I rarely read a New Republic article—that magazine now exists in a vacuum like Time, Newsweek, and to a lesser extent, Harper’s—but over the weekend the clickbait headline “Here’s A Better Reason to Unsubscribe From The New York Times” was too curious to resist. Also, it was written by Alex Pareene, a smart, humorous, and well-traveled journalist who, unfortunately, completely whiffed on this one. His peg was the stir over the Times headline—“Trump Urges Unity Against Racism”—last week that was roundly criticized as too favorable to Donald Trump, and brought out the busybodies on Twitter to proclaim that their cancellation request of the Times had been recorded.
(The Nation’s Joan Walsh was typical in her August 5th tweet: “I canceled my subscription. I know a lot of folks will tell me I'm wrong. I will miss it. But I can't keep rewarding such awful news judgment. "Trump Urges Unity Against Racism" is almost as bad as their full-page Comey letter coverage just before 2016 election. Nobody learns.”)
Furthermore, the article’s sub-hed, “It’s not the ‘newspaper of record.’ It’s a rag for the East Coast rich,” was silly for two reasons: one, the Times is not a “rag” in the common colloquial sense; two, the Times has always catered to an affluent, entitled audience.
Pareene strains credulity when he writes: “I am an urban professional, living in New York, making a good living and The New York Times is barely even for me. Take a surgeon, making $400,000. That is, more or less, the intended reader of Times, which consigns a mere family practitioner making $200,000 to the ‘middle class.’” Criminy, the moribund New Republic, which no reads or subscribes to, must be dishing out healthy salaries to staff writers like Pareene, if he makes the Times affluence cut. Obviously, it’s part of Pareene’s job description to consume media of all sorts, but you get the drift.
I don’t like most of The New York Times—and have written about its reflexively liberal bias, editorials masking as front-page stories and promiscuous salaries for very bad op-ed columnists since 1986 or so—but as long as the paper exists (and even more so, The Wall Street Journal) I’ll subscribe to the print edition. Pareene makes the good point that thousands of people take the paper (print or digital) for the “recipes” or arts coverage, but that’s not unique, historically, when dailies thrived, and people bought them for comics, sports and classified ads. (I should note that my New York Press, which had a strong run as a Manhattan free weekly in the 1990s, wasn’t primarily picked up for the front-page stories, but rather the very goofy astrology column, literate comic strips, events listings, and personal and real estate ads.)
I’ve considered just going digital with the Times—it’s cheaper—but my wife, like thousands, starts her day with the crossword puzzle and a downloaded copy won’t do. Michael Powell is my favorite sports columnist in the country, anchoring a section that was once so rich with incisive writing but is now a shell. Columnist Bret Stephens, unlike Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, Michelle Goldberg, Gail Collins, Charles Blow, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Ross Douthat, etc., is an original thinker, who manages to piss off everyone, and so I always read him.
Pareene makes a point of demonstrating the Times Company’s arrogance, its sense of entitlement; but that’s less evident today than 25 or 50 years ago, as it confronts a media environment where social networks like Facebook or Twitter are worth a sum that dwarfs the Times. (That The Washington Post was sold several years ago to Jeff Bezos for a paltry $250 million is the starkest example of how the industry has tumbled.) Pareene, in explaining the Times’ aggressive marketing efforts, says, “In other words: The Times peeled off the elite readers from the local papers, leading them to read less about local news and more about national politics.”
So? The Times isn’t a charity, so why wouldn’t it try to attract as many readers as possible, no matter the harm to the disappearing city dailies? But Pareene says skip the Times sub because other media outlets need your money more, and, after all, the Times has a “bad pattern of editorial decisions dating back years demonstrating an institutional worldview poisoned by false equivalence, blinkered elitism, and fealty to power. Don’t unsubscribe to punish them, or as economic leverage to force them to Do Better.” He adds that the paper is not “a voice of the Resistance.”
That’s some heavy shit, man, to lay on the Times. Maybe in his next article Pareene could explain precisely what the “Resistance” is. I’ve asked many people, on and offline, and have never received a straight answer. “Resistance” definitely applies to the protestors in Hong Kong, who are actually marching and putting themselves in China’s crosshairs, but not Americans who fulminate on social media, at the coffee shop or gym, but haven’t camped out in front of the White House for week after week. The “Resistance” makes the chaotic Occupy Wall Street look like the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
I think it’s true that the Times Company’s owners—most prominently the Sulzberger clan—have a “fealty to power,” in that they exploit tax loopholes and have a battery of lawyers that estate taxes don’t bankrupt the company. But the vast majority of reporters, columnists and editors at the Times—the public face—are virulently anti-Trump, and despite the aforementioned neutral headline—which has more to do with the decision to downsize its newsroom, buying out or letting go “faceless” editors and researchers in favor of its “stars”—which was an aberration, it’s a very liberal paper that perhaps later this year, ahead of the Iowa caucus, will undoubtedly endorse Elizabeth Warren for the Democratic nomination.
At the risk of repetition, if an engaged person isn’t interested solely in preaching-to-the-converted news outlets, it makes sense to read divergent points of view. That’s why I keep my Times subscription.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955