There was a fascinating exchange last week between Melissa Cohlmia, spokesman for Koch Industries, and New York Times public editor (or ombudsman) Arthur Brisbane. Koch Industries, which engages in arts philanthropy and conservative-libertarian causes, is a target of obsession and hostility both by left-wingers and reporters and writers for the New York Times, as Times Watch has shown.
While Brisbane mostly defended the Times’s news coverage and its right to deliver anti-Koch opinions in op-eds and art critics, he admitted the paper’s overwhelming left-ward slant in its opinionizing made for “predictable and sometimes very dull reading,” “and there can be little doubt that the Times ownership and editorial page ascribe to a liberal perspective.”
Cohlmia was following up on letters she had sent in April and May 2011: “Since that time, there have been more than 50 articles in the paper critical of Koch (zero that are positive) written by some 41 different Times authors. You were gracious to offer a continued dialogue on the matter and two such pieces that appeared over the weekend prompt us to reach out again.”
Cohlmia criticized articles by art critic Anthony Tommasini and Ariel Kaminer’s “Ethicist” column, and counter-attacked at the Times’s own support for the arts, and its liberal hypocrisy:
Readers themselves might wonder if they’ll soon read moral circumspection about the many performing arts or left-leaning institutions supported by the Sulzberger family, which owns the paper. Doubtful, it would seem. (And never mind at all the Sulzberger family’s role in building the New York Stock Exchange, stifling the Times’ unions, giving golden parachutes to underperforming executives, and other such activity the paper lately characterizes as “the one percent”).
As one of your predecessors once pointed out, the Times is a liberal newspaper. We understand that and have been documenting the often irrational and cynical ways in which left-wing groups have targeted us. But if the Times is going to take part in that bandwagon and go to lengths so far afield from legitimate news coverage, then it ought to have the integrity to acknowledge it.
Brisbane responded by email with what Scott Johnson at Powerline blog called “almost endearing candor.”
Brisbane defended the two articles cited by Colhmia and the paper’s coverage of Koch in general, noting that most came from reviews and op-eds and wishing the paper had more ideologically diversity on its opinion pages.
I will agree in the broad sense that, taken together, it is clear that this community of opinion-based writers -- as distinct from news reporters producing material for the main news sections -- clearly share a worldview that is liberal and antithetical to the Koch brothers’ political perspective. That they find ways to lace their writing with these views is perhaps unfortunate. I would be happier if The Times had a more diverse mix of such writers, leading to perspectives that are not universally of one political persuasion.
But we are talking here about The Times, and as you note others have deemed it a liberal newspaper. I have not yet written a piece pronouncing on this issue broadly (a couple of my predecessors did so, and perhaps I will do so before I am done). With that caveat, I have no problem stating here that in the domain where opinion writers ply their trade for The Times, the liberal view is overwhelmingly dominant. The Times is within its rights to contract for such material, as the opinion sphere is distinct from the news sphere, and there can be little doubt that the Times ownership and editorial page ascribe to a liberal perspective.
Brisbane made a point Times Watch has made for years: The paper’s metropolitan liberal audience reads the Times because it mirrors their views.
This brings forward another ingredient in this situation: The Times’s audience. That audience consists of New Yorkers, by and large a liberal population, and national readers, many of whom select The Times because it mirrors their views.
I remain steadfastly opposed to the paper proffering only liberal perspectives in news coverage. But in the opinion-based features of the paper, The Times is within its right to do this. In my view, it makes for predictable and sometimes very dull reading. But others apparently don’t agree.