‘Woke’ Civil War at the New York Times?

Old-fashioned notions of journalistic neutrality are chafing young reporters in the Age of Trump.

Vanity Fair‘s Joe Pompeo has a fascinating look “INSIDE THE WOKE CIVIL WAR AT THE NEW YORK TIMES.”

Late in the evening on November 8, 2016, The New York Times newsroom was being whipsawed. Donald Trump, to the utter shock and horror of the coastal establishment, was winning. Reporters and editors were in overdrive, tearing up one historic front page for another. The story that America’s paper of record had been gearing up to tell in the coming days—months, years—was being obliterated in real time. From a journalistic perspective, that wasn’t exactly a bad thing. The new story, after all, was more fascinating, more chaotic—utterly unprecedented. And Trump’s election was the kind of Earth-shattering event that only comes around once or twice in a newsperson’s career. So for someone like Dean Baquet, the Times’s then 60-year-old executive editor, the dominant emotion was exhilaration about this new national epic. But it didn’t go unnoticed that, for some in the newsroom, the journalistic mission was not exactly front of mind. “I just remember younger people with sad faces,” a person who was there told me, describing those employees as generally being in roles that are adjacent to reporting and editing. Baquet remarked to colleagues in the coming days about how surprised he was by that. “He’s thinking, We’ve got a great story on our hands,” my source said. “That was the first indication that a unified newsroom in the age of Trump was going to be a very difficult thing to achieve or maintain.”

For most of its history, the Times has been an autocracy, with a church-like reverence for its values and traditions. Rebellion, as against executive editor Howell Raines in 2003, has often been to restore the old order rather than to overthrow it. But, as at many newsrooms and media offices, and in the culture at large, this is a moment of generational conflict not seen since the 1960s. “I’ve been feeling a lot lately like the newsroom is split into roughly the old-guard category, and the young and ‘woke’ category, and it’s easy to feel that the former group doesn’t take into account how much the future of the paper is predicated on the talent contained in the latter one,” a Times employee in that latter group told me a couple months ago. “I know a lot of others at the paper with similar positions to mine, especially women and people of color, who feel that senior staff isn’t receptive to their concerns.”

That there was palpable disappointment inside the NYT’s newsroom when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton should hardly surprise anyone. The elite media reflects coastal, metropolitan attitudes; they lean toward Democrats in normal times and recoiled against Trump in particular. Similarly, Baquet’s reaction is perfectly reasonable for a newspaper publisher: Hot damn, we’ve got a story on our hands.

But, in Pompeo’s telling, something more is going on.

Within the newsroom, it can be difficult for members of this cohort to stomach, say, abiding by restrictions on what they can and cannot say on Twitter and Facebook (platforms that younger millennials were essentially born into), as mandated by an expanded social-media policy issued in October; or being told that participation in last year’s Women’s March was a no-no (which brings to mind Linda Greenhouse getting into trouble for attending a pro-choice march in 1989); or feeling comfortable with Baquet making an appearance at the same Financial Times conference as Steve Bannon last month. “The woke set was grossed out,” an insider told me. (Addressing the matter in an e-mail to the Web site Splinter, Baquet said, quite reasonably, “It sort of feels sort of ‘unjournalistic,’ if that is a word, to refuse to participate in a forum because Bannon or someone else will be in the same event.”)

The most fractious convulsion along these lines has been the recent uproar over the Times’s op-ed section, specifically as it relates to a pair of new additions—conservative pundits Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss—who each possess certain contentious views. Stephens, for his part, is a fervent never-Trumper who wants to see the Second Amendment repealed, but he also has expressed skepticism about climate science. Weiss, herself a millennial, is a robust crusader for campus free speech, which puts her at odds with some swaths of the left, and she’s also challenged aspects of the #MeToo movement.

In an episode that riled emotions perhaps more than any other, Weiss fired off a tweet during the Olympics that applauded California-born figure skater Mirai Nagasu, while also incorrectly characterizing her as an “immigrant.” (Nagasu’s parents are first-generation Japanese immigrants.) Weiss deleted the tweet and acknowledged the mis-statement, and later said she felt “awful” about it. But the damage was done. Part of the backlash, as evidenced by an internal chat-room transcript that was leaked to HuffPost, was that Weiss’s tweet exemplified a pattern of “microaggressions,” per the transcript, that “cut the deepest. and this is DAILY.” But the incident also betrayed palpable discomfort with the age-old rules governing the behavior of Opinion writers versus members of the newsroom. Both sides exist in the same space on social media, and each in its own way represents the Times, regardless of how readers engage with the Times in the Twitter-fied media landscape of 2018, where distinctions between the two sides are not as readily apparent. “We make all these assumptions that people understand the difference between the Opinion section and the newsroom,” said an under-30 Times employee from the new guard. A Times reporter could conceivably get into hot water for tweeting something that seems to endorse gun control or Black Lives Matter, and yet “Opinion writers,” this employee said, “get to represent the Times in a way that isn’t right.”

Another example? “The biggest thing people are talking about lately is the way the Times humanizes white men who commit violence versus men of color,” my source continued. (The Times recently confronted this issue via its Reader Center.) “There’s definitely a feeling,” the source added, “that the people most concerned about these sorts of things are people in more junior positions, as opposed to people who are in positions of power.”

