NEW YORK—I can prove to a mathematical certainty that The New York Times will endorse Donald Trump for president.
My forensic investigation started two weeks ago when I wrote a column about media hysteria called “Donald, You Ignorant Slut,” and the column got passed around to various teetotaling members of the working press (the alcoholic ones were busy), all of whom sent me emails that started out, “YES BUT…”
I’m not talking about commentators and pundits and editorial writers. I’m talking about the daily-grind reporters who won’t quite admit that they do various sneaky takedowns of Donald Trump in their coverage.
But apparently I was wrong. I repent.
I should have waited four more days so that I could read the column by Jim Rutenberg in The New York Times explaining that there’s no media bias because all the rules of journalism have changed.
Damn, Jim, if you’d told me in advance, I could have saved Taki some money.
I learned from this article that the way it works now is, if you’re a working reporter and you think Donald Trump is a demagogue, “you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.” You have to “move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional.”
Then he asks the question “Do normal standards apply?”
And the answer is NO THEY DO NOT. Hell, no. Screw that. If a reporter thinks Donald Trump is dangerous, what do you expect him to do? Contort himself into a mere cyborg forced to report on ideas he doesn’t agree with?
“Balance,” you see, is “an idealistic form of journalism.”
The new standard is “normal versus abnormal.”
In case you’re not following, Hillary is “normal” and…well…
And the reason for that is that Donald Trump’s political positions are (a) stupid, and (b) new. (I’m using “stupid” to represent all the words used by the press to describe Trump so that I don’t have to constantly say “psychopathic obnoxious thin-skinned vulgarian.” The 40 most common Trump adjectives are listed in the aforementioned article “Donald, You Ignorant Slut” if you’d like to memorize them and play parlor games.)
At any rate, Jim’s point is that history has reached a turning point. The very nature of the expository written word has been forever altered. We have a candidate for office whose DNA demands that we grind him into dust. As he goes on…
No living journalist [but many dead ones, I assume] has ever seen a major party nominee put financial conditions on the United States defense of NATO allies, openly fight with the family of a fallen American soldier, or entice Russia to meddle in a United States presidential election by hacking his opponent (a joke, Mr. Trump said later, that the media failed to get). And while coded appeals to racism or nationalism aren’t new—two words: Southern strategy—overt calls to temporarily bar Muslims from entry to the United States or questioning a federal judge’s impartiality based on his Mexican heritage are new.
It’s NEEEEWWWWWWW stuff, Mommy, I can’t write about it.
To further prove that these are positions so stupid that they give reporters a license to run a plumber’s snake up Donald’s rectum, Jim gets up from his desk in the business department, where he writes the media column, and walks over to Carolyn’s desk in the politics department. Carolyn Ryan, the newspaper’s senior editor for politics, then tells him that, yes,
If you have a nominee who expresses warmth toward one of our most mischievous and menacing adversaries, a nominee who shatters all the norms about how our leaders treat families whose sons have died for our country, a nominee proposing to rethink the alliances that have guided our foreign policy for 60 years, that demands coverage—copious coverage and aggressive coverage…. It doesn’t mean that we won’t vigorously pursue reporting lines on Hillary Clinton—we are and we will.
So Carolyn is apparently a bit of a flag-waver—I’m impressed—and a conservative on foreign policy, and she says that patriotism demands that we stick it to Trump daily.
Jim then closes the deal by journeying to the opposite end of the coun…well, the opposite end of the I-95 corr…well, the opposite end of the Amtrak Acela high-speed train route to D.C. and seeking out the managing editor of The Washington Post, the most consistent “Donald Trump Is a Dickwad” organ even by the standards of sophisticated Trumpian screedology.
“When controversy is being stoked,” explains Cameron Barr, presumably from his corner table at the National Press Club, “it’s our obligation to report that. If one candidate is doing that more aggressively and consistently than the other, that is an imbalance for sure…. It’s not one that we create, it’s one that the candidate is creating.”
