August 07, 2002

The "Liberal" New York Times?

Paul Krugman meditates on why people like Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus write about "the liberal, Bush-hating New York Times" but never about "the liberal, Bush-hating USA Today" or "the liberal, Bush-hating Financial Times" or "the liberal, Bush-hating Wall Street Journal".

Paul thinks it is because the New York Times has long been a hated part of the liberal establishment. I disagree. I think it is because Andrew Sullivan has decided to punish the New York Times for not publishing his stuff--and that the rest of the claque has fallen into line.


THE LIBERAL NEW YORK TIMES

For my sins, I now read four newspapers every morning. And I find myself with a puzzle. You see, we hear constantly about the liberal bias of the Times. Yet questions of factual accuracy aside, is the Times notably liberal, or notably anti-Bush, compared with other papers? Of the papers I read, I'd say that the tone of reporting is most hostile to the Bush administration in the Financial Times. Well, OK, that's a British paper, and even conservative British papers like the Times are far more critical of Bush than any major US paper. (Though what does that tell us?) But the second most critical is USA Today - its coverage of the administration is a lot tougher than the New York Times. Even the Wall Street Journal is not very different in what it covers and what it says, editorial page aside, from the NYT. So why does the Times attract so much fire? The answer, I think, is that it makes such a good symbol...

Posted by DeLong at August 7, 2002 07:13 PM | TrackBack

Comments

>Well, OK, that's a British paper, and even >conservative British papers like the Times are >far more critical of Bush than any major US >paper. (Though what does that tell us?)

As a European, I am not too familiar with the political affiliation of US newspapers. I merely consume comments like Paul Krugman's. But even at the risk of outing myself as ignorant, I think the latter question is a very good one and it don't think it is useful to regard it as purely rethorical: So what does it tell you (Americans) if even, as supposed, conservative British newspapers - which would probably gladly support any apparently intelligent conservative policy anywhere on this planet given the state of the British tory party - are more critical of the current US administration than any American paper?

I doubt it is simply attributable to European ignorance or animosity...

Posted by: Tobias Schwarz on August 7, 2002 08:11 PM

The whole discussion on "bias" in media is in my view a very old and not the most interesting one. Above we are going into the same discussion by calling the FT conservative, which given its stance in the last elections, or on the euro, is definitely not the way any conservative would see it here in the UK. In general I would say that those who put lots of "labels" on views and stories in an inconsisten way, like Andrew Sullivan signals for the NYT, are not necessarily doing anything right or wrong, but just have to acknowledge that there is bias in their reporting. Thats all. The same is true for Reuters. If Reuters calls a Hezbollah / Hamas bomber a "guerrilla" or a "terrorist" this immediately gives reason for a discussion of bias, and to me it seems that the whole idea of bias free reporting is a bit of a nonsense.

Posted by: Michiel Remers on August 8, 2002 05:20 AM

There's a chronology problem with DeLong's account. As a card-carrying member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, I can tell you that concerns of NYT bias -- over and above that exhbited by other center-liberal papers -- predate Sullivan being canned by them. Krugman's view is the right one. The right hates the Times because a) it's immensely influential, b) it's viewed as being much less fair to the right than say, the Post.

Posted by: ben on August 8, 2002 06:56 AM

The New York Times is the primary news industry agenda setter. Its priorities and perspective are widely admired by journalists and editors around the world, and it is thus emulated widely in the global news industry.The Times' agenda/perspective/slant/whathaveyou therefore percolates through the media ecosystem, becoming conventional wisdom, or at least, the conventional perspective, on many issues.As *the* must-read newspaper in many industries, its agenda-setting reach can't be underestimated. Compare its ad rates and revenues with similarl-circulation general interest newspapers (LA Times, USA Today) to see how much advertisers value it.The Wall St. Journal and Washington Post fill this agenda-setting role to a lesser extent, and finally, broadcasters often simply rely their print brethren for a non-breaking news "to do" list.This explains why the VRWC is fixated on the Old Gray Lady of West Forty-third Street. It sets the tone for much of the national press.

Posted by: George Zachar on August 8, 2002 09:33 AM

The New York Times is a remarkable gift to read each day. There is no paper close to being as comprehensive, and as intelligently and beautifully written. Complaints from the right about the Times are simply attempts to unduly influence the coverage. I dearly love the paper.

