This week, Slate released a transcript of a meeting held by New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and his staff. The meeting was apparently called because of reaction to a headline about Donald Trump’s speech in the wake of the El Paso shooting. But much of the meeting was concerned with something else: when and how the paper of record should use the term “racist.”
Before getting to that subject specifically, though, a few general thoughts about the meeting. As a conservative, what leaps off the page is the fact that the staffers actually seem to think the paper skews right, and they want it to skew more progressive. One staffer seemed to call on Baquet to hire radically and aggressively progressive scribe Roxanne Gay as the public editor.
This reminds me of Yankees fans who call into sports radio to say Yanks general manager Brian Cashman is bad at his job because he failed to acquire a middle reliever at the trade deadline. Forget the fact that he’s won championships and has put together a juggernaut this season, he stinks. The overwhelming majority of everything the Times prints skews left. It’s amazing that the staff doesn’t understand this. Even rare examples of conservative ideas are too much for them.
The conversation about the use of the term “racist” was telling in this respect. The underlying subtext was, “Is Donald Trump a racist?” “Are his supporters racist?” On this, all parties seemed to agree that the answer is yes — at least, nobody said no. Baquet’s objection to using the term, for which he was grilled, had less to do with whether the application is accurate than what outcome using the word would have. He worried it could make the term less powerful or turn off certain readers.
When asked specifically what standard the New York Times uses in deciding to use the term racist, Baquet said this:
You know, we actually should have a written standard. I wasn’t expecting two weeks ago — and [associate managing editor for standards] Phil [Corbett] is working with me and the masthead to come up with it. I can think of examples, like, you know, the governor — was it the governor of Virginia with the costume? I mean, it’s hard for me to answer, but yes, I do think there are instances when we would use it. It’s hard for me to articulate an example of it.
To call this vague would be generous, and it’s Ralph Northam, by the way. I recently wrote about how racism is now defined by the old Potter Stewart axiom: I know it when I see it. Well, this is what that looks like. But worse, given his remarks about how the word affects readers, it is clear Baquet is less interested in establishing a clear standard for what racism is than in bringing the paper’s readership in line with his left-leaning worldview.
As it turns out, I have a little personal experience with the New York Times and the issue of racism. Several months ago, after twice having run columns there, I pitched a piece to them about how Americans have two very different and often contradictory views of what constitutes racism. The pitch was accepted, I wrote to it, and I tried, at least, to be fair to both the conservative and progressive definitions. Generally speaking, the former being based in belief and intent, the latter on systems of oppression.
A few days later, the Times rejected the piece — which, pieces get rejected. I just ran it here at The Federalist, instead. But reading this transcript, it is absolutely clear to me that even analysis of the conservative definition would have been seen as unacceptable to at least some on the staff. Take this comment from a staffer:
I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.
What this staffer is suggesting is that in a country where a recent poll showed 51% of Americans think Trump is a racist and 45% don’t, the paper of record should simply ignore the conservative viewpoint and actually do reporting based on the opinion of the 51%.
I’ve had two conversations with high-level people at the Times about conservatism and how they cover it. On both occasions, I heard a sincere desire to do so. But I also heard a woeful lack of understanding about why conservatives are so wary of their coverage. When I brought up the hiring of Sarah Jeong, who had a history of anti-white tweets, and said that obviously such tweets about any other group would bar someone from being hired, I was told “the double standard is hard to defend.”
That’s just not good enough, and though, as I say, I think they were sincere in their desire to present conservative viewpoints, not only do they not seem to grasp them, but their staff seems to be in control of the paper’s politics.
I don’t know that there is any solution to this problem, or that even if there were, most people at the Times would want to fix it. More likely, it is simply time to accept that the New York Times is a progressive newspaper, not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, the entire concept of objective news is a rather suspect one.
I read the New York Times, I enjoy it, sometimes I do the crossword, but to the extent I ever did, I can no longer see it as a straight paper with limited bias. This transcript makes that blatantly obvious. So, by all means, read the Times. But make sure you go in with your eyes wide open.