Once-NY Times 'Heir Apparent' Bennet Blasts Paper's 'Culture of Intolerance and Conformity'

December 19th, 2023 1:24 PM

If someone who was once considered “heir apparent to run the Times” declares that his former paper has become an intolerant “illiberal” hellhole, you should listen.

The latter part of former New York Times opinion editor James Bennet’s 17,000-word autopsy of his former employer sharpened the focus on the suffocating liberalism of the media world in general and the Times --and its closed-minded liberal readership -- in particular. (Read our take on the first part here.)

Bennet conveyed more conservative arguments in a single paragraph than Times reporters have done over the last four years:

….The Times was slow to break it to its readers that there was less to Trump’s ties to Russia than they were hoping, and more to Hunter Biden’s laptop, that Trump might be right that covid came from a Chinese lab, that masks were not always effective against the virus, that shutting down schools for many months was a bad idea.

In my experience, reporters overwhelmingly support Democratic policies and candidates. They are generally also motivated by a desire for a more just world. Neither of those tendencies are new. But there has been a sea change over the past ten years in how journalists think about pursuing justice….

Illiberal journalists have a different philosophy, and they have their reasons for it. They are more concerned with group rights than individual rights, which they regard as a bulwark for the privileges of white men. They have seen the principle of free speech used to protect right-wing outfits like Project Veritas and Breitbart News and are uneasy with it…..

This observation also rang true:

….The newsroom’s embrace of opinion journalism has compromised the Times’s independence, misled its readers and fostered a culture of intolerance and conformity.

In Bennet’s view, the Times allowed itself to be warped by smarmy Internet youth culture.

This creep of politics into the newsroom’s journalism helped the Times beat back some of its new challengers, at least those on the left. Competitors like Vox and the HuffPost were blending leftish politics with reporting and writing it up conversationally in the first person….

But Bennet may have really struck a sore spot when he brought up the paper’s hallowed (later discredited) “1619 Project,” arguing that America was founded on slavery.

….like Cotton’s piece, the 1619 Project was presented in a way the Times later judged to be too provocative. The Times declared that the 1619 Project “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding”. That bold statement -- a declaration of Times fact, not opinion, since it came from the newsroom -- outraged many Americans who venerated 1776 as the founding. The Times later stealthily erased it from the digital version of the project, but was caught doing so by a writer for the publication Quillette….

If the 1619 Project and the Cotton op-ed shared the same supposed flaws and excited similar outrage, how come that one is lauded as a landmark success and the other is a sackable offence?

You know you're in novel territory when a former Times editor is quoting then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell approvingly (and pungently):

As Mitch McConnell, then the majority leader, said on the Senate floor about the Times’s panic over the Cotton op-ed, listing some other debatable op-ed choices, “Vladimir Putin? No problem. Iranian propaganda? Sure. But nothing, nothing could have prepared them for 800 words from the junior senator from Arkansas.”….

Bennet found some recent encouraging signs, such as the paper’s newly questioning coverage of “medical protocols for trans children.” But he doesn’t think the paper can regain its credibility until the staff truly embraces tolerance of opposing views.

Would the rising woke generation at the Times ever relinquish its vise grip over a discredited but still influential media outlet?