NYT Public Editor Tweaked Her Paper's Elitism, Missed Hypocrisy of Supporting 'Occupy' While Pandering to Wealthy

November 9th, 2014 7:29 PM

New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tweaked her paper for elitism in the Sunday Review section. Yet she whiffed on the hypocrisy of a newspaper whose support for Occupy Wall Street seeped into all sections and which obsessed over the "one percenters" -- yet hypocritically pandered to its hyper-rich liberal readership without a blink, with stories about $160 flashlights and other expensive amenities.

Sullivan noted concern from (liberal) readers "frustrated by what they describe as elitism in the paper’s worldview."

It’s not hard to see why they feel that way. The featured apartments with their $10 million price tags and white-glove amenities seem aimed at hedge fund managers, if not Russian oligarchs. The stories on doughnuts at $20 a half dozen are for those who are flush with disposable income, not struggling to pay the rent. Many of the parties, the fashions, even the gadgets are well beyond the reach of the middle class.


Claudia Griffiths, a reader in Maine, put it this way: “$160 flashlight and $219 level? Do the one percent of the one percent need your home-tool shopping help? Hello. Could the Times editors consider for WHOM they are actually writing? Here, not most Americans.”


So who is The Times written for -- the superwealthy, or for citizens of all income levels? Is the paper trying, in the axiom about journalism’s mission, to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”? Or is it plumping the Hungarian goose-down pillows of the already quite cozy?


[Executive Editor Dean] Baquet said that stories about $56 million apartments and parents who buy houses near their children’s boarding schools are a legitimate part of the mix. But there are also stories about people struggling to get by, he noted. “You have to look at the whole of the report -- and that is not elitist,” he said. “Are there parts of the paper aimed at an affluent audience? Yes, and that’s O.K., because it’s balanced out.”

While Sullivan said "There’s nothing inherently wrong with covering these subjects" and that the advertising revenue articles about haute cuisine and haute couture "allows The Times to do the hard-hitting, expensive-to-produce journalism that is at the core of its mission." But she acknowledged that sometimes "that this audience is a tiny slice of the American (not to mention global) economic pie. Self-awareness on the part of The Times -- the mocking Twitter reaction to a headline about “artisanal parenting“ comes to mind -- and, yes, empathy, are sometimes missing in action."

As Ginia Bellafante, who writes a column about life and policy in New York City -- often about the poor and middle class -- told me, “We can’t assume that every reference to a shoe, a store, a restaurant” is globally appreciated. At the same time, she said, The Times can’t ignore an important part of its audience: “Every affluent person in New York and every big city and its fancy suburbs reads The Times and they always have.”

Bellafante herself lamented in a September 2012 column of the cancelled ABC show 666 Park Avenue:

The show stands as the latest in a series of pop cultural products created in the years of the downturn to render the world of moneyed New York in all of its aesthetically tantalizing moral vacuity -- big, art-filled apartments, avaricious judgments. But it is arguably indicative of how temperate the ostensible class wars have actually been that few of these efforts have gained any real traction or approached the status of cultural obligation.

As the MRC observed at the time, that's the same morally vacuous moneyed class the paper avidly panders to in its reporting and advertising.

Ezra Dyer reviewed the 2012 Ferrari FF car under the June 3, 2012 headline, "Family Travel at the $300,000 Price Point." The lead: "Imagine you are heading to your ski house in Aspen with a couple of friends and a weekend’s worth of luggage. The forecast calls for snow. Do you grab the keys to your practical family vehicle or climb into your Ferrari?"

Jennifer Kingson tackled the burning middle-class issue of luxury dog houses on June 28, 2012: "Many of them have carpeting, heating and air-conditioning, indoor and outdoor lighting, elaborate music and entertainment systems. Some are even eco-friendly, with solar panels or planted green roofs."