I had quite the experience this morning (August 22) when I sat on my front porch with my frappe and the print edition of the Wall Street Journal, as I do on most mornings.
As I have shared with you in this column on many occasions, I had been a loyal New York Times reader from the time I was old enough to understand it; it was a staple in my household – my dad was a daily reader of that newspaper long before I was born and for the rest of his life.
As a journalism professor, I recommended the newspaper to my students for years, as “the best newspaper in the world.” I suffered through anti-Reagan editorials in the 1980s, and theory-clothed-as-fact in editorials, such as describing that president’s across-the-board tax cuts as “tax cuts for the rich.”
The problem I had with that description was – and is – that the Times’ take was that the wealthy stood to benefit disproportionately from Reagan’s omnibus tax cuts, but portraying it as “tax cuts for the rich” would give the impression to a less knowledgeable reader that Reagan specifically singled out rich folks and cut their taxes, and did not do so for anyone else. Nonetheless, at the time, the Times practiced relatively good journalism insofar as it kept its opinions where they belonged: on the opinion pages, not in the news stories.
By mid-2006, after I noticed much deterioration in the Times’ journalistic integrity, I could no longer take that publication seriously when I recognized its obsessiveness with then-President George W. Bush. Unlike President Trump, Bush did not offend the establishmentarian media by calling it “fake news.” But in some ways, Bush’s swipe was more lethal; he said “I don’t read newspapers.”
That’s when I observed the Times’ deterioration. They were routinely critical of Reagan, Bush’s father, and 1996 GOP nominee Bob Dole. And they were also typically averse to the younger Bush, until he made that comment. At that point, they became unhinged, and I had had enough: immediately, I sought a new daily, go-to newspaper, and I turned to the Washington Post.
A thumbnail synopsis of why the Post was better than the Times back then is evident in comparing their 2004 presidential endorsement editorials: both newspapers endorsed Kerry, but the Post did it in a professional manner, the Times in a petulant childish one.
I stuck with the Post through the rest of the Bush presidency and through most of President Obama’s two terms. But in 2016, when the Post realized that Trump essentially rendered it (and the rest of traditional, establishmentarian media) irrelevant by communicating directly with the people via Twitter, the Post squandered its journalistic preeminence and became just as bad, if not worse, than the Times had become a decade earlier.
I was in a real pickle: there I was, a political and news junkie, a writer, editor, and political analyst, and a relentless fan of a printed national daily newspaper. I had virtually nowhere to turn. The USA Today was reasonably balanced, but provided little depth and substance. Accordingly, I experimented with the Wall Street Journal.
Much to my pleasant surprise, the Journal was far more than a publication for finance wonks. Its news coverage was quite fair, and its opinion pages were pure gold. The only problem I had, as a journalist and teacher of journalism, was that there wasn’t enough of a balance. I agreed with too many of the op-ed pieces.
To be a truly great newspaper, there would have to be at least one regular op-ed writer whose opinions I should consider absurd. You know, someone who is for open borders, Sanctuary Cities, and who insists that newborns be announced not as “boys” or “girls,” but as “theybies.” After all, a good newspaper needs to incorporate a true marketplace of ideas; if all the articles seem logical to me, then is the Journal any better than the Times, the Post, or the 2019 version of CNN (which also used to be respectable way back when…)?
So, fast forwarding to this morning, as I read through the Journal’s op-ed pieces and agreed with most of what they wrote, I wondered again if I’d encounter a piece with a different point of view – and, lo and behold, I did.
It was a piece titled Why Liberals Need Self-Criticism, by an Austin (TX)- based writer named Ioannis Gatsiounis, who happens to be Greek – though that in my view is of secondary consequence. Mr. Gatsiounis begins by writing: “I’d love to see Donald Trump beaten in 2020.” Instantly, he and I disagree. Because, I’d love to see nothing more than President Trump win reelection. However, beyond that phenomenon, I eminently agree with what Gatsiounis has to write.
Among other things, he points out that: “Rather than figuring out a way to beat an unpopular president in 2020, most have spent the past 2½ years blaming everyone but themselves – Hillary Clinton, Russia, the Electoral College, “white supremacists” – and expecting to win on the strength of their hatred without putting together a winning coalition.”
Part of the problem lies with the unpopular positions prominent Democrats have taken – from decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings to banning private health insurance. The main problem, though, has less to do with policy than with attitude. To many ordinary Americans we appear unhinged, haughty and out of touch. What can we do to change?”
He calls upon all of us to “stop obsessing over identity. We can and should support policies that benefit disadvantaged groups, from criminal-justice reform to a higher minimum wage and affordable health care. But our tendency to insert race, sex, and sexual orientation into everything gives the impression that we are more committed to narrow groups than Americans as a whole.”
He wisely points out that liberals increasingly tend to shame and “cancel” anyone who doesn’t conform to our thinking on complex social issues. We wield political correctness like a club. It’s been well-documented that voters in 2016 saw Trump as an antidote to political correctness – and it isn’t only conservatives. Eighty percent of Americans – including three-quarters of blacks and more than 80% of Asian-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians – disapprove of political correctness.”
Moreover, Gatsiounis contends that “our fanatical embrace of the oppressor-victim narrative finds us quick to assign guilt or innocence based on narrow identity markers like race and sex, seeing women as always victims, men as always aggressors, minorities and immigrants as by definition innocent. We’ve rightly drawn attention to disparities in everything from police brutality to mortgage lending, but we’ve become reckless in the process.”
Most importantly, Gatsiounis points out that “progressives need to be progressive – pluralistic rather than tribal, compassionate rather than hateful, thoughtful rather than reactive. ‘Progressive’ has become a dirty word to many Americans, more closely associated with intolerance and double standards than with free thought and due process.”
Finally, taking a page out of the president he would like to see defeated in his reelection attempt – Donald Trump – Gatsiounis writes that “those who work in the media need to stop abusing their authority. I am grateful for rigorous investigative work that uncovers Mr. Trump’s abuses of power. But there’s a reason so many Americans think much of the media is ‘fake news’: The left-of-center figures who populate it stop at nothing to demonize their political enemies.”
Thank you, Mr. Gatsiounis. Though we evidently do not agree on which individual should lead our nation from 2021-2025, your integrity and intellectually honesty is a rare commodity among the audience you primarily reach. Perhaps some of your journalistic credibility can rub off on them.