Does a bear shit in the woods? Of course it does.
July 26, 2004 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper? Of course it is. By Daniel Okrent, New York Times Ombudsman Public Editor. (reg. req'd)
posted by pardonyou? (36 comments total)
My point in posting this was not because I think that there's necessarily anything wrong with being a "liberal newspaper." Like Okrent, I probably agree with the paper's perspective 95% of the time. Also, he detects this bias primarily in cultural, as opposed to news, items. I just found it a fascinating and refreshing admission, particularly in light of the stance the Times' editors and publishers have always tried to maintain in the face of the "liberal media" / "liberal Times" charge. Interesting that he chose this as his last column before a long vacation. There are already rumors he's not terribly popular among the powers-that-be, and this column can't help.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:44 AM on July 26, 2004

Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with a conservative news station, but they have to admit their bias. "Fair and Balanced" ain't exactly close to the truth.

Agreed. And as to your first post, I think there's probably some semantic difference about what constitutes "liberal."

I should probably back out of this post now. I've been taken to MeTa for "moderating" my posts before.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:56 AM on July 26, 2004

He prefers to call the paper's viewpoint "urban." He says that the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means "We're less easily shocked," and that the paper reflects "a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility."

More or less hits the nail on the head. Even a lot of politically conservative New Yorkers greet stuff like gay weddings and sex clubs with a shrug.
posted by jonmc at 8:59 AM on July 26, 2004

I'd be happy if any news source admitted when it was wrong, in a noticeable way, and when it is editorializing as opposed to reporting.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:59 AM on July 26, 2004

And when bears shit in the woods, they have their own paper. (Flash)
posted by wendell at 9:13 AM on July 26, 2004

All hail Mr. Okrent for stating the obvious! The emperor has no clothes!
posted by Durwood at 9:20 AM on July 26, 2004

Since when are they running gay wedding announcements in the Times? I haven't seen one.

The San Francisco Chronicle runs an uninflected article about Congressional testimony from a Stanford scholar making the case that gay marriage in the Netherlands has had a deleterious effect on heterosexual marriage. The Boston Globe explores the potential impact of same-sex marriage on tax revenues, and the paucity of reliable research on child-rearing in gay families. But in The Times, I have learned next to nothing about these issues, nor about partner abuse in the gay community, about any social difficulties that might be encountered by children of gay couples or about divorce rates (or causes, or consequences) among the 7,000 couples legally joined in Vermont since civil union was established there four years ago.

In the Times, you also learn next to nothing about social difficulties of working-class couples, mixed-race couples, mixed-citizenship couples, or about their divorce rates either. Why is it only an issue when it's gay people? San Francisco and Boston have or had legalized gay marriage--we don't here in NY. Those issues hit home and are more relevant to readers in those cities because of that. Gay divorce isn't news in NY until marriage is legal in NY--duh. If they're lazy about this topic, then that's about reporters' laziness, not about a bias. There are plenty of stories recently about drug use and unsafe sex in the gay community in the Times along with other unsafe and also stories about gay street kids in the village--but he doesn't even mention those.
Very sloppy piece, especially considering it's purporting to point out the sloppiness of others. The NYT has a long history of ignoring gay people, and only started using the word "gay" instead of "homosexual" in the 80s, after much protest.
posted by amberglow at 9:30 AM on July 26, 2004

oops..part of that got messed up--make that ..."along with "on the down low" stories"...
posted by amberglow at 9:32 AM on July 26, 2004

Again, Durwood, (1) that's vastly overstating the impact of this piece, and (2) no one really gives a damn what you think anyway.

Funny, though, how Okrent never got around to seriously addressing the point that most NYT readers take most seriously: that its coverage of politics and foreign affairs has in recent years been toothless and credulous, barely more liberal than conservative. Compared to this fault, a bias towards gay marriage hardly seems a terrible failing -- New York is one of the most gay-positive places in the country, and you'd have to look far and wide to find differing opinions. (Even the old people here are totally pro-gay, if for no other reason than because they hate Republicans so much.)
posted by Epenthesis at 9:39 AM on July 26, 2004

Since when are they running gay wedding announcements in the Times? I haven't seen one.

