The New York Times is proud to be referred to as the “newspaper of record” in the United States, meaning it has a large circulation and its news and opinion columns are considered “professional and typically authoritative,” according to Wikipedia. To their credit, the term did not originate with the editors or the publisher; it came from a 1927 essay contest, according to the Times’ Public Editor Daniel Okrent.
A newspaper of record serves an important public benefit, especially in this day of electronic searches: it offers the public a single location for searches of events and opinion, even many years later. This is a service a newspaper can provide more conveniently than a TV or radio outlet.
So when a paper takes a one-sided approach to its news coverage it does a disservice to its readers, to the public, and to history. And Times’s coverage of the current presidential race, both in what it chooses to report and what its opinion writers are commenting on, is notably skewed in favor of Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. That comes as no surprise as the paper’s board room is historically liberal.
Times columnists over the course of the past week have focused on what they see as the dissonance in the Republican Party: Hector Tobar writes that Latinos feel discriminated against because Trump wants to tighten up on immigration, Patrick Healey reports blacks see a white convention, Andrew Rosenthal asks rhetorically if Trump is obsessed with Vladimir Putin, and Thomas Friedman claims Donald Trump and Turkish strongman Recep Erdogan are blood brothers who want to destroy democracy in their respective countries. This last column was worth reading in full, I thought, partly because of my interest in international affairs and partly because of Friedman’s reputation as a three-times Pulitzer Prize winner.
Friedman was indeed worth reading in full. First, because his anti-Trump bias clearly blinded him to the better comparison he could have made between Erdogan and Obama, both of whom have worked to overthrow democratic institutions during their time in office, and secondly because the writer showed his reputation and prizes were overblown.
Will Trump divide Americans the way Erdogan divides Turks, Friedman wonders? Why speculate about Trump — we have a living example right now: Obama has already divided America and continues to do so with his support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Will Trump move against the rule of law as Erdogan did immediately after the failed coup? Obama has already done that in the manner in which he sacked Inspectors General in several government agencies and used the IRS against political opponents.
Trump, Friedman writes, “uses Twitter to get around traditional media gatekeepers,” meaning he’s communicating with the public without going through newspapers and TV. Has Friedman forgotten Obama was elected in 2008 by making such proficient use of Twitter? And continues to do so?
Friedman is an opinion columnist, and I wouldn’t deny him the right to say what he believes. But I do think he owes it to his readers not to be blatantly dishonest or naive. And I think the New York Times owes it to the public who when they in the future search their archives the record be preserved honestly. Not that they have to — it’s their paper and they can do with it what they want. But they’re clearly abdicating their role as “newspaper of record” with their current coverage of the presidential race, and their falling circulation and ad revenue shows what their readers think of the course they have set upon.
Fred LaSor follows political and economic developments from his home in the Carson Valley.