Sunday, July 25, 2004

A Good Start

Daniel Okrent, the public editor of the New York times, penned one of his twice-monthly articles. This one is entitled Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?

His answer: Of course it is.

The New York Times requires registration, so I'll lift a couple of grafs here in case you don't care to register or head over to

I'll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything), but for now my concern is the flammable stuff that ignites the right. These are the social issues: gay rights, gun control, abortion and environmental regulation, among others. And if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed.

But if you're examining the paper's coverage of these subjects from a perspective that is neither urban nor Northeastern nor culturally seen-it-all; if you are among the groups The Times treats as strange objects to be examined on a laboratory slide (devout Catholics, gun owners, Orthodox Jews, Texans); if your value system wouldn't wear well on a composite New York Times journalist, then a walk through this paper can make you feel you're traveling in a strange and forbidding world.

Mr. Okrent later goes on to ask:

Newspapers have the right to decide what's important and what's not. But their editors must also expect that some readers will think: "This does not represent me or my interests. In fact, it represents my enemy." So is it any wonder that the offended or befuddled reader might consider everything else in the paper - including, say, campaign coverage - suspicious as well?

I don't see how anyone could believe that it won't, although I think that the use of the word "enemy" in the mouth of the hypothetical opposition was far too strong. I am willing to allow that the New York Times is a hopelessly provincial in its outlook, falling into the stereotype that New York is the only place in the country that matters. That is fine with me, I can then take it as a good reason to ignore the Times as not really being relevant to me here in California.

Going back to the point about doubting the campaign coverage, an us and them attitude in such a homogeneous group is unavoidable. The reason that that is going to result in bias coming through the pages is that reporting can be really hard work. A person has to bring a great deal of enthusiasm to dig down into the information available, pursue information that isn't, and to cajole contacts to answer questions. What has to be understood in today's media, especially a place as influential as the NY Times, is that what is published can be very powerful. Powerful to the point where the careers of the subjects can be made or ruined or elections swung.

What I have come to realize about the New York Times (and this goes double for the LA Times) is that its reporters can not be trusted to bring as much enthusiasm to pursuing negative information about liberals/Democrats as they can about conservatives/Republicans. In a way it is understandable, no one wants to tear down the "good guys" while the "bad guys" should get what they deserve.

This leaves two options for the reporters of all stripes: maitain the discipline to pursue stories even if they go in directions that one might find dismaying, or acknowledge that one has a bias and will pursue stories that fit with one's worldview. I have lost faith in most media to do the first, and Mr. Okrent's article here is a good start toward coming clean via the second.

No comments: