By Marc Jampole
The New York Times soiled itself twice this past weekend, on the front page of the Saturday print edition and in the Sunday editorial section.
The Saturday front page was more disturbing, because it suggested that the news-gathering operation, which so often has given more coverage to Republican candidates than to Democrats in the 21st century, will use this subtle technique to help the election campaign of an autocratic sociopath ignorant of the issues and without experience in government.
Of the six stories on the front page, five concerned the impact of Brexit, the exit of Great Britain from the European community. The five articles referenced and quoted a range of Europeans on the front page, but included mention of only two Americans: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Only one American was quoted—extensively—and that was Trump. There were three photos on the front page, and one was a standard head-and-shoulders shot of an angry Trump wearing his notorious “Make America Great Again” baseball cap.
By contrast, President Obama’s reaction to Brexit was on page 11, facing, on page 10, an article about Trump’s visit to his new golf course and his extended comments about Brexit. Thus, the hard copy reader encounters Trump three times before learning what our head of state thinks about this earth-shaking news. By the way, the Times buried the studied and knowledgeable remarks of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the November presidential elections, at the bottom of page eight, at the end of the page-one story about the potential impact of Brexit on the elections, the story in which Sanders appears on page one.
FYI, Trump’s reaction to Brexit was his usual stew of ill-informed and ignorant ramblings. But before he displayed his ignorance of the potential economic and political ramifications of Brexit, Trump proved once again that his top priority is always himself, claiming that the pound going down would help his new golf course in Turnberry, Scotland attract more customers. Of course, Trump was oblivious to the likelihood that Scotland will now vote to leave the UK so that it can reunite with Europe, resulting in Turnberry probably doing business in euros, not British pounds.
I fully understand that Donald Trump’s ignorance is as much of a recurring news motif as his unethical business dealings and his record of failed businesses. These topics are inherently newsworthy, to be sure, but they shouldn’t skew the coverage so much that the Times considers the opinion of this loud-mouthed ignoramus before those of the President of the United States. I grant that the Times was probably correct to include a story on the front page comparing Brexit to the growth of American populism, but that could have been combined with the story on the impact on the elections, since the writers are really talking about the same thing. That would have left room for a story on the reactions of Obama, Clinton, Kerry, Ryan and maybe Lindsay Graham. All ignored in favor of the one person who knows the least.
The Times second questionable editorial strategy came in the letters to the editor, which every Sunday always covers one big issue, giving the truncated views of 10-12 of the hundreds of readers who sent in letters. This week, the Times employed the propaganda trick of “giving both sides equal say when one side is wrong” to distort the true views of its readers. I refer to those articles which quote two experts, one on each side, or four experts, two on each side, when 98% or 99% of all experts fall on one side of the issue. Global warming and the safety of vaccinations are two issues which the Times and other mainstream news media covered in this way, conflating the overwhelming support of the existence of global warming and the safety of infant vaccines with the flimsy and fact-starved opposition to these scientific facts.
The hard copy version of the Sunday’s letter column applied this inherently distorting approach to the topic of whom Hillary Clinton should select as her running mate. In a short paragraph lead-in in italics, the Times editorial staff informs us that “Elizabeth Warren was the clear favorite, followed by the current V.P., Joe Biden, and Sherrod Brown.”
We never learn by how much Warren is favored. The expression “clear favorite” could mean that 30% of the 800 readers who submitted letters on the topic endorsed her. Or it may mean 60% did. Since the Times published letters recommending 12 different people, even 15% could be considered a “clear favorite,” although not as impressive as 30%.
The letters turn the confusing imprecision of “clear favorite” into a deception, by featuring 12 different candidates, including Michael Bloomberg, John Kasich and Jerry Brown, who will never be considered. If the letters had to some extent reflected the opinions of the 800 letter writers, the column would have been much more informative and helpful to readers. Such an approach would not have included the letters of impossible candidates and would have reflected the relative strength of Warren. For example, the Times could have printed excerpts from letters supporting six candidates; assuming Warren was supported in 50% of the letters, she could have been the topic of six of the 12 letters, leaving one each for the other five and one for Biden, another impossible candidate who at least came in second place. If Warren was the choice of 30% of the letters and no one else got more than 10%, the Times might print fewer letters supporting her.
If we analyze these two instances of manipulating the news from the standpoint of news-gathering strategies, it seems as if in both cases the Times preferred entertainment over news. Trump’s incendiary ejaculations may be frightening, but they are more entertaining than the rational and calm approach of Obama and Clinton, and the more balanced tonalities of virtually every other politician. It is more entertaining to read a few glib statements about 12 different candidates—four or more of whom are mere fantasies—than to read about the various advantages of one candidate, or a pro contra discussion of three or four candidates, no matter how favored one or more of them may be.
If we analyze these editorial decisions from the political standpoint, however, they seem to express a subtle anti-woman or anti-Hillary sentiment. The Times cannot deny that they gave far greater coverage to the views of an ignorant white male than to those of his opponent, a woman. The fact that the Times did not publish a letter endorsing any other woman as Clinton’s running mate suggests the bent may be anti-woman, or at least express a resistance to considering a woman as vice president. The Times is expecting us to believe that more people proposed the smiling rightwing Republican John Kasich than proposed whichever woman got the second number of letters after Warren. Really?
I’ve been wondering for some time how much resistance to Clinton as president, especially from Bernie Bros and well-educated independents, really expresses an opposition to handing the reins of power to a woman, no matter how competent. When I encounter reluctance to support Clinton from people who I know to be progressive or centrist, I have begun asking them point blank whether they feel uncomfortable conceiving of a female president. These people mumble about trust and past scandals or decisions, but tend not to be able to name any specific wrongdoing or mistake, except for the decisions that others made for which everyone but Clinton is given a free pass. Every time Trump comes out with another outrageous statement based on lies and reflecting racism, authoritarianism and ignorance, the question about why certain educated progressive and centrist voters resist Hillary Clinton becomes more critical.
Those opposing Clinton in the face of the alternative should look into their hearts and see if they discover any residual misogyny. And that includes the collective heart of the New York Times.