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July 25, 2004
Gray Lady Is A Liberal: Okrent

In an admission that only shocks because it was made, the New York Times' ombudsman, Daniel Okrent, came out and told us what we already know:

Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?

Of course it is.

Okrent's confession provides a relief to those of us who have chronicled its overtly leftist bent in every section of its newspaper. In this case, Okrent also delivers, as he has a quip for almost every department:

In the Sunday magazine, the culture-wars applause-o-meter chronically points left. On the Arts & Leisure front page every week, columnist Frank Rich slices up President Bush, Mel Gibson, John Ashcroft and other paladins of the right in prose as uncompromising as Paul Krugman's or Maureen Dowd's. The culture pages often feature forms of art, dance or theater that may pass for normal (or at least tolerable) in New York but might be pretty shocking in other places.

Same goes for fashion coverage, particularly in the Sunday magazine, where I've encountered models who look like they're preparing to murder (or be murdered), and others arrayed in a mode you could call dominatrix chic. If you're like Jim Chapman, one of my correspondents who has given up on The Times, you're lost in space. Wrote Chapman, "Whatever happened to poetry that required rhyme and meter, to songs that required lyrics and tunes, to clothing ads that stressed the costume rather than the barely clothed females and slovenly dressed, slack-jawed, unshaven men?"

In the Sunday Styles section, there are gay wedding announcements, of course, but also downtown sex clubs and T-shirts bearing the slogan, "I'm afraid of Americans." The findings of racial-equity reformer Richard Lapchick have been appearing in the sports pages for decades ("Since when is diversity a sport?" one e-mail complainant grumbled). The front page of the Metro section has featured a long piece best described by its subhead, "Cross-Dressers Gladly Pay to Get in Touch with Their Feminine Side." And a creationist will find no comfort in Science Times.

Not that creationists should expect to find comfort in Science Times. 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?

Unfortunately, Okrent doesn't answer that question, nor does he even bother to ask about the war coverage, making his admission somewhat less than comprehensive. He never mentions the Augusta Masters kerfuffle, which the New York Times tried its best (under previous managing editor Howell Raines) to create a controversy where none really existed, rather than focusing on, oh, reporting the news. Instead, Okrent focuses on the issue of gay marriage, noting that the Times' headlines on the subject could be combined with pleasant pictures and made into a life-insurance commercial. It makes the point, but it's hardly the matter in which readers have been the most poorly served.

Okrent attempts to pass this off as merely a reflection of the city in which the paper lives, but that's a cop-out. If the Times merely represented itself as a city newspaper, I'd buy that. But the Times holds itself out as "The Paper of Record", a national newspaper with national coverage and impact. If the Times truly wants to be that, then the editors need to quit relying on The Big Apple as The Big Excuse and position the paper to reflect its market. Otherwise, with Okrent's admission, it can no longer claim to be the Paper of Record, but the Paper of the Liberal Mindset, analogous to the fine but overtly slanted London Guardian, the mouthpiece of the Labourites.

Admitting one has a problem is the first step towards recovery. The Times needs to take more steps to either restore its credibility among all readers, or to act with more honesty and declare its loyalty to liberalism.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 25, 2004 10:01 AM

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