Posted by: Anne on August 8, 2002 10:07 AM

The NYT is still perceived as the US "paper of record." I don't think anyone considers USA Today an intellectual heavyweight as they do the NYT.

Posted by: Yehudit on August 8, 2002 10:16 AM

the aim of many on the right is merely to slant public debate for their own pruposes - the times is a problem for them - of course were the times to imitate fox news....

Posted by: on August 8, 2002 10:29 AM

Watch the double logical jump here...

>> Paul Krugman meditates on why people like Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus write about "the liberal, Bush-hating New York Times" but never about "the liberal, Bush-hating USA Today" [etc.]... Paul thinks it is because the New York Times has long been a hated part of the liberal establishment. > I disagree. I think it is because Andrew Sullivan has decided to punish the New York Times for not publishing his stuff--and that the rest of the claque has fallen into line. <<

Wow! You must think Andrew really IS great -- he can make everyone else fall in line just to follow his personal agenda of punishing those who have slighted him. Through a mere web site and the anarchy of the Internet, no less. I wouldn't think even the great Oz could do that!

But alas for this theory, many people noticed the Times' paid-up membership in the liberal establishment and its leftward slide through it long, long, before Raines stopped paying Andrew. (And what a paper writes about a president is *hardly* the test of such membership.)

E.g., I have in my clip file a Times page one news story about the Clinton-Repub welfare reform that IIRC quotes sources from the Children's Defense Fund *nine* times and other sources zero. Just one example of the type of news-story-as-opinion-piece we NYCers have gotten used to as the standard product from our paper of record. All the local papers, left and right, have run "Times watch" features on this stuff, especially local stuff, for years. Check out the archives at smartertimes.com

If one doesn't think the Times is fully ensconced in the heart of liberalism, pick a topic, any topic, with a left-right political dimension and compare its editorials on it to others. (E.g, compare the Times editorial on the Supreme Court's recent school voucher decision to that of the Washington Post.) More significantly maybe, see if in many of those Times editorials you can find any acknowledgement that there is even an alternate point of view to seriously consider (as one usually can find in those of the Washington Post, Economist, and even the WSJ). Or whether other views are summarily dismissed as coming from the heart of darkness, reactionaryism, racism, greed ... and conservative Republicanism!!

Posted by: Jim Glass on August 8, 2002 11:26 AM

Historically, references to "THE NEW YORK TIMES" has been a code word for purported Jewish control of the media. Maybe Sullivan's ultra-Zionism and philo-Semitism are covers for something much darker.

Posted by: on August 8, 2002 11:59 AM

I am a foreigner in this country but I live here for 3 years now and I read newspapers every day including the NYT, the FT, the WSJ (not the Op-Ed pages), and the Economist on the weekends. I can tell you that the NYT is The Best newspaper in the US by far in many many aspects. I even find their business pages more interesting and informative than the WSJ which is supposed to be a business newspaper. They won 11 Pulitzer prices this year for crying out loud. They are extremely influential and popular, therefore hated by the far right as well as the far left (noam chomsky hates them as much as that idiot Ann Coulter). It is very simple.

Posted by: Dan Donev on August 8, 2002 12:47 PM

I am a foreigner in this country but I live here for 3 years now and I read newspapers every day including the NYT, the FT, the WSJ (not the Op-Ed pages), and the Economist on the weekends. I can tell you that the NYT is The Best newspaper in the US by far in many many aspects. I even find their business pages more interesting and informative than the WSJ which is supposed to be a business newspaper. They won 11 Pulitzer prices this year for crying out loud. They are extremely influential and popular, therefore hated by the far right as well as the far left (noam chomsky hates them as much as that idiot Ann Coulter). It is very simple.

Posted by: Dan Donev on August 8, 2002 12:47 PM

Jim Glass' post is generally thoughtful, but with two major flaws:

1. His characterization of the WSJ relative to other papers is not very accurate

2. Off the top of my head: Times' coverage - especially editorial - of "free trade" and the anti-globalism movement and their coverage of Whitewater cannot conceivably be characterized as left of center.

Further discussion:

1. WSJ ran editorials suggesting that Clinton was a murderer. Very few "reputable" papers suggested such a thing with a straight face. Such writing puts one in a different category from the Economist (or, for that matter, the Times, which also called for resignation). Into a category with the Greensburg Tribune Review.