It will not surprise regular readers to learn that I’m mostly with management on this. While many in the public don’t distinguish between the news and opinion sides, the elite audience does. Reporters are there to, well, report: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Columnists are there to give their opinions on the world around them. If you’re marching in the streets against Donald Trump’s election on Saturday you can’t very well be taken seriously as a neutral observer of events come Monday.

Where Baquet has gone wrong is in hiring columnists unworthy of the Time‘s editorial pages. He has done so honestly, though. The NYT op-ed pages have always leaned left but made an attempt to have top-drawer conservative writers. But, frankly, there hasn’t been a new William Safire in ages. Ross Douthat is very smart and sometimes interesting, but he’s something of an odd duck in terms of his interests. David Brooks is often interesting but, again, not really a mainstream Republican. Brett Stephens simply doesn’t add anything. Bari Weiss is a smart-enough controversialist but doesn’t have anything like the journalistic credentials to be offering up her opinions under the NYT masthead.*

As with most hot-button topics these days, all roads seem to lead back to the real-estate mogul and erstwhile reality-television fixture who now resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “I would agree that the question of a generational divide is made more complicated by the fact that it’s happening during the presidency of Donald Trump,” said Times managing editor Joe Kahn in an interview. “If this had been the first term of Hillary Clinton, or a less divisive, less polarizing figure for many members of our own staff, some of the issues that have arisen might not have taken on quite the level of importance or urgency or alarm that they have.” At the same time, said Kahn, the Times “has made it really clear that we consider it crucial to our future that we not become an opposition-news organization. We do not see ourselves, and we do not wish to be seen, as partisan media. That means that the news and opinion divide, and things like social-media guidelines and some of our traditional restrictions on political activity by employees, may feel cumbersome to some people at this point in our evolution.”

To Kahn’s point, the country is in the midst of a unique and restive moment—not least of all for the ever-ubiquitous millennial population—characterized by empowerment and anger and, yes, “wokeness.” Against this backdrop, the Times is arguably changing more rapidly and radically than any other period in its 167-year history, including the ascension earlier this year of its first digital-native publisher, 37-year-old A.G. Sulzberger. Put simply, the Times is working through a complex and fraught makeover in order to become a place that can survive—even if there were no print edition in another 5 or 10 or 20 years. “I have been here a long time,” one veteran editor told me. “The tensions you’re referring to are not just generational. We are all trying to figure out what the Times is in the digital era.”

I’ve struggled with this to some degree even as an opinion writer. The NYT’s mantra has long been “All the news that’s fit to print.” But reporting in detail on every single Outrage of the Moment will certainly feel like piling on to any but the most ardent Trump foe.

Aside from the youth and “wokeness” of some at the Times, it’s simply more challenging than usual to remain neutral in the face of abnormal behavior. A President Mitt Romney might well be cracking down harder on illegal immigration than a President Hillary Clinton. But he almost certainly wouldn’t be doing it in the callous and brazen way that Trump has. Acting outside the bounds of the normal staffing processes, ignoring judicial precedent, and issuing outrageous Tweets changes the context of the action. It’s incredibly challenging to treat this in a “Just the facts, ma’am” approach.

Inside the newsroom and departments that work closely with it, many legacy jobs have been eliminated over the past few years to make room for an entirely new class of employees. These newcomers include Web-trends reporters and community editors and social-media strategists; product people and visualization specialists and audience-engagement gurus; engineers and audio experts and data scientists and various other positions that didn’t used to exist. The Times also has been hiring more writers and editors from outside its traditional talent channels. (“Other relatively similar newspaper companies,” in Kahn’s words, “that did relatively similar things.”) That means the paper is now crawling with journalists who came from some of the same upstart digital publications the Times now counts as competitors. The result is an increasingly diverse and varied organization that suddenly encompasses lots of people who didn’t come up in old-school journalism environments like the Times, or people who are at least more inclined to challenge some of the newspaper’s entrenched customs in an era where it increasingly feels like the world has been turned on its head and the old rules no longer apply.

“We’re eager to have people like that on board, because they bring a set of skills that we need,” said Kahn. “But it does present us with a challenge of needing to have a broader discussion about what the values of our workplace are, and also to do a better job of communicating the journalistic values that The New York Times has traditionally had to a new generation of people who may not have learned them from their previous places of work or schooling.” Kahn said there is “a little bit of a disconnect between some of the things that, journalistically, as an institution, we feel compelled to do”—reporting without fear or favor, and giving voice to many different sides and perspectives and all of that—“and our workplace values.” (Equitable race, gender, and sexual-identity representation; diversity of world views and experience; protection from harassment, etc.)

One of the younger, newer Times employees I spoke with boiled down the conflict as follows, with the obvious caveat that there are, of course, “woke” people in the old guard and traditionalists in the younger set. “The olds,” my source said, “feel like the youngs are insufficiently respectful of long-standing journalistic norms, or don’t get that things are the way they are for a reason. The youngs feel like the olds are insufficiently willing to acknowledge the ways in which the world and media landscape have changed, and that our standards and mores should evolve to reflect that.” (Several Times sources emphasized that this dynamic has been around for decades. As Gay Talese once wrote of the 1950s-era Times: “There were philosophical differences dividing older Timesmen who feared that the paper was losing touch with its tradition and younger men who felt trapped by tradition.”)

