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The Times Has Long Used Up Its Reputation LIfeline

In its August 27 lead editorial, ‘A ‘Hit Job’ Directed at Kyriakos Mitsotakis,’ The National Herald strongly criticized the New York Times for publishing an op-ed piece denouncing the Greek prime minister.

Although I don’t follow Greece’s politics closely enough to weigh in on this dispute, my gut tells me that – based on what I know about the modern-day Times – TNH is correct.

“The writer was unfair to the prime minister of Greece without offering any corresponding evidence,” TNH’s editorial states. Change “prime minister of Greece” to “U.S. President, particularly a Republican one” and that arguably describes the Times’ mission.

Though the editorial acknowledges that the Times has published similar (i.e., unjust) articles in the past, it is late in observing that the piece “degrades the newspaper in which it is published.” That ship has sailed; the Times has long been degraded. Hit-job op-ed pieces, editorials, and biased doctrine surreptitiously injected like rat poison into purported news stories are not aberrations, they’re the 21st Century Times’ norm.

The best brands of televisions, sneakers, and bicycles 40 years ago are no longer the best today. Neither are the best restaurants, or newspapers. We need to stop living in the past and realize that.

Much like dining establishments about which longtime patrons lament: “ever since ownership changed hands, the quality’s gone downhill,” the same can be said about the Times. Though it remains family-owned, leadership changed hands in 1992 when Arthur (‘Punch’) Ochs Sulzberger Sr. turned it over to his son, Arthur (‘Pinch’) Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., who in turn passed it along to his son, Arthur Gregg (A.G.), Sulzberger, in 2018.

If you can bear with the Disney-character-sounding nicknames for a few words longer, the Times was indeed quite a respectable publication in Punch’s day; it was under Pinch that it began rapidly declining and, to this point, it doesn’t look like A.G. is restoring it to its past glory.

Bob Kohn exposed the decline in his 2003 book Journalistic Fraud, and over the past 20 years, things have gotten worse.

Nonetheless, it would be disingenuous to single out the Times, because with rare exception, there’s been a tragic wane in the quality of American journalism since the 1987 abolition of the Fairness Doctrine, which required news broadcasters to air opposing views on the same program, instead of what we have today: mostly leftwing and rightwing amen corners.

The legal decision for its repeal is sound: just as privately owned ice cream parlors can choose to serve only one flavor, privately owned television channels can choose to broadcast only one point of view.

That’s a perfect example of why liberty must be sacrosanct, even if at times it yields negative consequences, such as formerly respectable media outlets having been reduced to comfort food feeding troughs.

Thanks to video archives, those of us not even born or too young to remember can access professional wrestling matches from the 1950s, such as a 1951 classic between Lou Thesz and Buddy Rogers. Modern-day pro-wrestling fans would probably fall asleep within minutes, deeming the contest painfully dry and boring, as compared to today’s uber-theatrical histrionics that mostly appeal to eight-year-olds.

Similarly, the same has happened in a great deal of media coverage. Many of today’s analyses, and even supposed news chronicles, are indeed ‘hit jobs’, to quote the Herald. They remind me of the choreography of, say, George ‘The Animal’ Steele breaking a chair over Bruno Sammartino’s back when he wasn’t looking, in a teaser to their upcoming match at Madison Square Garden (I’m dating myself; that was in the 1970s. I stopped watching wrestling shortly thereafter – you know, I went to high school).

Nowadays, my go-to daily newspaper is the Wall Street Journal (not because it leans right; there are plenty of rightwing rags out there). I find it eminently superior to the Times, though it’s not without its own flaws. On rare occasion – most notably regarding the 2020 election and pandemic vaccinations – in its self-imposed obligation to influence the masses to do what the Journal deems correct, it too takes liberties with injecting subjective adjectives into news reports. As Kohn aptly wrote, a newspaper is welcome to attempt to sway public opinion until it’s blue in the face, but not in a news story.
It’s why the ACLU, which abhors the Ku Klux Klan, nonetheless defends its right to free speech. Rules are rules, and people shouldn’t let their emotions override them.

A Gallup Poll taken in July reveals that a mere 16 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in TV news or newspapers, and a staggering 53 percent have little or no confidence in them at all.

How can we reverse this trend and restore confidence in our Fourth Estate? By having the moral courage to speak out loudly and often when journalists compromise their standards (get ready to soothe your throat with some honey and lemon, or bourbon, because those are a lot of ‘speaking loudly’ opportunities).

The tricky part is relying on people to condemn not only unfair pieces about their home team, but about the away team too.

If the Times can do a hit job on Kyriakos Mitsotakis, why should we have any confidence in what it writes about anyone else? And if Donald Trump, or Ron DeSantis, or even the occasional Democrat or two it assails, is not our cup of tea, should we simply assume it’s accurate because that’s what we already believe, or, worse yet, will we look the other way because “the end justifies the means”?

I hope not, because that would be very ‘New York Times’ of us.

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