the Times was interested in bringing in someone with French’s profile.
But in today’s very tribal political environment, diversity of thought isn’t valued nearly as highly as it may have once been, including by a lot of people who still regularly complain about there not being enough of it.
So, when decisions are made by an ideologically lopsided media organization to bring a little more balance to its product, some view the move as an abandonment of principle, credibility, or objectivity.
Maybe that abandonment was by the organization itself…
… or the individual agreeing to work for the organization:
But that’s not how I see it. To me, this shows that the Times is at least trying. And it’s not the first time. Other center-right columnists, I would say of varying degrees of conservatism, also write for the paper. They include Ross Douthat, Bret Stephens, and Peter Wehner.
Still, I do understand why some are suspicious about whether these efforts by the Times are serious, committed, and done in good faith. Most people reading this are familiar with Bari Weiss’s difficult run with the paper. She was hired specifically for the purpose of diversifying the pages of the Times with dissenting, independent perspectives… and she was met with extraordinary internal resistance and bullying that ultimately drove her to resign. A similar situation led to editorial-page editor James Bennet resigning a month earlier.
There’s also the matter of something these center-right and conservative opinion writers all have in common: an unapologetic willingness, and even expressed internal obligation, to criticize people on their own side of the aisle. This includes Republican leaders (most notably Donald Trump), the Republican base, and prominent religious figures.
The same dynamic is present within other mainstream-media outlets, like MSNBC and CNN, who respectively brought on Trump-critical conservatives Stephen Hayes and Jonah Goldberg, following their departures from Fox News.
As far as many on the political right are concerned, the inclination of such individuals to voice strong “in-house” criticism, regardless of its merits, not only effectively disqualifies them from still being considered conservative…
… but was assuredly the reason they were offered those jobs in the first place:
The first charge, of course, is ridiculous. It requires that one reduce the meaning of the word “conservatism” from that of a philosophical disposition to that of nothing more than partisan loyalty — something that many self-proclaimed conservatives have, unfortunately, been more than willing to do since 2016.
The second point at least carries some weight. Would the New York Times, or any major left-leaning news-organization these days, hire a conservative commentator (for a prominent position) who isn’t comfortable policing important figures on the right? There’s probably an example of it that’s escaping my mind at the moment, but let’s just say that most would probably view this inclination as a non-spoken prerequisite.
Do I think that’s a problem? Not really. In fact, I’d like to see the same rule applied to liberal commentators in regard to important figures on the left.
What I would see as a problem, however, would be an expectation by the employer that the conservative hire serve as a reliable political attack dog against his or her side — a role that Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot have eagerly performed at the Washington Post.
While many on the right would have no qualms with lumping French in with those two (along with pretty much every other Trump-critical pundit from a conservative background), the big difference is that French hasn’t compromised longstanding views and principles from which to issue criticism of the right.
Has he changed his mind on a few specific issues over the years? Yes. Those changes haven’t been nearly as dramatic as those demonstrated by his most enthusiastic right-wing critics, but they do exist. And he’s been open and upfront in describing what compelled him to see things differently, which — unlike the bulk of his aforementioned critics — had nothing to do with the direction of a political party.
Despite the frequent misrepresentations of those who choose to view him as a turncoat, French remains a principled conservative, devout Christian, and man of integrity. Thus, I’m hopeful that his voice, amplified by the New York Times, will be an important one.
I’m glad others are recognizing the potential as well:
A more intellectually and ideologically diverse media is a healthier media. For that reason, the New York Times deserves a little credit here. So does David French for taking this opportunity. Let’s hope the best is made of it.