Similarly, an institutional Times person said, “I think a lot of this younger generation were brought up to believe that it’s very important that their voices be heard, and so I think it’s a bit harder to fit into an institution where it’s less than democratic in some ways. One generation came of age where they entered this esteemed institution and tried to find a way to fit into it, and this other generation has an expectation that the institution will change to accommodate them. That’s the essence of the tension.”

There was some controversy in the early days of blogging about writers taking free trips or being wined and dined by interest groups in hopes of influencing coverage. Journalists from major media outlets saw that as violating core principles. Bloggers pushed back noting that we weren’t journalists and more importantly, as independent operators we had little choice but to combine functions that were separate at a news organization: the same person who wrote the content also served as the ad manager, IT chief, public affairs desk, etc. Over time, we’ve seen a similar blurring of the lines in the newspaper and magazine businesses.

It’s true that the “youngs” have always thought that the “olds” had outdated attitudes. Yet, it’s clear that there’s more going on here than that. Having grown up in the era of blogs (which is at least 20 years old now) and Twitter (a dozen years old), young reporters really can’t fathom not being able to express their every brilliant thought the moment it crosses their woke heads. It’s not just the Times, it’s everywhere—including places like ESPN (I recommend the Origins podcast episodes on that network).

NYU’s Jay Rosen has spent years pushing back at the View From Nowhere, the notion that reporters should pretend not to have a viewpoint. I’m sympathetic to his larger argument and, especially, the notion that “balance” requires getting a quote from some nut in the street to balance out the Nobel Prize-winning scientist’s views on climate change. At the same time, I maintain the old-fashioned view that reporters ought strive to tell the story accurately, that their editors should remove evidence of bias from their stories, and that those on the news side should keep their politics to themselves.

_________
*An earlier version of this was slightly harsher towards Weiss under the mistaken impression she was a full-fledged columnist. She’s actually just an editorial staffer who occasionally writes there.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Media
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    At the same time, I maintain the old-fashioned view that reporters ought strive to tell the story accurately, that their editors should remove evidence of bias from their stories, and that those on the news side should keep their politics to themselves.

    Not sure the third point has any relationship to the first two in today’s world and in fact it strikes be as emblematic of a worldview that is damaging to how we operate as a country.

    That concept that a professional can’t put aside their personal political views to do their job is at the heart of the attack on career federal government employees and the judiciary. It is corrosive and deeply damaging to basic faith in our institutions.

    Edited to clarify that I absolutely that their personal political opinions shouldn’t be used or color their news reporting but to deny them the opportunity, if they choose, to have public views is both wrong to those that want to have them and irrelevant to the attacks that will come at them regardless of whether or not they express such views.




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  2. Franklin says:

    @SKI:

    … but to deny them the opportunity, if they choose, to have public views …

    James’ reply to this is, “you can’t very well be taken seriously as a neutral observer of events” which is a perception issue. And I tend to agree with him. It makes it too easy to discredit a story as fake news if the involved reporter has a public view.

    The great journalists of the older generation most certainly had opinions, but they largely kept those thoughts to themselves, at least until they retired. Some jobs come with tradeoffs, perhaps this should be one of them.




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  3. Modulo Myself says:

    James is right about Douthat, Weiss, and Stephens. I agree with nothing Douthat writes, but he treats his audience with respect, as if they were intelligent. Stephens is an idiot, and because the NY media is so Ivy-centric, everybody knows Bari Weiss–who gets upset when people say stuff to her on Twitter–tried a get professor fired at Columbia for not being pro-Israel enough for her tastes. You can’t make a free speech martyr because twitter is mean when you have tried to get somebody fired. Also, she seems pretty stupid too.

    But the problem with the ‘story’ is that apart from an actual event–the night of an election or a school shooting–it’s ambiguous. Was Trump elected because of the economy? Or race? You can write two stories filled with quotes all from same place that would tell two different stories. Younger people at the Times definitely felt that the Times went all in on the economy story, and tried to downplay the race side.




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  4. drj says:

    Complaining about “woke millennials” is pretty rich coming from the NYT after the way they “neutrally” cocked up their coverage of the 2016 election campaign.

    Take it away Columbia Journalism Review:

    What did all these stories [in the NYT, WaPo, WSJ, etc.] talk about? The research team investigated this question, counting sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classifying each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues.

    In particular, they classified each sentence as describing either a scandal (e.g., Clinton’s emails, Trump’s taxes) or a policy issue (Clinton and jobs, Trump and immigration).

    They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal.

    Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings.

    Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.

    And, of course, they haven’t learned anything. From the Joe Pompeo piece:

    Another example? “The biggest thing people are talking about lately is the way the Times humanizes white men who commit violence versus men of color,” my source continued.

    Every single in-depth look into the sorry backgrounds of violent perpetrators who happened to be white could, in isolation, comply with the highest journalistic standards. But if such pieces are exclusively written about white perpetrators, while the equally tragic backgrounds of perpetrators of color are systematically ignored, then these standards aren’t worth much.