For nearly two years now. I've seen several.
posted by ChrisTN at 9:48 AM on July 26, 2004

I'm with skallas. Okrent's piece is quite sad, actually. he gives an impressive, impressive amount of importance to the NYT's coverage of gay marriage (a dishonest wedge issue created ad hoc and pumped-up in the media by Republicans desperate to fire up their fundy gay-hating base, just like they did with those phantom "partial birth" abortions), as if that changed his papers terrifyingly right wing coverage of stuff like (in the recent past) Central America and Israel/Palestine, the pro-Iraq stance of the paper, the editors and reporters unwillingness to raise their voice during that shameful Clinton witch-hunt that turned the American media into a worldwide laughinstock -- the NYT people really did their part chasing Scaife-created rumors, following up on Drudge's "scoops", they sniffed their fair share of stained GAP dresses, etc. such libruls.

and if the Times is now sooooo pro-gay (I don't think it is), well, they're trying to make amends with their conscience for the shameful anti-gay stance of the paper during the past, especially the tenure of that rabid right-winger Abe Rosenthal. they probably feel the burden of their old sins

but yeah, the only thing mentioned by Okrent that actually makes sense is that, usually, most big-city people (who may have even traveled a little bit) are not as backwards as some smalltown people can be. and yeah, there's probably more Creationists in some rural small towns than, say, in Boston or New York or San Francisco or LA. big fucking deal, mr Okrent. the NYT is as Establishment as a massively popular paper can possibly be. they want to sit down at the table with the Big Guys. so they need to be polite about stuff, like dishonest wars and propped-up-by-America dictators.
to seriously consider the Establishment as a left-wing entity, well, that would make me laugh out loud if it weren't so tragic, and finally dangerous.
posted by matteo at 10:01 AM on July 26, 2004

Ah, yes... Liberal cultural coverage like like we see in the real estate section about the trials and tribulations of trying to get approved by the local co-op board and the problems of trying to find the perfect second summer home.

The emptiness of Okrent column effectively strips "liberal" and "conservative" of any political content. If it's true that being a liberal means that you are attracted to a newspaper that accepts the validity of evolution and enjoys varied cultural coverage, then life as a conservative must be pretty pathetic.

But look at the lameness of what Okrent is claiming. Are you a lawyer, architect, or high-tech worker on Manhattan's upper west side? Sure, you might believe in big tax cuts, support the war in Iraq, and be uncomfortable with abortion, but you're a liberal! Are you a Catholic living in western Pennsylvania who works as a union organizer fighting for a better pension and health plan and wants to make sure your mother's Social Security payments are secure? You're a conservative!

Look, I am amused at the (very pro-NYT) idea Okrent is trying to make-- liberals are intellectual, cultured, and successful, while conservatives are provincial, uneducated, and thus America's cultural and intellectual losers, and the New York Times appeals to the former, rather than the latter, but that's not about liberalism and conservatism at all.

Yet Okrent doesn't even touch the issue of the NYT's coverage on issue of trade, the war in Iraq, or economics, all of which have been unabashedly "moderate conservative." He's trying to advocate a world in which liberal and conservative are just cultural appellations rather than ideological beliefs.
posted by deanc at 10:31 AM on July 26, 2004

(2) no one really gives a damn what you think anyway.

posted by dhoyt at 10:35 AM on July 26, 2004

The Times' problem is that it is consciously written by English majors for an audience of the pre-meds, pre-laws, and pre-MBAs with whom they roomed at Harvard or Williams. There is a level of conscious north-eastern elitism which far exceeds that of any other paper in the country -- the Washington Post works hard to be relevant to a more conservative Northern Viriginia audience, the Wall Street Journal stays relevant to all the guys from St. Johns and Rutgers who run the trading desks, and the LA Times heeds the aging USC establishment and the rising UCLA (and heavily Latino) establishment at well as it does the arrivistes from the Ivy League.
posted by MattD at 10:36 AM on July 26, 2004

William Saffliar - yup, definite liberal incarnate
Judith "I'm lying as fast as I can" Miller - Lieberman liberal
Jodi "talking points" Wilgoren - right wing liberal
Elizabeth Bumiller - [cough] LIEberal [cough]

Must I go on or has the point been made?
posted by nofundy at 10:50 AM on July 26, 2004

the NYT is as Establishment as a massively popular paper can possibly be.

amen. calling this paper "liberal" in the current political climate is a laugh. the New York Times equals Time equals Newsweek equals the Washington Post equals USA Today == mainstream. their only goal is to make a lot of money. any political ideology or journalistic ethics unrelated to making money are unimportant.

