OH, THE PLEASURE – AT 10:49 A.M. ET: This is truly buzzing around the internet. Arthur Brisbank, the public editor of The New York Times, the ombudsman, in his final column in that role, confirms what any sane person believes. His comments have set off an uproar at the paper. Oh, read with joy:
I also noted two years ago that I had taken up the public editor duties believing “there is no conspiracy” and that The Times’s output was too vast and complex to be dictated by any Wizard of Oz-like individual or cabal. I still believe that, but also see that the hive on Eighth Avenue is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within.
When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.
Stepping back, I can see that as the digital transformation proceeds, as The Times disaggregates and as an empowered staff finds new ways to express itself, a kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space.
It’s a huge success story — it is hard to argue with the enormous size of Times Nation — but one that carries risk as well. A just-released Pew Research Center survey found that The Times’s “believability rating” had dropped drastically among Republicans compared with Democrats, and was an almost-perfect mirror opposite of Fox News’s rating. Can that be good?
COMMENT: So, he said it. Naturally, The Times's executive editor, Jill Abramson, has responded, denying the charges. But Abramson made her bones in journalism by co-authoring a smear book on Justice Clarence Thomas. So much for her objectivity.
Of course The Times is biased. And I hope Brisbane's comments are widely quoted. The Times is still the most important print daily in the United States, possibly the world, and it influences its already influential readership. It should be reformed, but it won't be under current management.
August 26, 2012