The Columbia Journalism Review on Monday published a 12,500-word essay, “Journalism’s Essential Value,” by A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times since 2018, succeeding his father, Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. The thesis: Out with “journalistic objectivity,” in with “journalistic independence.”
And what’s that?
“Independence is the increasingly contested journalistic commitment to following facts wherever they lead. It places the truth—and the search for it with an open yet skeptical mind -- above all else...” according to him.
Sulzberger performed a limited hangout, confessing to complaints of Times’ coverage from both the right and left, as if that meant the paper was centrist, not left-wing.
….I can also already hear critics dusting off their arguments about whether we wrote too much about Hillary Clinton’s emails, or too little about Hunter Biden’s laptop, or whether I personally mishandled my response to a now notorious opinion essay by Senator Tom Cotton.
In the face of all evidence, Sulzbeger insisted his paper was trying its best to not be co-opted by ideology (i.e. the left-wing staffers that forced Sulzberger to jettison opinion editor James Bennet for running an op-ed by Republican Sen. Cotton calling for troops to quell looting during BLM riots).
He insisted his paper enforces “stylistic guidelines designed to minimize bias (for example, we avoid the use of partisan terminology and provocative labels in our news pages).”
Um, “ultraconservative,” anyone?
Sulzberger accurately noted that “one of the ways propagandists and advocates try to steer coverage to advance their agendas is to win the battle over terminology.” Yet, he didn’t address why the Times now capitalizes “Black” when referring to black people but not “White” for white people, or why the transgender propaganda term “gender-affirming” was now acceptable.
He waved away concerns about liberal bias: The Times isn’t liberal, it’s just “metropolitan!”:
It’s true that the two populations that make up the vast majority of journalists--college graduates and people who live in big cities--have become more likely in recent decades to hold liberal views, particularly on social issues. These groups tend to be more secular and less likely to own guns; they engage with a different mix of culture and hobbies; they are typically more embracing of racial, gender, and sexual-orientation diversity. Those qualities--everyday assumptions in a place like New York City, our hometown--are why my predecessor, even as he pushed back on accusations of political bias, sometimes talked about the Times having a metropolitan sensibility.
After a predictable crack at the "MAGA-era Republican Party” for having become “untethered from fact and science,” Sulzberger did admit the paper gave too much credence to scientific bureaucracy during the Covid emergency:
But there was insufficient skepticism of an emerging scientific and bureaucratic consensus that presented itself as more settled than it actually was. That combination sometimes created blind spots, like an overly quick dismissal of the lab leak theory or insufficient questioning of the wisdom of extended school closures.
He unwittingly gave his own worldview away when offering an ideological contrast:
….Today many high-integrity news organizations are open about their politics and objectives, from Mother Jones on the left to The Dispatch on the right.…
The comparison was unbalanced: The Dispatch site was birthed in Trump opposition, and devotes much space to conservative-bashing, while Mother Jones magazine was reliably and univocally hard-left.
Sulzberger didn’t take seriously the justified hostility toward “mainstream journalism” from the right:
….particularly in the past few years, a sustained and escalating campaign from the American right has focused on attacking the press to win votes and inoculate itself against criticism or scrutiny. Rather than responding to the substance of unflattering reporting, they’ve labeled reporters “enemies of the people” and our work “fake news.”
This campaign has widened what was long a modest partisan gap in trust in journalism to a chasm. Today, 70 percent of Democrats say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media; 14 percent of Republicans do….
But don’t call us liberal!