as skallas mentions, go to any cleary "liberal" or "progressive" news source (Mother Jones, The Nation, Harper's) and you'll see a very different spectrum of coverage.

also, as deanc and MattD point out, as far as economic issues go, the NYT is extremely conservative. it's mostly written for rich people.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:59 AM on July 26, 2004

I'm with skallas on this. This column is thunderously stupid. To talk about a lack of creationists in the Science Times and liberals in the Arts section and utterly ignore the stenography of RNC talking points of the last 12 years of political reporting and horribly inaccurate reporting from the likes of Jeff Gerth or Judith Miller in support of conservative causes is, as a friend of mine put it "playing the Alan Colmes game of pleasing the complainer".
posted by McBain at 11:03 AM on July 26, 2004

A lot of "presenting a conservative view" on the issues he talks about would include people making moral pronouncements about the story subjects.
If I were to do a Living story about the life of young Orthodox Jews in our modern age, am I supposed to run some counterpoint from the Christian perspective that they are all going to hell for not accepting Jesus Christ as their lord and savior?
posted by McBain at 11:11 AM on July 26, 2004

Seriously; if these elements are sufficient to make the NYT a "liberal" paper, then The Economist, with it's pro-gay marriage, non-creationist editorial stance, is liberal as well. What's left for the conservatives, other than Jack Chick tracts?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:30 AM on July 26, 2004

Wow. Tough crowd. Let's see, what do you think are the odds of the Times hiring a fire-breathing left-winger who would take them to task for every single thing they've ever done and say the only decent thing to do would be shut down the paper and apologize to everyone for their former existence? Zero? Yeah, me too. So what exactly are you complaining about? Compared to the actual possibilities for an ombudsman at the Times (something I never thought I'd see in the first place), Okrent is about as good as you could ask for -- as shown by the fact that just about everyone else at the paper resents him. If you hate the Times, fine, but why take it out on Okrent? He writes pretty well and seems to be genuinely trying to hold his bosses' feet to the fire.

Funny, though, how Okrent never got around to seriously addressing the point that most NYT readers take most seriously: that its coverage of politics and foreign affairs has in recent years been toothless and credulous, barely more liberal than conservative.

Yet Okrent doesn't even touch the issue of the NYT's coverage on issue of trade, the war in Iraq, or economics

Did you people actually read the column?

"I'll get to the politics-and-policy issues this fall (I want to watch the campaign coverage before I conclude anything)..."
posted by languagehat at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2004

I did, L-Hat. it's a ridiculous copout. one has to assume Okrent doesn't read Miller or Bumiller or all the other GOP operatives disguised as journalists who've helped turn the Times into a joke.
the Chalabi bullshit peddled as Truth and the constant Bush 2004 pres releases that Bumiller writes every day are much more of a disgrace than that little plagiarist cokehead that wingnuts were jerking each other off about.

Okrent's a nice guy? well, as David Mamet once wrote,

Nice guy, I don't give a shit.
Good father? Fuck you.
Go home and play with your kids

to say that he's gotta wait the election coverage to make up his mind is disingenious at best, dishonest at worst. assuming he's been reading his paper all these years/months
posted by matteo at 11:50 AM on July 26, 2004

A few token articles or writers doesn't make the Times moderate any more than Alan Colmes makes FOX liberal.
posted by HTuttle at 11:56 AM on July 26, 2004

A few token articles

you don't read it much, huh? on the important stuff (Iraq, the military industrial complex, the Clinton witch-hunt, Bush's past and his record, the general money-worship and power-worship of their reporters -- GOP operatives like the aforementioned Gerth, etc). they're reliably pro-status quo and generally anti-progressive
unless you think Paul Krugman runs the paper of course.

the coverage -- ie the reporting, and the editorial choices -- are very, very inoffensive to the powerful. the NYT is mostly a fanzine for the rich and powerful -- hardly Mother Jones, or the Daily Worker. again, think of the amount of column inches devoted to Whitewater, that silly Scaife shenanigan.
Wen Ho Lee? the Atlanta bombing guy who didn't do it?
they're sooooooooo liberal, at that damn NYT.