In other words, it’s Donald Trump’s fault for being Donald Trump. He’s stoking things, presumably with his Twitter account.
And let me digress for a moment about the Donald’s Twitter account. For some reason, it bothers the hell out of the press—although I would think it would be warmly welcomed as the easiest way to start your day. Just read his tweets from the night before! Column done by 9 a.m.! Anyway, the Twitter account is a modern version of what a more descriptive press used to call “a front-porch campaign”—you don’t go to the people, they come to you—and it was always regarded as a kind of all-American thing to do, as opposed to the crass politicians who did whistle-stop tours. McKinley did a front-porch campaign that beat the nation-trotting William Jennings Bryan in 1896, speaking to 700,000 people in front of his house in Canton, Ohio, but Trump has McKinley beat by a factor of 15—10.9 million Twitter followers.
Okay, so where were we? Oh, yeah. After checking out this New Journalism thesis at the Yale Club, the Harvard Club, and—to make sure we talked to everyone—the Penn Club, Jim quotes Brian Stelter on CNN as calling Trump “dangerous” for saying the election might be rigged—evidently more dangerous than the millions of Al Gore fans who thought the 2000 election was stolen—and then concludes with the new standard:
It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.
Okay, lemme parse this for you. The definition of fairness is measured by “history’s judgment.”
We’re gonna wait for it.
I’m sorry, buddy, I have to take you down because…history is watching my ass. (And one thing nobody wants is Doris Kearns Goodwin staring at their ass.)
Lemme just say, I truly appreciate Jim Rutenberg’s honesty in writing this column, laying it all out there, instead of doing what the Times normally does:
“We’re tough on both sides. We leave opinion to the editorial page.”
“We’re too busy reporting the news to care what side of an issue someone is on.”
“The perception that we’re liberal is caused by people confusing our editorial stances with our news division. We have a strict separation of church and state.”
Some Times executives have even been so disingenuous as to say, “Liberal bias? People say that about us? I’m surprised to hear that!” (If you doubt me, watch this 2011 video with Executive Editor Jill Abramson, who tells CNBC’s Carl Quintanilla that her staff is “equal-opportunity tough” and “unaffected by personal political leanings.” It’s one thing to say that the naturally liberal leanings of your staff need to be held in check, but you have to be an officer in the space-cadet air force to say they don’t exist! It’s not the way you write the story, Jill, it’s what you choose to write about in the first place.)
So why is everyone acting like they’ve never seen a demagogue before? Not only are they a constant feature of all democracies—hence the name—but we’ve had them in America at least since Andrew Jackson, with the aforementioned William Jennings Bryan being an especially fine specimen. When I was a boy, we had a segregationist Arkansas governor named Orval Faubus who won six consecutive terms despite being despised by the political and cultural elites of Pulaski County, such as they were. Orval was a much more skillful orator than Trump, but he voiced many of the same themes—fear of The Other, taxes, law and order, jobs, the meddling federal government—and even though he was famous as the man who tried to privatize the schools of Little Rock in 1957 (early charter schools!), causing a confrontation with President Eisenhower and the National Guard, he continued to receive 70 to 80 percent of the black vote. That’s how good he was. Throughout his reign, my colleagues at the Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette maintained strict separation between the editorial pages and the news columns, sometimes reporting in detail the very speeches in which he railed at the same reporter who was writing the story. Orval liked to point his finger at the reporter in the crowd and say, “There’s the boy who’s been sent here to write lies about me and the people like us!”—but then he had the good sense to buy the reporter a beer after the crowd had dispersed. Trump needs to go back to demagogue school, because he doesn’t know how to play both sides—an essential attribute of any rabble-rouser.
