To anyone paying attention, it ought to be obvious that the conservative caricature of the New York Times as a hotbed of liberal agitation is just too good to be true. Even though employees of the Times, like most urban professionals, are likely social liberals, this is offset by their commitment to objectivity and professionalism, coupled with a similar–though largely unremarked-upon–class bias toward a relatively conservative, business-friendly outlook on economic issues. (Wishing to offer advertisers a friendly environment does not lead in the direction of economic populism either.) Add to this its reporters’ and editors’ establishment-bred inability to disbelieve Bush Administration lies, no matter how frequently or brazenly offered, and the Times news pages frequently end up tilting rightward.
What lies behind the right-wing attacks, aside from a certain fanaticism among the assailants, is what Weekly Standard senior writer Matt Labash termed the right’s “cottage industry” or “great little racket,” in which “the conservative media like to rap the liberal media on the knuckles for not being objective…. It’s a great way to have your cake and eat it, too.”
Under relentless pressure from the Limbaughs, O’Reillys and Scarboroughs of the world–as well as the right-wing blogosphere, the Murdoch empire, the Republican National Committee, etc.–the machers who run the Times are concerned that their brand of reality-based reporting is increasingly out of step with faith-based red America. Op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote that the paper suffers from a “failure to hire more red state evangelicals.” A recent “credibility” committee formed in the wake of the Blair and WMD scandals somehow resulted in a meeting, written up by Todd Gitlin in The American Prospect, in which one editor suggested an affirmative-action program for conservatives. And following the committee’s report, executive editor Bill Keller sent the staff a memo urging reporters and editors to “stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation.”
Even before the committee was convened, however, some reporters and editors had started taking matters into their own hands. But instead of “stretching” toward conservatives, they started stabbing at liberals–launching a fusillade of furious (and largely gratuitous) attacks on these apparently alien creatures. It’s almost as if a secret Times directive had agreed to release reporters from typical standards of evidence if it would help to shake the paper’s dreaded “liberal” label. Some examples:
§ On the news pages, then-political reporter now op-ed columnist John Tierney told of stationing himself outside the storied Upper West Side food store Zabar’s during the GOP convention to ask shoppers–presumably liberal by location–if they had “re-examined their conscience” (for what, he did not explain).
§ In the magazine, Michael Ignatieff complained of “the withdrawal of American liberalism from the defense and promotion of freedom overseas,” as well as the alleged conquest of “the Democratic Party’s heart” by “the Michael Moore-style left.”