    Maybe some of the young people the NYT employs are seeing this more clearly than the people in senior positions who spectacularly failed their audience not so long ago.




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  5. MarkedMan says:

    You bring up a number of issues, and as you point out, lumping them together as “Youngs” vs “Olds” is probably not really useful. For instance if we take the issue of whether reporters should tweet and, if so, what they should tweet sounds like a new technology thing, but it’s not. I don’t think many would have a problem with a reporter tweeting things that are factual and relevant to their beat, such as “Papadopolous pleads guilty” or “Police report that there has been a shooting at YouTube headquarters”. But a huge part of Twitter seems to be about being sarcastic and snarky, about calling out the idiots. And a reporter who wants to be seen as cool and in-the-moment will inevitably tweet something stupid or wrong or that comes across as malicious, and that WILL reduce their credibility. The NY Times tradition of reporters not getting involved in politics or publicly stating their opinions about this group or that came about for very good reasons. Sure, it was developed during the print only era, but was probably relitigated when radio, then television, then CompuServe interest groups where all the rage. And the conclusion has been the same – a reporter is not as effective if they are frequently passing value judgements as well as reporting the facts.




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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @drj: But this isn’t an example of the NYTimes failing to adapt to new realities, it’s about them failing their journalistic standards. And it is directly related to reporters and editors letting their personal dislike for someone influence their coverage, and the all too human tendency to try to show how sophisticated you are by running down others. Putting “new media” and Hillary aside, the exact same dynamic played out with Al Gore. During the campaign and for years afterwards, “seasoned reporters” would make snide and sarcastic comments about Al Gore when they appeared on talking heads shows. The two most common sniggering slams was that the guy was such a resume fluffer he claimed to have invented the internet, and claimed that the hit book and movie “Love Story” was based on his life. What was the truth? On the Internet, Al Gore said that while in Congress he headed the committee that created the Internet. And why did he say that? Because while he was in Congress he headed the committee that created the Internet. And what about “Love Story”? What he actually said, when asked by a reporter if it was true he was the basis for the male character in “Love Story” he said, “Well I read what that article in (some newspaper) said.” And why didn’t he just deny it instead of seeming to sleazily endorse it? Because that newspaper article was an interview with the author, who was Gore’s college roommate and what the author said was “I based the main male character on my college roommate, Al Gore”. But people love their snark. It makes them feel powerful and cool. And whether it is about Al Gore or Hillary Clinton or even, yes, Mitt Romney, once that snark takes hold facts don’t matter. In Gore’s case, the snarkers snarked, and the institutional media wrote stories about Gore’s credibility problem.




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  7. gVOR08 says:

    In this context it must be noted that the supposedly liberal NYT did more to elect Donald Trump than even James Comey.

    But, frankly, there hasn’t been a new William Safire in ages. Ross Douthat is very smart and sometimes interesting, but he’s something of an odd duck in terms of his interests. David Brooks is often interesting but, again, not really a mainstream Republican. Brett Stephens simply doesn’t add anything. Bari Weiss is a smart-enough controversialist but doesn’t have anything like the journalistic credentials worthy of her perch.

    Stephen Colbert put the problem more succinctly, “It is a well known fact that reality has liberal bias.”




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  8. Dave Schuler says:

    The UK has had newspapers that were explicitly aligned with specific political parties and/or ideologies for a long time now. They also have much broader notions of what constitutes libel and narrower notions of what constitutes free speech.

    I don’t much care for the direction in which our news outlets are heading but I don’t think there’s much that can be done to stop the movement. IMO we’d be better off if the opinions were left on the Opinions page but that’s been considered old-fashioned for quite a while now. The “5 Ws” are out and point-of-view is in.




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  9. SKI says:

    @Franklin:

    It makes it too easy to discredit a story as fake news if the involved reporter has a public view.

    Not having the public opinions out there hasn’t made it very hard for them to scream the same?

    And isn’t that the bigger problem? The reliance on ad hominem attacks? Shooting the messenger because we don’t like the facts?




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  10. SKI says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The UK has had newspapers that were explicitly aligned with specific political parties and/or ideologies for a long time now.

    So did/does the US. This concept about the political neutrality of journalistic enterprises is a fairly recent and unusual thing. It basically happened in the post WWII era and is pretty much gone (which given the market consolidation is a problematic thing).




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  11. teve tory says:

    I don’t want journalists to be “neutral”. “Scientists say earth is roughly spherical, Rebublicans disagree.” and then 50/50 “The Earth is round” “No it’s flat” is bullshit.

    I have relatives who’ve literally told me, “Yeah, well, half the scientists believe in evolution, half of them don’t.” because of this kind of dumb View From Nowhere garbage.

    It’s a fairly recent rule to justify cowardice, and more or less coevolved with the rise of wire services, whose goal was to sell to as many national outlets as possible, by offending as few people as possible, with no regard for the truth.




