WASHINGTON -- I never expected to come to the defense of The New York Times, but here I am ready and willing to defend what I have hitherto called the Bad Times, as opposed to the Good Times, that being the Washington Times.
The New York Times has always been biased, but with the rise of Donald Trump, it has become unbearably biased. Even the obituaries are biased. Does a truly distinguished American ever die in the great republic nowadays? It seems to me that The Times' obituaries are obsessed with the deaths of obscure artists, dress designers, paladins of identity politics and people you will only meet in Georgetown or the Upper East Side, with a few criminals thrown in for excitement. Charles Manson was the latest.
The editors heave small armies of reporters at every significant news story when one or two good reporters would suffice. The newspaper seems to have retired all of its English-speaking editors for the sake of economizing. Thus, the intelligent reader can get through the first half of almost every important story and discover that he has quite lost track of what the story is about. Was this story about Russian collusion, or Ivanka Trump's new clothing line, or global warming? I suspect the cause of this problem is editing, or rather, no editing. The reporters at work on a story send in their individual contributions, and the sorely pressed editor cobbles together the resultant gobs of verbiage, which simply do not cohere. In sum, the story is incoherent.
So when am I going to begin my defense of The Times, as opposed to adding to my longstanding criticism? I am coming to that. Be patient!
The other day, the paper ran an in-depth story about a pinhead and his lovely wife who reside in an Ohio backwater and became supporters of this nation's neo-Nazis, white supremacists and something called the "alt-right." So far as I could discern from the story, there are "a few hundred" in the Traditionalist Worker Party, which the pinhead helped start, and maybe a few thousand of the other galoots. Their presence in our country is no more alarming than the people afflicted with head lice, or perhaps chiggers. The Ohio couple probably had head lice.
Yet this story alarmed some in The Times' audience -- obviously the kind of readers who demand trigger warnings to protect them from hurtful statements or more shocking reports, like reports of war in Afghanistan or a fire in a London high-rise or more disturbing events. Yet a newspaper is going to be reporting on disturbing events. That is, in part, why people buy newspapers. They want to know what is going on in the world. The Times was absolutely correct in reporting on this pinhead. I read of his development with interest. According to the story, his wife had been Catholic, but she fell away from the Church's teachings because she found them "just really boring." As for the young storm trooper's evolution, he moved "from vaguely leftist rock music to ardent libertarian to fascist activist."
It was at this point that my impatience with The Times reawakened. The newspaper insisted that the lout's "frustrations" were of the kind that "would not seem exotic to most American conservatives." And it mentioned his reading the deceased libertarian economist Murray Rothbard. The Times also reported that the Ohio rube mentioned books by Charles Murray and Pat Buchanan. Finally, there was something about a Conservative Political Action Conference he once attended. All are examples of what in Joe McCarthy's days was called guilt by association.
Interestingly, The Times also produced a picture of the young storm trooper's puny library, amounting to just one shelf. It included, The Times tells us, "books about Mussolini and Hitler." What I noticed, and apparently no Times editor or reporter or janitor noticed, was that the most prominent book on the supposedly incriminating shelf was -- if I am not mistaken -- the swastika-draped edition of "The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich" by William L. Shirer. Shirer was a prominent liberal from the post-World War II era. That sort of throws a monkey wrench into the newspaper's project, whatever it was.
Which brings us back to my defense of The Times. After running this biased yet informative piece, the newspaper was moved to subsequently run an "apology" for offending so many readers. It did this in its Reader Center, a "newsroom initiative that is helping The Times build deeper ties" with its audience. There was no reason to apologize. Actually, the duty of a newspaper is to inform. Building ties with the audience? Fellows and fellowesses, you are producing a newspaper, not a therapy session. And if you are building a therapy session, you obviously lost me.