Media honesty is scarce today—increasingly so every year since the 2008 financial crash and the Internet’s crushing toll on print newspapers—but on occasion I believe in miracles, and look forward to a modification of The New York Times’ motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” which has appeared on the paper’s front page, to the left of the logo, since 1897. More accurate would be the inclusion of just one word: “All the Biased News That’s Fit to Print.” I write this in jest, since generations of Times editors really do believe, or say they do, in Adolph Ochs’ maxim, added as an intended jot of respectability after he bought the paper in 1896.
But there’s little doubt that the Times functions today as an arm of the Democratic National Committee—Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema notwithstanding; there are always a few apostates that have the (digital) counting cart!—and though I can’t remember the last writer in the paper to proclaim, “The Great American Experiment is failing,” I’m sure that has appeared under of the byline of some dimwit—maybe a “guest opinion” by Rob Reiner—in the last month. (Not incidentally, when does an “experiment” stop being an “experiment”? Maybe only “experiments” as old as the Renaissance, as opposed to the late-18th century, qualify.)
American democracy has died so many times since Donald Trump was elected in 2016 that Arlington National Cemetery has exceeded capacity; perhaps a landfill in Maryland can accommodate the newly-arrived. It’s not my intention to make light of the January 6, 2021 (small) riot at the U.S. Capitol, or Trump’s part in inciting his followers to contest Joe Biden’s clear-cut victory. It wasn’t a good day for the country, and it’s my hope that Trump—despite his attempts to exert influence over Republican politics—soon disappears from public life.
But the Times’ preoccupation with J6 and Trump—and don’t be so naïve to believe that the digital company keeps banging that drum for merely patriotic purposes; clicks are clicks and that keeps the Times awash in cash—is insulting to readers who still expect “news that’s fit to print.”
On New Year’s Day, a Times editorial lectured: “After four years of chaos, cruelty and incompetence, culminating in a pandemic and the once-unthinkable trauma of Jan. 6, most Americans were desperate for some peace and quiet. On the surface, we have achieved that. Our political life seems more or less normal these days, as the president pardons turkeys and Congress quarrels over spending bills. But peel back a layer, and things are far from normal. Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.”
Reading the above, you’d think that Trump created the pandemic (and let’s not forget that despite a ham-handed response at first, it was Trump that ran through regulatory stop signs, allowing life-saving vaccines that were administered by the end of 2020), and that Joe Biden, that foggy, often incoherent president who pardons turkeys has Covid and its variants under control, and that it no longer dominates American life, from confusing CDC edicts to lockdowns to the decimation of so many small businesses.
That’s of little consequence to the Times editorial board, which bangs on: “Whatever happens in Washington in the months and years to come, Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level—not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day—to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live the reality-based world.”
And that’s your monthly (weekly?) Port Huron Statement knockoff from what some still call “The paper of record.” I’d have no problem with the Times advocating that only Democrats be elected to office, just so long as they admitted it. As for daily “mobilizing,” do the editors think that most Americans have so much spare time that they can forsake employment and their families to do “The Lord’s Work”? It’s insulting. And, even if the paper’s opinion-makers don’t live in a “reality-based world,” surely one or two of them might risk termination by pointing out that roughly half the country wants Republicans, not Democrats, in Washington and on the state level.
Former Times “Public Editor” Margaret Sullivan, who now covers media for The Washington Post, was quick to “mobilize” after reading the Times editorial. In a column that quotes only people sympathetic to the “save our democracy” charade, including author Ruth Ben-Ghiat, historian Thomas Zimmer, the Associated Press, NPR, Nicholas Riccardi, NBC’s numbskull Chuck Todd and, naturally, The Atlantic’s Barton Gellman, who predicts a democracy-shattering 2024 presidential election. Sullivan’s “public-service” message to journalists: “Don’t be afraid to stand for something as basic to our mission as voting rights, governmental checks and balances, and democratic standards. In other words, shout it from the rooftops. Before it’s too late.”
Today’s “conventional wisdom” says that the GOP is in a good position to re-claim a majority in the House this November. Out-of-power parties usually gain seats in midterm elections (in 2010 and 2014, partly because of Barack Obama’s reticence to campaign for anyone but himself, that was the case, just as the Republicans lost two years after Trump’s election), but it’s no guarantee. Red and blue states are still in the midst of re-districting, and gerrymandering, and who knows how that’ll turn out. The 2024 election is too far in the distance to even speculate upon, but I wonder if, say, a non-Trump ally such as Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis or even new Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin won the presidency for the GOP—both in the popular and electoral vote—if democracy will have perished. Similarly, will the Times and its media lackeys proclaim a victory for “democracy” should a Democrat prevail—whether it’s Kamala Harris, Mayor Pete or even coming-to-the-rescue Michelle Obama—or continue its content-boosting doomsday routine. My money’s on the former.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955