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  12. teve tory says:

    In only semi-related news, I have a happy bit of info to pass along. 20 years ago I had to quit watching the sunday shows, then eventually the rest of the shows, because of the dumb 50/50 garbage. But podcasts have revived the infosphere. There’s more, and better, info in a 30-60 min podcast nowadays than a month’s worth of Meet the Presses. The quality is kind of amazing.




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  13. MBunge says:

    @drj:

    Everyone should click on that link to see how little impact Russia could have possibly had on the election and therefore how ridiculous the post-election obsession with it has been.

    I think the counting sentences thing is a little dubious but let’s for argument’s sake grant that the Times’ coverage of Hillary was slanted toward scandal. How is that a surprise? Clinton defenders can go on and on about how the Times has treated them unfairly.

    Any analysis of the campaign begins and ends with why it was close. If the most unpopular candidate in modern history hadn’t been close, he couldn’t have won no matter what the Times or the Russians or anybody did.

    Mike




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  14. MBunge says:

    @gVOR08: Stephen Colbert put the problem more succinctly, “It is a well known fact that reality has liberal bias.”

    Considering that Donald Trump is President of the United States, it may be time to rethink the whole “treating comedians as serious political thinkers” thing.

    Mike




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  15. MBunge says:

    @teve tory: I don’t want journalists to be “neutral”.

    Really? So you wish there had been more stories written about how amazingly unpopular Hillary was as the Democratic front-runner and how bizarre it was that the party establishment cleared the way for her campaign? You want more stories about climate change predictions that have been proven wrong? You are upset that Donald Trump gets 95% negative coverage as the economy grows and he makes surprising progress on seemingly intractable foreign policy challenges?

    Mike




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  16. Andy says:

    Acting outside the bounds of the normal staffing processes, ignoring judicial precedent, and issuing outrageous Tweets changes the context of the action. It’s incredibly challenging to treat this in a “Just the facts, ma’am” approach.

    No, it’s not challenging, it’s incredibly easy. The facts and abnormalcy make it so the story practically writes itself. But people can’t seem to stop there.

    I’m sympathetic to his larger argument and, especially, the notion that “balance” requires getting a quote from some nut in the street to balance out the Nobel Prize-winning scientist’s views on climate change.

    That’s actually a problem I see quite often – the “contrary” view is from some crank. The decision about who should give a critical or contrasting view in a story is an editorial one that is often abused IMO.

    For example, while it’s true that the bulk of scientists who do research on climate agree on the broad outlines of climate change, there is a lot of disagreement over the details. So when some new paper comes out it should not be difficult to find an actual scientist who is skeptical of the new claims as opposed to some crank on the street.

    @SKI:

    That concept that a professional can’t put aside their personal political views to do their job is at the heart of the attack on career federal government employees and the judiciary. It is corrosive and deeply damaging to basic faith in our institutions.

    So should we also end the ban on partisan political activity by members of the military?




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  17. James Joyner says:

    @Dave Schuler: @SKI: @teve tory: It’s true that Fox News has historically been the norm here and the “objective journalism” of the NYT an anomaly. But while the “objectivity” standard is something of an anomaly, it’s not all that new. It was a reaction to the Yellow Journalism era of the late 1800s, which led to the formation of Journalism Schools, the NYT as the “paper of record,” and the like. Broadcast news outlets also needed to be fairly conscious to appeal to a wider audience.

    @teve tory: Yes, I’m a huge fan of podcasting. There are quite a few news, sports, and foreign/national security-related podcasts I subscribe to that I find far more useful than even the BBC and NPR in terms of feeding my interests.




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  18. James Pearce says:

    @teve tory:

    I don’t want journalists to be “neutral”.

    You are truly a man of your times then.

    The neutral journalist can say the earth is spheroid and the flat-earthers are wrong. The non-neutral journalist can only say what passes for orthodoxy within their tribe.




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  19. Gustopher says:

    @MBunge: please explain the surprising progress on seemingly intractable foreign policy challenges.




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  20. teve tory says:

    @James Joyner: What are your favorites? I like Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, Preet Bharara, Pod Save America, and the Joe Rogan show when he doesn’t have some MRA douchebag on.




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  21. Charon says:

    At the same time, said Kahn, the Times “has made it really clear that we consider it crucial to our future that we not become an opposition-news organization. We do not see ourselves, and we do not wish to be seen, as partisan media.

    Well good luck with that, my emphasis. For people who get their news from the Conservative Infotainment Bubble, anything to the left of Fox is by definition liberal (which, relatively speaking, it is.) These people are indoctrinated with the necessity to ignore liberal sources.

    So Kahn and Baquet have no way, no power to affect these people’s perceptions, given the NYT is simply being disregarded.




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  22. michael reynolds says:

    Objectivity is not a state attainable by humans. We are a subjectivity. We are subject, everything else is object. 100% of our intake of data is taken in by our imperfect senses and processed according to the algorithms in our brains.

    Humans are constantly seeing what ain’t there and missing what is. Most people believe in angels. Do angels exist? Of course not.

