I have something to confess: I’m conservative, and I love The New York Times.
I know the paper is known in some circles as “The New York Slimes,” but as someone who grew up in an immigrant household, every English word I know I first heard in the mainstream media. As a teenager, I loved The New York Times so much I decided to study media at NYU, where The Times was my very own local paper. Every morning, it would crash onto my doormat and give me access to the best journalism in the world. Sure, I loved The New York Post for its gossip and snark, but The Times gave me knowledge. All the news that was fit to print.
My love has stayed consistent through the years. Most Sundays I’ve hunkered down with some version of The Times — on my couch in Chicago, at my desk in Iraq, sipping a glass of wine in Rome. Lately, though, I’ve felt like we’re going in different directions. I want to salvage one of the longest relationships of my adult life, but I think we’ve both changed and it’s time we took some time apart for introspection. I’m not breaking up with The Times; I just want to suggest some ways to re-affirm our bond.
My issues with the newspaper started when it began openly bashing corporations. Every time the paper attacks a corporation or publishes a scare-mongering study paid for by environmentalists, the onus lies on the victim company to prove a negative. Worse yet, when there’s evidence that contradicts its reporting or liberal worldview, the paper simply ignores it. For example, The Times recently ran a story (via the FDA) about the potential dangers of antibacterials used in soap, but when a study (via industry) found that those products don’t create risks, The Times said nothing. Even when this recent study (done by scientists at Duke and BYU) — a study just as (if not more) newsworthy as the previous article — was published, the paper passed it over. I had to learn about it through Big Government, not The Times.
Another issue I have with The Times is the undeserved protections it grants to its pets. The paper endorsed President Obama in part because of his pledge to not take money from or grant jobs to lobbyists — a pledge he broke within two weeks of his inauguration. Yet it somehow took the paper three years to report on Obama’s ties with lobbyists. Meanwhile, the paper manages to consistently and inaccurately attack Obama’s Republican challengers — or, in some cases, not cover them at all. Come on, I can forgive the editorial board for arguing that I’m either evil or stupid, but at least get the facts right about your own candidate.
While I’m at it, let’s discuss the Style section. A hometown newspaper appeals to the wants and needs of its citizenry. New York City is a liberal, fashion-conscious, elitist town. But while the front and editorial pages rage against the “1%,” the Style section regularly features items that, let’s just say, are beyond the reach of at least 80%. And don’t get me started on the recipes calling for $20 chocolate chips. The section’s editors yearn for the kind of balance they think the “Old Gray Lady” demands, but usually just manage to gentrify authentic neighborhoods or freeze out local patrons from neighborhood bistros. Not to sound like a curmudgeon, but in my day Brooklyn was far, dirty and dangerous — and we loved it.
It’s not like I was naïve; I knew what I was getting into. From the start I never bought into this myth of journalistic objectivity. Journalists are people, with thoughts, quirks and biases that inevitably bleed into their output. I’m actually okay with that; I don’t want robots writing news. But at some point the paper’s voice changed from informational to authoritarian and the writers decided that The Times’s reputation would cloak their arrogance and condescension. In recent months, a technology reviewer has been accused of charging for product pitches and a reporter has been arrested as an activist during an OWS protest. The writers’ growing tendency to see illegitimacy and culture wars outside their ivory tower has made them too paranoid to gaze inward.
Like I said, I love The New York Times. Its writing is exemplary, its international bureaus unparalleled and it doesn’t dumb down the content. I value that. I feel joy in reading and absorbing well-written news and analysis in today’s “breaking news,” “happening now” environment. And I (not so) secretly love having inky fingers. I might not even have canceled my subscription if the deliveryman could get me the Sunday paper before noon. I just want The Times to regain my trust instead of trying to make itself more attractive to all the other girls. Maybe then we can talk reconciliation.
Natasha Mayer is a political consultant in Washington, D.C. Her Twitter handle is @natashamayer.