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 The Gray Lady Shows Her Colors 

June 9, 2005 
Unlike many conservatives, I like the New York Times, the “Good Gray Lady” of American journalism. On big political stories, it usually offers the most thorough reporting and is scrupulously accurate. Today's column is "The Gray Lady Shows Her Colors" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.But, aware of its stodgy image, the Times has recently lightened up to a fault.

For example, one of its regular columnists now is Maureen Dowd, spunky and hip. She often alludes to topics of pop culture the Times has sniffily ignored and hardly covered. You can’t follow her meaning unless you’re also reading New York’s tabloids, the Post and Daily News, not to mention keeping up with the Michael Jackson trial.

The paper’s famous motto, “All the news that’s fit to print,” leaves it in an awkward relation to the celebrity culture. Unless I’m badly mistaken, it has reported nothing about Russell Crowe’s latest arrest and subsequent contrition.

Obviously the Times has heard about the New Journalism and too often tries to apply the techniques of fiction to news stories. Instead of the old-fashioned lead paragraph, packed with who-what-when-where facts, you are now apt to find an article beginning with atmospherics like this: “Even the black cat that lived beneath Wrigley Field, fed and nurtured by stadium workers who apparently are not as superstitious as the patrons, seemed to sense that the Red Sox were coming.” Nice writing, but if you’re in a hurry to read the morning paper you may not want to settle in as for a Joseph Conrad novel.

What about the famous liberal bias of the Times? It’s certainly there, not so much in overt ways as in the tacit assumptions the paper habitually makes about the reader. It seems to go without saying that the Times reader believes there’s a government solution to every problem, and that he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. The paper’s coverage of religion is minimal, and the activities of Christians — papal elections, say — are of interest — “fit to print” — only insofar as they are potential threats to liberal causes. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope, the Times reported the fact with an undertone of alarm. It had hoped for someone less — well, Catholic. Even the huge Sunday edition has no religion section.

[Breaker quote for The Gray Lady Shows Her Colors: Reading the TIMES]Catholics may write in the Times, so long as they are Garry Wills. That is to say, they are allowed space to attack the Church for being insufficiently liberal. Defenders of the Church hardly ever appear in the paper, and the orthodox Catholic reader feels a bit like a man attending a party he hasn’t been invited to, with uncongenial people. The Times fairly cries out to him, “Your kind aren’t welcome here!”

The Times tries to make a show of ideological balance on the op-ed page (a Times innovation of the Spiro Agnew era), but even its “conservatives” are liberals — that is, neoconservatives. For many years this niche was filled by William Safire, a chum of Ariel Sharon; today it’s occupied by David Brooks, who takes the position that there’s no such thing as a neoconservative, thereby proving that he is one. Only neoconservatives deny the existence of neoconservatives, on the principle, I suppose, that Satan’s cleverest wile is to make us think he doesn’t exist.

But whereas Safire blamed Christianity for the Holocaust, Brooks can write sympathetically about Christians. Still, Brooks is as statist as any liberal, and he’s scornful of old-fashioned conservatives who favor limited government; he wants what he calls “national greatness conservatism,” with America dominating the globe (while maintaining a welfare state at home). Brooks once championed the war on Iraq, but since it has gone bad he has been rather subdued about it.

In general the Times has been ambivalent, but mostly skeptical, about this war — never opposing it directly, but supplying plenty of ammunition, as it were, for those who do. This is the way it also handled the Vietnam war for a long time, avoiding explicit commitment until liberal opinion had solidified against that war.

The New York Times is of course the Establishment paper par excellence, a bellwether for all the major media, which imitate not only its news judgment but its cagey liberalism. But it contains plenty of good writing, and it’s an indispensable guide to what the most influential folk in America are thinking.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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