Anyway, the way we did it in the South—with Huey Long, with Lester Maddux, with George Wallace—was simply to make sure everybody heard exactly what they said. We didn’t need 40 epithets to shame them with. We had politicians who used much worse language, making much worse claims, and we just laid it out there, no crisis of conscience, no fear that we were empowering the enemies of civilization. Of course, Pappy O’Daniel, the two-term Texas governor and country singer who campaigned against Brown v. Board of Education, always had his band with him—the Light Crust Doughboys—and so he could pretty much game the system with backup singers and fiddle solos. There is no answer, in the annals of journalism, for a man who can play “The Orange Blossom Special” at double speed.
By the way, the end of my Orval Faubus story is that some sick-and-tired-of-him civic leaders recruited Winthrop Rockefeller to run against him. Winthrop was the black-sheep Rockefeller, more fond of whiskey and his Santa Gertrudis cattle ranch than he was of serving in office, but he took a bullet for the team and defeated Orval’s Democratic machine, paving the way for progressive Democrats like Dale Bumpers and Hillary’s husband. When Winthrop would occasionally pass out in the car and be late for a stump speech, we didn’t report it, despite the “Page Six” appeal of those implications.
But then again, we were hicks from Arkansas. We didn’t know we were part of a half-century tradition on its last legs. We thought keeping your personal opinions out of it was a virtue. We thought the rules were as old as Socrates.
So here’s how I know that the Times is endorsing the Donald.
The Times takes pride in many things, and one of those things is their op-ed page.
They invented the op-ed page in 1970. John B. Oakes, the editorial board member who claims credit for it, called it “one of the great newspaper innovations of the century.”
(They didn’t really invent the op-ed page. There had been op-ed pages before 1970 in The New York World, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and no doubt many other papers that are not readily archived. But for the purposes of this article we’re gonna humor them. They dreamed it up. They made it work. They perfected the model. Op-ed. Their idea.)
Now, the word “op” always had two meanings. It meant “opposite” in terms of being on the page directly across from the editorial page. But we also know, from the writings and notes of the various Timesmen, that it also meant “opposite” in the sense of opposing the official editorial views of the newspaper.
Oakes, the biggest tub-thumper for starting the op-ed page, wanted to “dispel the Ivory Tower image” of the Times. He was a believer his whole life in diversity of opinion in newspaper pages. “The minute we begin to insist that everyone think the same way we think,” he said, “our democratic way of life is in danger.” So the op-ed was intended to be a canvas on which “the whole broad range of opinion, the conflict of ideas” would play out.
The first editor of the op-ed page was Harrison Salisbury—the man who inspired byline envy because his name sounded like it belonged next to Churchill’s memoirs—and Harrison believed the Times had an obligation to “provide a platform for responsible conservative opinion” and “competing perspectives.” To further that end, he called up William F. Buckley, editor of the National Review, to get a list of suggested contributors (I guess they didn’t know any conservatives down on 43rd Street), as well as Robert Welch of the John Birch Society and Gus Hall, chairman of the Communist Party USA. In other words, they went whole hog with this thing. When Punch Sulzberger, the publisher, announced the new op-ed column in 1970, he noted that “points of view in disagreement with the editorial position of the Times will be particularly welcomed.”
And so it was launched and so it functioned—outside voices in the Times for the first time. Salisbury said that, with the death of the New York Herald Tribune in 1966, the Times had an obligation to publish more conservative views, since all these executives—Salisbury, Sulzberger, Oakes—were very comfortable with being openly liberal, unlike Jill Abramson and the other later editors who would constantly be defensive about it.
The op-ed page made its debut less than a year after Vice President Spiro Agnew made his famous Des Moines speech criticizing the liberal East Coast media. He called them “a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government”—meaning, the major TV networks and their FCC licenses. And he made the following point: “We do know that, to a man, these commentators and producers live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, D.C., or New York City…. Both communities bask in their own provincialism, their own parochialism. We can deduce that these men thus read the same newspapers, and draw their political and social views from the same sources. Worse, they talk constantly to one another, thereby providing artificial reinforcement to their shared viewpoints.”
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