The WSJ has, of course, always been America's conservative paper, but it has traditionally been a businessman's conservatism; the movement conservatism it evinced in the '90s was a whole new bag

2. I don't seriously deny that the NYT's _general_ viewpoint is liberal one - relative to conservative "middle America." But it is far to the right of truly liberal publications like the Nation, the Village Voice, or (back in the day) the New Republic. Its stances on the 2 issues I mentioned above were, in fact, the cozy, conservative views of America's Establishment. It's a sign of the thin skin of conservatives (think Nixon) that such mainstream liberalism is decried as near-Communist.

--

Jason Roth

Pittsburgh, PA

Posted by: Jason Roth on August 8, 2002 01:20 PM

You miss the point. NYT is biased because it openly does anti-GOP - constant, consistent, dedicated. Every Democratic story is put in a good/cheerful light. Every Bush story - even a good one - is put through a feeble language, a bad photo, etc. It is very, very, very hard to read NYT pages with Nick and Phil on the same day, given that Gail is on other page with her anti-GOP rant.

Face it - NYT is just shamelessly biased. It should hire a dedicated right-winger as a ombudsman/woman and get daily input. That ought to put all the critics quiet. What do you think?

Posted by: All-American Minority on August 8, 2002 01:28 PM

I never opened the NYT until sometime last year. Before that I had heard people complain of a liberal bias, but always dismissed them as demanding a conservative bias. Well it probably took me a couple weeks of reading the NYT to become fully convinced that they don't really care about "balance" and "objectivity," two things that I would hope journalists would strive for.

Some of the bias in news stories is obvious, for instance from the headlines or editorializing comments. But most of it is less obvious. You have to actually check the sources, read the same coverage in other papers, or pay careful attention to the way that a particular issue is covered over an extended period of time to notice it.

NYT may not be nearly as far to the left as something like The Nation, but I don't see how any careful observer can claim that it remains neutral on political issues such as what to do with Iraq.

I continue to read the Times because it is, in many respects, an excellent paper. But Krugman's inability to detect the bias in the Times is quite a big strike against him as a public commentator in my book.

Posted by: Ryan on August 8, 2002 02:07 PM

'NYT may not be nearly as far to the left as something like The Nation, but I don't see how any careful observer can claim that it remains neutral on political issues such as what to do with Iraq.'

No one is claiming that its neutral. I'm defending it against, oh, people calling it the "New York Crimes," or "a propagandistic, socialist, anti-business smear sheet," or any one of the insult-filled note cards Sullivan has at his disposal. It's like conservatives have the Rhetor-I-Meter permentantly stuck on 11.

Fox, for example, puts much more of a conservative spin on things than the NYT ever attempts. Yet they can claim to be fair and balanced, and conservatives suck it up.

That CNN is termed the "Clinton News Network" for being mildly left of center while Fox is "fair and balanced" for being off in Cato-land is an example of how far out of wack the conservative view of the media is.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on August 8, 2002 04:58 PM

Krugman wonders why the NYT is denounced for liberal bias when it's coverage is similar to the news pages of the WSJ and less tough on Bush than USA Today and the FT. Some people were unconvinced and wrote comments. Interestingly none of them compares the Times to USA Today the FT or the news pages of the WSJ. Not one but two consider the matter closed by a comparison of the NYT and the Washington Post.

I agree that complaints about press bias are boring, but I think I may have learned something from this debate. I suspect that something very strange has happend to the W Post since I last read it regularly (in 1978). I think Krugman and Brad are puzzled and confused because they don't realise that the only two papers in the world are the NYT and the W Post.

Another thing is that only one of the comments seems to consider the distinction between news reporting and editorials (one writer explains that he skips the WSJ op-eds). More alarming still, the other comments consider only the editorials.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on August 8, 2002 05:15 PM

Some NY Times deconstruction for folks' consideration.

Posted by: George Zachar on August 8, 2002 05:53 PM

A lot of interesting commentary here regarding this issue, but the references to Andrew Sullivan miss an extremely important point.

Since I began reading his blog over a year ago I do not have any recollection of a single instance of his bias complaints against the Times being made without clear and specific examples of that days edition that set him off. He comes to the table with insightful analysis and backs it up with examples and the Krugman's of the world attack him personally.

