Join the 14 Percent Club! We Won!

Join the 14 Percent Club! We Won!

Reading the New York Times reform proposals is like reading a strategy memo from the dying embers of the Dukakis campaign.


Sign here to become a member of the 14 Percent Club. Twenty bucks plus shipping and handling gets you the T-shirt. Credentials for membership derive from a recent study from the Pew Research Center disclosing, in the words of Katharine Seelye of the New York Times on May 9, that “45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing of what they read in their daily newspapers…. When specific newspapers were mentioned, The Times fared about average, with 21 per- cent of readers believing all or most of what they read in The Times and 14 percent believing almost nothing.”

Chalk up another victory for the left. We’ve been at it for thirty years at least, saying that most things in the Times are distortions of reality or outright lies, and here is a robust slice of the American people agreeing with us.

Of course, the fainthearts who believe that the left can never win anything will say that the credit should go to moles at the Times, boring from within, hollowing out the mighty edifice with year upon year of willful falsehoods until at last the whole ponderous structure is crumbling into dust, crushing all within. True to a point. Heroic moles, entombed in the rubble of your own making, Judith Miller and all the others, back through to the suzerain of sappers, A.M. Rosenthal, we salute you all!

As with any empire near collapse, frantic orders are issuing from the command bunker. Seelye divulges the program of proposed “reforms” devised by the editors: “Set up an error-tracking system to detect patterns and trends. Encourage the development of software to detect plagiarism when accusations arise. Increase coverage of middle America, rural areas and religion.”

Can there be any better evidence of the panic that has settled in? If this trend continues, they’ll be forcing Tom Friedman to install software, based on the works of Noam Chomsky, that freezes his hard drive every time he types an untrue sentence.

The Times‘s “reform” package veers between apologetic sniveling about improved coverage of the heartland (fatter slabs of patronizing nonsense about god-fearing kulaks in Iowa) and quavering barks of defiance at “the relentless public criticism of the paper…. Mr. Keller [the Times‘s executive editor] asked the committee to consider whether it was ‘any longer possible to stand silent and stoic under fire.'”

“‘We need to be more assertive about explaining ourselves–our decisions, our methods, our values, how we operate,’ the committee said, acknowledging that ‘there are those who love to hate The Times’ and suggesting a focus instead on people who do not have ‘fixed’ opinions about the paper.”

This is like reading a strategy memo from the dying embers of the Dukakis campaign. I’m glad to say I have no constructive recommendations to offer to the Times editors, except maybe one suggested by my Nation intern, Mark Hatch-Miller: “Stop bringing up Jayson Blair every time you screw up. Every time the paper talks about why people don’t trust them, they have to mention Blair, but we all would have forgotten him by now if they’d shut up about him. His story is only used to distract us from the real problems at the Times.”

On the matter of constructive versus destructive criticism, I’ll always opt for the latter. Keep it simple, like “US Out of Iraq Now.” My only quibble with Chomsky down the years has been the implication in all his trenchant criticisms of the Times that somehow the paper should be getting things right, and that it would be better if it did so. This has always seemed to me to be a contradiction in terms. The role devised by the Times for itself was to be the credible organ of capitalism (“newspaper of record”), with reports and editorials premised on the belief that US capitalism can produce a just society in which all can enjoy the fruits of their labor in peaceful harmony with their environment and the rest of the planet.

The evidence is in. The case is proved a million different ways. American capitalism can’t do that. It’s produced an unjust society run by a tiny slice of obscenely rich people (including those controlling the New York Times) with a vested and irreversible interest in permanent war and planetary destruction. Given those premises, how can the Times ever get it right? Why would we want the Times to get it right? It’s like a parody I wrote here a decade ago, when the Times said that henceforth it would issue corrections “for the sake of balance”:

A New York Times Business Day report published two days ago quoted sources confident of America’s continued economic expansion, but the report failed to provide adequate balance to these optimistic views. The report markedly failed to represent the views of the Marxist school. According to the Marxist school, the capitalist economy of the United States will suffer increasing crises of accumulation and a falling rate of profit. These phenomena will aggravate social and economic contradictions to a degree that will be ultimately fatal to capitalism. Failure to note the theories of the German economic and social critic Karl Marx violated Times standards of fairness.

Get the idea?

We won! On the left we’ve always said that the corporate press tells lies, and now most people believe us. The corporate media are discredited, the same way the corporate political parties are. Newspapers are dying. The TV network news programs have lost nearly a third of their audience over the past thirty-five years. There’s no need for whining that the problem consists of narrowing ownership. The corporate press was just as bad when there were 500 different newspaper owners instead of five. And, for now at least, we have the web. We’re infinitely better off than we were thirty years ago.

The only trouble is, the left hasn’t got too many ideas. We should stop bitching about the corporate press and get with a new program. If it’s credible, then the people who don’t trust the New York Times might start trusting us.

For “14 percent” T-shirts, contact [email protected] or call 1-800-840-3683.

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