    The closest we can come to objectivity is by employing methodologies like the scientific method. A lesser degree of objectivity can be approached by subjecting the sensory/algorithmic product of one mind to the same analysis by another, different mind. Some might call this editing. An editor’s job is to challenge the work of a reporter, to question whether he is writing the objective truth. The result will not be Truth, but it may be closer to truth as a result of editing. Assuming good will on all parts, etc…

    The problem comes in the definition of truth. If the scientific method is applied then a huge amount of what people take as true must be discarded, starting with the biggie: there is not the slightest objective evidence of God or soul. There’s also no evidence that we are being buried in trash or that kale is a super food. But it’s belief in God that forms the largest roadblock to people rationally appraising evidence. Belief in God requires a suspension of disbelief, an acceptance as real of things which objectively are not. It enshrines this irrationality as not only compatible with but superior to science, evidence, reason.

    There is a reason why Trump’s supporters are largely white evangelicals. Evangelical Christianity places the epistemological bar so low a garter snake could clear it. Evangelicals are trained to believe things which are flatly untrue, and they don’t bother with Jesuitical work-arounds, they just swallow the bullsh!t by the bucket, no philosophical rationalization required. They swallow the bullsh!t whole, and as that bullsh!t is almost invariably delivered unto them by some clownish man passing himself off as an alpha male, (the preacher) they are conditioned to believe what they are told by low-rent frauds. Like Trump.




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  23. drj says:

    @MBunge:

    Way to move the goalposts, you dishonest hack.

    The scandal is obviously not that Russia attempted to influence the election, but that the GOP didn’t give a f#ck and welcomed the assistance.

    That would have been a scandal even if Clinton won.

    And considering the razor thin margin of Trump’s victory, the Russian assistance could have very well been sufficient to push him over the edge.

    And then – to make your argument even more transparantly ridiculous – you are saying that Democrats can’t complain about the NYT’s excessively negative coverage, because Clinton was already unpopular.

    How do you think she got that unpopular in the first place?




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  24. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    So should we also end the ban on partisan political activity by members of the military?

    It is important to point out that you just changed the issue. I was talking about having opinions on political issues. Restrictions on the military don’t actually prevent that now. Here is what they can and can’t do Some choice excerpts:

    What Active Duty Members Can and Cannot Do
    Can – Register, vote, and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

    Can – Join a political club and attend its meetings when not in uniform.

    Can – Sign a petition for specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate’s name on an official election ballot, if the signing does not obligate the member to engage in partisan political activity and is done as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

    Can – Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing the member’s personal views on public issues or political candidates, if such action is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign or a solicitation of votes for or against a political party or partisan political cause or candidate. If the letter identifies the member as on active duty (or if the member is otherwise reasonably identifiable as a member of the Armed Forces), the letter should clearly state that the views expressed are those of the individual only and not those of the Department of Defense.

    Can – Make monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee favoring a particular candidate or slate of candidates, subject to the limitations of law.

    Can – Display a political sticker on the member’s private vehicle.

    Can – Attend partisan and nonpartisan political fundraising activities, meetings, rallies, debates, conventions, or activities as a spectator when not in uniform and when no inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement can reasonably be drawn.

    Cannot – Participate in partisan political fundraising activities, rallies, conventions (including making speeches in the course thereof), management of campaigns, or debates, either on one’s own behalf or on that of another, without respect to uniform or inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Participation includes more than mere attendance as a spectator.

    Cannot – Use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others.

    Cannot -Allow or cause to be published partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause. However, letters to the editor are allowed.

    Cannot – Serve in any official capacity with or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club.

    Cannot – Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.

    Cannot – Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.

    Cannot – Solicit or otherwise engage in fundraising activities in Federal offices or facilities, including military reservations, for any political cause or candidate.

    Cannot – March or ride in a partisan political parade.

    Cannot – Display a large political sign, banner, or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle.

    Cannot – Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner, or similar device visible to the public at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.

    Cannot – Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the Armed Forces, except as a member of a joint Armed Forces color guard at the opening ceremonies of the national conventions of the Republican, Democratic, or other political parties recognized by the Federal Elections Committee or as otherwise authorized by the Secretary concerned.

    When you look at what they can and can’t do, it basically amounts to allowing them to have and express opinions as long as they don’t do it in uniform or another way that would indicate the official backing of the military.

    I have no problem with any employer telling staff, particularly its publicly linked or key employees, that they may not implicate the employer in a political context. I can’t post under my own name on many topics without a written disclaimer that my views are not necessarily those of my employer.

    As for the question of whether the military restrictions should be tweaked to allow some of the “cannot” items, I can see arguments that some of them are too restrictive but those all talk about partisan activity, not just political opinions.

    What the NYT has told its employees is that it can’t even have political opinions unrelated to endorsements of partisanship. That is both different and wrong.




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  25. gVOR08 says:

    In today’s NYT Thomas Edsall has the lead editorial, The Contract with Authoritarianism. He explores the very strong correlation between Authoritarian personality and voting for Trump.

    Trump has purposefully exacerbated the “many especially acrimonious political debates” now dominating public discourse, deepening not only the authoritarian divide, but the divide between open and closed mindedness, between acceptance and racial resentment, and between toleration of and aversion to change.

    “Republicans” may be substituted for “Trump”.

