The fall of the New York Times
The ousting of James Bennet exposed the rotten, illiberal state of establishment journalism.
In the past 15 or so years, a velvet revolution has taken place in American journalism – a stealth takeover by a new generation of ideologically motivated, expensively educated and monolithically ‘progressive’ journalists who share few of the professional goals and ethics of their predecessors.
This is the main takeaway from James Bennet’s exhaustive account of his ill-fated tenure as the editorial page editor at the New York Times, which was published in The Economist last week. Back in 2020, Bennet was made to resign by the newspaper’s publisher, AG Sulzberger, for the ‘crime’ of running an op-ed by Republican senator Tom Cotton, which suggested that the National Guard be deployed to quell the rioting that broke out after the death of George Floyd.
I say ‘stealth’, but actually quite a few voices have been loudly warning of this incoming tide for years now, but they mostly came from outside the castle walls. Conservatives, dissidents, eccentrics – their alarm bells were all too easily dismissed by the great and the good.
The New York Times has always had a genteel, white-shoe reputation, as befits a publication that once catered to wealthy, educated Manhattanites and those from farther afield who aspired to that lifestyle. But, as Bennet and others have noticed, something has changed in recent years. That change stems from the fact that the new generation of wealthy, educated American journalists are no longer genteel, noblesse oblige types. Today, they are angry, myopic identitarians who want to reshape the paper (and all other institutions) to reflect their fervently held opinions. Or as Bennet puts it: ‘The Times’ problem has metastasised from liberal bias to illiberal bias.’
I think that is rather an understatement.
Years ago, I worked for the same section of the New York Times that Bennet got his start in – the metro section. I remember from my time in the old newsroom just how mission-focussed my superiors were. They were thorough adherents to the belief that their newspaper was the best in the world, and they were utterly devoted to maintaining that reputation with monk-like consistency and attention to detail. The men and women I worked with believed that the clear, objective reporting of true facts was the highest virtue in journalism and they cared about little else. Certainly not the feelings of junior employees or negative attention that came from outside the paper. No one cared what anyone else thought. They were there to serve their god, the New York Times.
Today, it seems like the newer staff are there to serve a new god – namely, wokeism. The paper is now just a tool they use to amplify the identitarian message and pass judgement on those people they consider to be lacking. As Bennet says: ‘The old liberal embrace of inclusive debate that reflected the country’s breadth of views had given way to a new intolerance for the opinions of roughly half of American voters.’
He notes that a few months after he was fired his former department published an opinion piece praising the CCP’s crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong – an instance where an authoritarian government actually used the military to suppress protests. ‘But there was no internal uproar’ by woke Times staff to this article, he says.
Another illuminating anecdote Bennet shares is of the time he decided to publish letters from Trump voters. These letters were often critical of Trump but they shed light on the reasons people supported him in any case. ‘I was astonished by the fury of my Times colleagues’, he recalls. ‘I found myself facing an angry internal town hall, trying to justify what to me was an obvious journalistic decision.’
Because Bennet is a true liberal and seems like a decent person, his article features a lot of hand-holding. For instance, it contains a patient explanation of why publishing a letter from a Trump supporter is not the same as an act of violence. The tone used reminds me of a kind school teacher explaining to a small child why they can’t piss on the classroom floor.
Despite his rude awakening, Bennet still seems to be clinging to the hope that those same journalists who demanded his ousting, who have so clearly abandoned reason and objectivity, can somehow be relied on to turn the tide back. But the point of no return was passed a long time ago. Journalism cannot survive this hostile takeover.
Jenny Holland is a former newspaper reporter and speechwriter. Visit her Substack here.
Picture by: Getty.
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