The New York Times entered the 21st century carrying the same old bad habits, as Ashley Rindsberg documents in The Gray Lady Winked. In the first part of our review we summarized his findings on the paper’s shameful coverage of the rise of Nazism and Communism and its suppression of news of the ongoing Holocaust. In the second part: More hostility toward Jews, American soldiers, and even Times staffers who don’t sign on to the entire left-wing package.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2000 visit to the disputed Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which the left falsely claims launched the Second Intifada, did launch a notoriously addled story by the paper’s then-Jerusalem bureau chief Deborah Sontag, a 6,000-word article in July 2001, “Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed,” that basically took the side of Palestinian terrorist leader Yassir Arafat.
Rindsberg also took issue with the paper’s Iraq War series “War Torn,” which kicked off with “Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” featuring its “strange, even whimsical use of homicide statistics” for returning American soldiers. Colorful exaggeration (“a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak”) hid the fact the soldiers’ homicide rate was actually below that of the general population. He derided the series as “folk journalism” -- “using individual stories, and only the most dramatic ones, to attempt to prove the existence of a trend,” drawing “conclusions out of personal intuition and preconceived belief.” This liberal piece also contained a Sontag byline.
Then in August 2019, the Times unleashed its infamous 1619 Project onto the world, which took up an entire issue of the paper’s Sunday Magazine. Magazine editor Jake Silverstein called it an attempt to “reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year.” The project centered around an 8,000-word essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones that made, according to Rindsberg, “sometimes shocking radical claims about America history,” including the assumption that “Anti-black racism runs in the very DNA of this country.”
Besides the expected pushback from conservatives, even the “arch-leftists World Social Web Site came out swinging” after interviewing historians who declared false the idea that the American Revolution was motivated by the desire to protect slavery, while reducing “history to metaphor” in essays like one blaming traffic jams on slavery.
Rindsberg also covered the individual sagas of former Times-folk Bari Weiss and James Bennet, both forced out of the paper for anti-woke opinions and actions.
He tied up the disparate strands of condemnation of the paper through the years, “whether it was a Nazi collaborator serving as the paper’s Berlin bureau chief…a communist propagandist helping to midwife American recognition of the Soviet Union, the creation of a jihadist boy-martyr almost out of thin air…the decision by the owners of the Times to wipe the Jews off the pages of their newspaper at the same time as the Nazis were attempting to wipe them off the face of the earth.”
He never uses the term “liberal bias,” perhaps because some of his accounts, like the chapters on World War II, don’t match up to that thesis.
Rindsberg has an original style and a sense of the absurd, as when he identifies Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s “court jester smile and Barney Fife earnestness.” He’s good at breaking down trite phrases and mining them for their true meaning. More copy editing wouldn’t have gone amiss, as when he repeatedly describes Havana journalist Herbert Matthews’ “romantic” tendencies.
He insisted the paper’s mistakes “were the byproduct of a particular kind of system, a truth-producing machine…built to purpose by the paper’s original owners….later tweaked and retrofitted to perform other functions, ones less noble and more murky in intention.” That explanation is rather murky itself.
But even if the author can’t fit all his evidence under a single overarching argument against the paper, that doesn’t weaken his thoroughly documentation of the paper’s coverage of Cuba and the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Rindsberg succeeds marvelously in revealing the Times’ corrupted reporting at crucial points in history.