    We are in a fight, democracy or autarchy. Trump is just the accidental face of the Kochs, Mercers, et al desire to turn us into a copy of Putin’s oligarchy. The fight won’t be over political philosophy, the fight will be over “fake news” and whether even the concept of objective reality will survive in politics. We have 60% of the voters on the side of democracy, they have tens of billions of dollars.

    How about a little baseless speculation? A. G. Sulzberger, on taking over as Publisher, fifth generation in the family business, did a Q&A in the NYT Reader Center (which has replaced the Public Editor). At several points he seemed evasive. He failed to accept any responsibility for NYT’s role in the election (at least NYT is consistent about that) and talked a lot about growth and broader range of points of view. I think he’s pumping the place up to sell it. Should one of the Republican Billionaire Boys Club guys buy it, we’re down to mostly Jeff Bezos as the guardian of democracy.




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  26. Franklin says:

    @SKI:

    Not having the public opinions out there hasn’t made it very hard for them to scream the same?

    Not sure which came first, ‘fake news’ is relatively new although accusations of the media being biased liberal is much older. Regardless, cat’s out of the bag: most people working at the Times are indeed progressive to various extents. I suppose hiding their views won’t change the perception at this point.

    I would just compare it to the SCOTUS. Yeah, we can guess pretty well how its members vote, but the illusion of impartiality is considered important, otherwise their rulings would carry less weight.

    My solution, as always, is more publicly-funded news. The BBC and NPR are pretty decent organizations.




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  27. george says:

    @gVOR08:

    In this context it must be noted that the supposedly liberal NYT did more to elect Donald Trump than even James Comey.

    As much as I agree the NYT screwed up with Trump, I doubt it did much to help Trump. People who voted for Trump weren’t reading the NYT. Or the Washington Post.

    Maybe their current strategy is to get people like that to read their paper, so they might have a chance of influencing them; currently the NYT has roughly zero influence on Trump voters.

    As many have pointed out, media is now about bubble zones; people find media that confirms their opinions and stick with it. What the other side’s media says is automatically assumed to be lies. This is a real change from a few decades ago, when there were GOP papers and Democrat papers, but people tended to read both.




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  28. Andy says:

    @SKI:

    I’m familiar with the restrictions and they are pretty restrictive. For one example military members were told not to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because it promoted the agenda of a specific group, even though that group is nonpartisan and noncontroversial.

    But the point is, if professionals really can “put aside their personal political views to do their job” then we should be able to get rid of these rules, correct?

    I’d say that is not the case and the rules are necessary because professionals are still humans and are not anymore able to put aside political views than anyone else. I think the rules are necessary for journalism and the military to be credibly nonpartisan.




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  29. SKI says:

    @Andy:

    I’m familiar with the restrictions and they are pretty restrictive. For one example military members were told not to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge because it promoted the agenda of a specific group, even though that group is nonpartisan and noncontroversial.

    Military members could definitely take part in the Ice Bucket Challenge.
    they just couldn’t do it in uniform
    .

    But the point is, if professionals really can “put aside their personal political views to do their job” then we should be able to get rid of these rules, correct?

    I’d say that is not the case and the rules are necessary because professionals are still humans and are not anymore able to put aside political views than anyone else. I think the rules are necessary for journalism and the military to be credibly nonpartisan.

    It is almost like you didn’t actually read what I posted…

    The military rules appear to be about making sure the military itself, not the service members as individuals, don’t appear to take sides. I agree with that approach. That isn’t what I’m talking about or the NYT is talking about.




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  30. Andy says:

    @SKI:

    I was in the military for 23 years, I understand the rules quite well. It’s not just activities in uniform – as the article and the actual rules you posted make clear.

    And yes, the purpose is to make sure the military itself is nonpartisan. It does this by restricting the activities of its members both in and out of uniform. The NYT or any other business has similar rules for the same reason, and that reason is a valid one.




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  31. Jay L Gischer says:

    My college roommate in the 70’s was in journalism school. Even then, he was saying, “nobody is unbiased – what you want to be is fair”. And there was a thing then called The New Journalism – as epitomized by Hunter Thompson, of all people. The notion was to make your point of view explicit, that that would, in the long run, enhance trust, not destroy it.

    Reading this stuff about the NY Times, it’s like they never got that memo, and hence constantly get played by sources and operatives.

    In the meantime, writers such as Ta-Nehisi Coates have a very clear point of view, and yet he has repeatedly championed the value of solid, down-to-earth reporting – getting his facts straight – as foundational to what he does.

    Oh, and I’m wondering – does anybody describe themselves as “woke” non-ironically?




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  32. James Joyner says:

    @Jay L Gischer: Hunter S. Thompson and Ta-Nehisi Coates are examples of outstanding journalists. But neither was a reporter.




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  33. Kylopod says:

    @george:

    As much as I agree the NYT screwed up with Trump, I doubt it did much to help Trump. People who voted for Trump weren’t reading the NYT. Or the Washington Post.

    But it may have influenced some Democratic-leaning voters to stay home, or vote third party. That possibility is crucial to understanding not only the press bias, but what the Russian troll farms and social-media fake news were aimed at doing.




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  34. gVOR08 says:

    @Andy:

    So when some new paper comes out it should not be difficult to find an actual scientist who is skeptical of the new claims as opposed to some crank on the street.

