The New York Times subsists on, and sells, a toxic brew of incompetence, arrogance,
and bad faith. Incompetence: this is a near-universal of journalism, seems like the nature of the thing. To understand, try this exercise. Keep your eyes open for newspaper and magazine articles on things you have direct personal knowledge of – things you actually saw or skills you’ve developed. Stuff you’ve actually lived. When you find an article like that, ask yourself how correct it is. Don’t even worry about the conclusions, just the basic facts: names, numbers, claims. I’ve rarely seen better than 60% accuracy (To estimate journalistic incompetence, think of errors you personally know about and extrapolate). The simple factual grounding of nearly every article I had independent knowledge about was appallingly inept. So here’s the
next question: Why should you believe the same sources when they speak of anything else? Answer: you shouldn’t. That’s not what they’re for. So that’s the first aspect: ignorance. I don’t claim the NYT is any worse than any other source in that respect, mind you. But it’s not much of a service to drink the cleanest, finest sewage in the
Second part: arrogance. The NYT isn’t just another news source, it’s the Newspaper of Record. I generally avoid the term ‘pretentious’ but it fits here. The weird grammatical affectations, the overt contempt for anyone and anything outside the Manhattan cultural bubble – when an Oscar Wilde struts around in funny clothes mocking people, it’s charming! When a third-rate nonentity does the same, it’s revolting. The NYT is a third-rate nonentity that thinks it’s Oscar Wilde. And
that’s arrogance, the second factor.
Part 3: bad faith in the NYT. An example is Krugman cashing out his technical expertise in the coin of demagoguery. It’s not that he’s doing it at all – such exchanges are a proud tradition – but that he’s so damned sloppy about it.
Must a newspaper be “objective”? No, of course not, that’s impossible, bla bla bla, and yet… Back to the ignorance thing. Journalists are generalists; they’re always approaching stories as newcomers. They don’t know their subjects. Should that be the case? I don’t know, but it certainly is the case, overwhelmingly, and it’s plausible
that it must be. But if a journalist, or a journalistic organization, is never terribly clear on the facts, they do know their own worldview, if passively. I think this points toward the problem that the objectivity argument misses. Facts are murky, one’s
own values are clear. If you mistake clarity of values for clarity of fact, that’s a worse corruption than mere subjectivity.