Sullivan's biggest complaint, in fact, is not that the New York Times is biased, but that they will not even consider such a possibility. He's right and he obviously enjoys picking at the scab of their denial. The Times has become just a smug mouthpiece for the far left in its clever manipulation of how it characterizes issues and people IN THE NEWS! Just compare the front page headlines against the other majors over a two week period and it's political agenda is clear.

Posted by: Barry Hyland on August 9, 2002 12:28 PM

Barry Hyland wrote: right on the mark.

But it's the little stuff throughout the paper, not its treatment of Bush, that makes the Times what it is. Like yesterday's 'correction of the week' (so far):

"An article in Arts & Ideas on Saturday about pacifists who do not want their tax dollars to go to the military misstated the percentage of the federal budget now spent on it. The Office of Management and Budget says that in the 2002 fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, the percentage is 16.37. The article's figure of about 50 percent came from antimilitary tax resisters..." ;-)

Posted by: Jim Glass on August 9, 2002 01:48 PM

Krugman's question has been ably answered by others on this board so I won't bother. But please -- Oh God! -- can there be a moratorium on Sully talk? DeLong's response to Krugman's remark is yet the most exteme instance of the thoroughly flattering overestimation of Sullivan's influence going on in Blogistan. Are we going to start blaming him for global warming? His enemies are clearly taking on his delusions. This has got to stop.

It may force a little humility all around, but bloggers need to realize that bloggers (even the most popular ones) are not very important or influential. Since the runt appears to be self-destructing professionally, anyway, now would seem a very good time to ignore him entirely. He is also an exceedingly boring topic. There are a lot of really ugly people out there who, by reason of genuine influence, are much worthier objects of scorn and discourse than the inconsequential likes of Sully, Instapundit and Mickey Kaus. Enough!!!

Posted by: Mike on August 9, 2002 06:52 PM

Dr. DeLong's blog has thusfar remained one of the saner, more dignified arenas in blogdom.

Personally, I would be disappointed to see his intellectual playpen degenerate into yet another dumpster of anonymous non sequiturs and ad hominem attacks.

Posted by: George Zachar on August 10, 2002 09:20 AM

There are 2 ways of looking at the federal budget - with and without social security and medicare - that accounts for the different figures on percent of the budget of defense expenditures. The New York Times is superb in terms of clear cogent writing and factual reliability. For those who wish alternatives there are any number of other sources.

Posted by: Arthur on August 11, 2002 11:31 AM

"NYT is biased because it openly does anti-GOP - constant, consistent, dedicated. Every Democratic story is put in a good/cheerful light. Every Bush story - even a good one - is put through a feeble language, a bad photo, etc."

BWAAAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! And they say satire is dead! This is worthy of Jay Ward!

Posted by: on August 11, 2002 05:40 PM

"NYT is biased because it openly does anti-GOP - constant, consistent, dedicated. Every Democratic story is put in a good/cheerful light. Every Bush story - even a good one - is put through a feeble language, a bad photo, etc."

BWAAAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! And they say satire is dead! This is worthy of Jay Ward!

Posted by: dave on August 11, 2002 05:41 PM

The figure of 50% is accurate - if you are talking about the annual discretionary budget.

Posted by: Tom on August 12, 2002 04:39 PM

To the person who submitted:

"BWAAAH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! And they say satire is dead! This is worthy of Jay Ward!"

I am sorry but I not follow. What do you mean here? Can you be specific? Are you agreeing that NYT is biased? I do not get it.

Posted by: All-American Minority on August 13, 2002 08:02 AM

The NYT has a bias which, on average, is slightly left of center. On free trade issues their bias in 1999-2000 was extreme, but on the right wing side. Every op-ed piece ridiculed the antiglobalization activists. This only began to change when Joseph Stiglitz came out and said that the antiglobalization activists, though not right about everything, were right in their fundamental claim that free market fundamentalists were running roughshod over democracy. Gradually one started to see stories and op-ed pieces in the NYT which showed more sympathy for the concerns of the protestors.

In short, the NYT does have a bias, but it's generally a bias that never strays far from the center.

Incidentally, I think one can also detect biases in individual NYT reporters. I won't name them, because I like some of the biases and dislike others, but I think anyone who reads the NYT closely and pays attention to the bylines will see examples of this.

Posted by: Donald Johnson on August 15, 2002 11:50 AM
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