    Unfortunately the general readership will see criticism of some detailed aspect of AGW as disagreement with AGW as a whole.

    Some years ago the Cincinnati Enquirer had a regular local conservative columnist who did a column about there being qualified scientists who disagreed with evolution. His sole example was some argument Stephen Jay Gould wrote about punctuated evolution, (a detail in exactly how evolution occurs over geography and time). People familiar with Gould are already laughing. For those not familiar, Gould quite literally wrote the book on evolution, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. He’s the guy honored by Project Steve.

    I, and several other people, pointed out to the paper that the local yuk columnist had made a considerable fool of himself.




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  35. gVOR08 says:

    @george:

    Maybe their current strategy is to get people like that to read their paper, so they might have a chance of influencing them; currently the NYT has roughly zero influence on Trump voters.

    NYT’s response to the charge they over-covered Hillary “scandals” makes it clear they feel no responsibility for truth, justice, and the American way. Their strategy is to get more people to read their paper because they make more money. If truth and editorial standards suffer, so be it. They may not have directly influenced a lot of Trump voters, but they do seem to have suppressed Hillary turnout.




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  36. Andy says:

    @gVOR08:

    Unfortunately the general readership will see criticism of some detailed aspect of AGW as disagreement with AGW as a whole.

    Well, that’s always going to happen and shouldn’t be an excuse not to include a critique of the research if one exists.

    This is a problem, IMO, with all kinds of science reporting. We get headlines about a new study where X causes cancer or can help you live longer or whatever, but the caveats or the fact that the study is contradicted by other studies is barely mentioned.




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  37. gVOR08 says:

    Only marginally on topic, but Atlantic has announced they’ve fired Kevin Williamson. Apparently there is a podcast in which Williamson elaborated on his view that women who’ve had abortions (a quarter of women) should be hung in such a way that the editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, found it sufficient reason to fire Williamson, or at least a sufficient excuse to walk back a bad decision.

    Albeit late, good for Goldberg. Some “opinions” should be recognized as beyond the pale. And the Atlantic should not have its imprimatur on the RW game of I can say something even more outrageous than I did last week. Hope NYT can find its way to recognizing this.




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  38. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08: Granted that he had apparently expressed that view publicly before the hire, it seems like a reasonable call. I get how Williamson gets there from an “abortion is murder” premise; but it’s a beyond-the-pale suggestion for exercising something that has been recognized as a constitutional right for 45 years now.




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  39. An Interested Party says:

    You are upset that Donald Trump gets 95% negative coverage as the economy grows and he makes surprising progress on seemingly intractable foreign policy challenges?

    BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh look, now you’re a comedian too…




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  40. george says:

    @gVOR08:

    NYT’s response to the charge they over-covered Hillary “scandals” makes it clear they feel no responsibility for truth, justice, and the American way. Their strategy is to get more people to read their paper because they make more money.

    That’s almost certainly true, I was just trying to be funny.

    They may not have directly influenced a lot of Trump voters, but they do seem to have suppressed Hillary turnout.

    I wonder about that too. Its normal to have a downturn in a party’s turnout after its had the Presidency for two terms (which is why its so hard for a party to win three in a row – its only happened once since WW2); was the Democrat downturn bigger than norm for the third consecutive presidency attempt?

    And then, how important was the NYT in any abnormal downturn? I’d say more of that was disgruntled Sanders’s supporters (I think they came in at 10% not supporting Clinton, which actually was less than the 24% of Clinton’s 2008 supporters who refused to vote for Obama), and I don’t get the idea that many of them are NYT fans.

    To a certain extent, I think Clinton (and most of the world) just had bad luck in the 2016 election; a lot of little things came together at the wrong time to give Trump tiny majorities in a few states. As they say in sports, if that election were run ten times, Clinton wins nine of them. I don’t think the NYT was a particularly important element in that; their circulation is about one million in a country with two hundred million potential voters, and their readership in the blue wall states that decided the election for Trump is probably minimal.




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  41. DrDaveT says:

    @MBunge:

    Everyone should click on that link to see how little impact Russia could have possibly had on the election

    OMG ur so predictably pathetic




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  42. mattbernius says:

    @Andy:

    For example, while it’s true that the bulk of scientists who do research on climate agree on the broad outlines of climate change, there is a lot of disagreement over the details. So when some new paper comes out it should not be difficult to find an actual scientist who is skeptical of the new claims as opposed to some crank on the street.

    The issue is the need to feed the beast and produce daily content. If the reporter regularly handles the “climate beat” then they might have the contacts to know who to go out to. But that still requires the expert to respond in a speedy fashion.

    However, the average “science” reporter is covering a WIDE range of issues and turning around content really quickly. So if that individual is going for the “balanced” approach, it’s much easier — sadly — for them to go to hacks like the Heartland Institute (who have cultivated connections with reporters) for an easy quote and get the story filed on deadline (especially if they need to write multiple stories for that day).

    As one reporter put it to me: Sometimes you can either covered deeply and correctly or you can get your story published. But more often than not, you can’t do both.

    Good reporting sadly costs a lot of money, and most outlets are not willing to pay for it.




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