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The New York Times Has Laid Its Cards on the Table

Yesterday, as we note above, The New York Times had yet another editorial calling for Joe Biden to step down. In addition, their list of recent op-eds included these six items:

  1. The Devil May Be Enjoying This Election Season, but I Am Not
  2. The Talented Democrats Who Aren't Running for President
  3. The Abyss Stares Back at Joe Biden
  4. James Carville: Biden Won't Win. Democrats Need a Plan. Here's One.
  5. I Share a Birthday With President Biden. Ask Me About Our Age.
  6. Please, Mr. President, Do the Right Thing

Only two of them (#1 and #5) devoted any meaningful attention to the notion that there are also reasons to be concerned about Donald Trump's continued candidacy.

We wrote about this phenomenon a week ago, and on that day the Times also had a bundle of stories piling on Biden. We still don't know exactly what is going on (we have plenty of theories), but we do know that New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn has a theory of his job that is... instructive, let's say. He sat for an interview with a former NYT reporter, Ben Smith, who asked about the newspaper's approach to the 2024 election. Kahn, who has only been on the job for 2 years, said that the paper went too far in taking sides in 2020, and would not be repeating "the excesses" of that election. Here is the specific quote that is getting the lion's share of the attention:

To say that the threats of democracy are so great that the media is going to abandon its central role as a source of impartial information to help people vote—that's essentially saying that the news media should become a propaganda arm for a single candidate, because we prefer that candidate's agenda. It is true that Biden's agenda is more in sync with traditional establishment parties and candidates. And we're reporting on that and making it very clear.

If you have time, it's worth reading the whole interview, which at least partly suggests that Kahn's main concern here is not some abstract philosophical position, but is instead trying to win back some of the readers that pretends-not-to-be-a-conservative Bari Weiss took with her when she left the paper.

In any case, if there's a clearer statement in support of journalistic bothsidesism than that quote from Kahn, we haven't seen it. Certainly, it is intellectually dishonest to propose that the only choices are "source of impartial information" and "propaganda arm." We are reminded that AP updated its style guide a few years ago to observe that it's OK to call a racist a racist, and that avoiding such verbiage, when it is appropriate, is not fair and balanced, it's just a different form of bias. We presume the same applies to calling a fascist a fascist.

Beyond that, however, Kahn's paper often fails to live up to the standard which he, himself, proposes. Is it sometimes critical of Trump? Yes, it is. Does the Times have days where it rakes the former president over the coals, flogging him with half a dozen or more different critical pieces, and calling for him to leave the race immediately? We have not seen a day like that, while Biden has gotten at least two such days in the last week.

We will also point out that, despite Kahn saying otherwise, the issue here is not Biden's "agenda." There are plenty of people, including many readers of this site, who do not much care for the President's agenda, but who will be voting for him nonetheless. And that is because the rather more important issue is Biden's approach to the presidency. If he is reelected, he can be expected to adhere to the norms of democratic government. We know that because he's done so for 3½ years. If Trump is reelected, he can be expected to disregard the norms of democratic government. We know that because he's done so for at least 6½ years. This is something very different from "Which candidate has the better ideas about tax rates?" or "Which candidate has the more attractive position on farm subsidies?"

In short, even if Kahn is speaking truth, we find his thinking to be... problematic. And, truth be told, we don't believe he is being entirely forthright. And the proof is in the pudding; the coverage of this election under his leadership has been wanting, and has come in for criticism far beyond just us. The Times still has many good people on staff, and will undoubtedly produce some good coverage of the presidential race. But, at least for our part, we'll be looking at their news coverage—and, even more so, their editorial pages—with a wary eye, and proceeding with much caution. (Z)

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