June 9, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     Unlike many conservatives, I like the NEW YORK 
TIMES, the "Good Gray Lady" of American journalism. On 
big political stories, it usually offers the most 
thorough reporting and is scrupulously accurate. But, 
aware of its stodgy image, the TIMES has recently 
lightened up to a fault.

     For example, one of its regular columnists now is 
Maureen Dowd, spunky and hip. She often alludes to topics 
of pop culture the TIMES has sniffily ignored and hardly 
covered. You can't follow her meaning unless you're also 
reading New York's tabloids, the POST and DAILY NEWS, not 
to mention keeping up with the Michael Jackson trial.

     The paper's famous motto, "All the news that's fit 
to print," leaves it in an awkward relation to the 
celebrity culture. Unless I'm badly mistaken, it has 
reported nothing about Russell Crowe's latest arrest and 
subsequent contrition.

     Obviously the TIMES has heard about the New 
Journalism and too often tries to apply the techniques of 
fiction to news stories. Instead of the old-fashioned 
lead paragraph, packed with who-what-when-where facts, 
you are now apt to find an article beginning with 
atmospherics like this: "Even the black cat that lived 
beneath Wrigley Field, fed and nurtured by stadium 
workers who apparently are not as superstitious as the 
patrons, seemed to sense that the Red Sox were coming." 
Nice writing, but if you're in a hurry to read the 
morning paper you may not want to settle in as for a 
Joseph Conrad novel.

     What about the famous liberal bias of the TIMES? 
It's certainly there, not so much in overt ways as in the 
tacit assumptions the paper habitually makes about the 
reader. It seems to go without saying that the TIMES 
reader believes there's a government solution to every 
problem, and that he doesn't believe in the supernatural. 
The paper's coverage of religion is minimal, and the 
activities of Christians -- papal elections, say -- are 
of interest -- "fit to print" -- only insofar as they are 
potential threats to liberal causes. When Cardinal 
Ratzinger was elected Pope, the TIMES reported the fact 
with an undertone of alarm. It had hoped for someone less 
-- well, Catholic. Even the huge Sunday edition has no 
religion section.

     Catholics may write in the TIMES, so long as they 
are Garry Wills. That is to say, they are allowed space 
to attack the Church for being insufficiently liberal. 
Defenders of the Church hardly ever appear in the paper, 
and the orthodox Catholic reader feels a bit like a man 
attending a party he hasn't been invited to, with 
uncongenial people. The TIMES fairly cries out to him, 
"Your kind aren't welcome here!"

     The TIMES tries to make a show of ideological 
balance on the op-ed page (a TIMES innovation of the 
Spiro Agnew era), but even its "conservatives" are 
liberals -- that is, neoconservatives. For many years 
this niche was filled by William Safire, a chum of Ariel 
Sharon; today it's occupied by David Brooks, who takes 
the position that there's no such thing as a 
neoconservative, thereby proving that he is one. Only 
neoconservatives deny the existence of neoconservatives, 
on the principle, I suppose, that Satan's cleverest wile 
is to make us think he doesn't exist.

     But whereas Safire blamed Christianity for the 
Holocaust, Brooks can write sympathetically about 
Christians. Still, Brooks is as statist as any liberal, 
and he's scornful of old-fashioned conservatives who 
favor limited government; he wants what he calls 
"national greatness conservatism," with America 
dominating the globe (while maintaining a welfare state 
at home). Brooks once championed the war on Iraq, but 
since it has gone bad he has been rather subdued about 

     In general the TIMES has been ambivalent, but mostly 
skeptical, about this war -- never opposing it directly, 
but supplying plenty of ammunition, as it were, for those 
who do. This is the way it also handled the Vietnam war 
for a long time, avoiding explicit commitment until 
liberal opinion had solidified against that war.

     The NEW YORK TIMES is of course the Establishment 
paper par excellence, a bellwether for all the major 
media, which imitate not only its news judgment but its 
cagey liberalism. But it contains plenty of good writing, 
and it's an indispensable guide to what the most 
influential folk in America are thinking.


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