but yeah, maybe their coverage of gay issues is a little too liberal for an Alabama Republican's taste. they may also have a modicum of sympathy, as of late, when hiring new staff, for a few uppity Negroes. many of their their reporters may not believe that the earth is 4,000 years old.
that, I concede. how shocking
posted by matteo at 12:13 PM on July 26, 2004

What matteo said. The Times has probably been the most disappointing to those of us that actually thought it was liberal--the regurgitating of all the Iraq lies, the disappearance of any kind of factchecking/verification of the spin and deception fed to them every day--the list is endless on issues of importance. And cultural coverage is not why most people read the Times each day, except for Sundays. It may be our faulty memories but there was factchecking and questioning of everything the Clinton administration put out, unlike what's been going on lately. When bloggers can outreport the Times there's a problem. When facts and previous statements are easily found (2 seconds on google, usually) to rebut current statements from officials, yet the Times doesn't report them, there's a problem.
posted by amberglow at 2:27 PM on July 26, 2004

The Times has probably been the most disappointing to those of us that actually thought it was liberal

Liberal media regurgitates lies and spins just as easily as the conservative media.

What we need is less partisanship and more truth. Honesty isn't a political viewpoint.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:51 PM on July 26, 2004

My God! A single-source op-ed on the front page of MetaFilter? Where's the usual panicky right wing Mefite outrage?

Oh. It's a single-source, op-ed, front page post that supports one of their cherished talking points....

Must. Not. Use. H. Word.

~hearty laugh~

On May 26, 2004, the Times published another significant admission of journalistic failings, admitting that its flawed reporting during the buildup to war with Iraq helped promote the misleading belief that Iraq possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. A second self-criticism by Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent went further. "The failure was not individual, but institutional," Okrent wrote. "War requires an extra standard of care, not a lesser one. But in the Times's WMD coverage, readers encountered some rather breathless stories built on unsubstantiated 'revelations' that, in many instances, were the anonymity-cloaked assertions of people with vested interests. Times reporters broke many stories before and after the war - but when the stories themselves later broke apart, in many instances Times readers never found out. ... Other stories pushed Pentagon assertions so aggressively you could almost sense epaulets sprouting on the shoulders of editors. ... The aggressive journalism that I long for, and that the paper owes both its readers and its own self-respect, would reveal not just the tactics of those who promoted the WMD stories, but how the Times itself was used to further their cunning campaign."
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:51 PM on July 26, 2004

Who does Okrent want the reporters doing a gay marriage article to talk to for a rebuttal; the God hates Fags people?
posted by haqspan at 3:57 PM on July 26, 2004

See also Bias, and What is bias? from Honest Reporting.
posted by hama7 at 4:28 PM on July 26, 2004

CJR's Campaign Desk has a good example of today's sloppy campaign reporting from the Times (they've been very good at reporting on the reporting.)
posted by amberglow at 4:45 PM on July 26, 2004

haha7 isn't even trying anymore with his hit and run linking to obvious garbage. Sad, really.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:34 PM on July 26, 2004

The NYTimes is a paper for rich, educated people. Who this guy seems to think == liberal
posted by delmoi at 7:33 PM on July 26, 2004

Sad, really.

quite so. hamasheaven can link all he wants to obscure Japanese photographers sites and Petrarca and whatever, to try to trick people into believing he's an intelligent human being. but then, he just opens his mouth like he did in this thread and his breath betrays him -- you cannot really mistake the putrid smell of Fascism.
posted by matteo at 1:23 AM on July 27, 2004

"Liberal" and "conservative" are, in the US, not formal designations. Rather, they are casually used comparative terms like "big" and "small" or "ugly" and "attractive".

Clever children often claim that sentences such as "That is a small mountain" or "That is a big ant" are amusingly oxymoronic. However, if I were to say to you: "I live near a small mountain in southwestern Colorado" or "That was a huge ant crawling on you, dude!", it is a modest miracle of human ingenuity that you'll have no trouble comprehending my intended meaning.

This is by virtue of—and here we venture into deep water—the presence of context. Don't let its latinate form and multisyllabic complexity intimidate you—context can be your friend.

That mountain can indeed be "small' comparison to other nearby, larger mountains. An ant can, in context, be monstrously large! Amazing, yes. But quite true.

Armed with an appreciation for the power of "context", we may now go forth and get a fucking clue.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:12 AM on July 27, 2004

More Liberal Media BS.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:13 PM on July 27, 2004

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