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February 28, 2017

Blog repost: Essay on NYT

One of the recurring themes since election season has been that of fake news. The designation has now mutated from having a specific meaning—news that is fake—to meaning news that some don't like. The label is now being wielded by those who have used, benefitted from, or purveyed fake news.

President Trump has repeatedly accused mainstream organizations such as CNN, the networks, the New York Times, and others of being fake news, or at least of dealing in it. In these instances, the president is using the classification "fake news" as an epithet. It is, however, because the major organizations are reporting on him with some measure of accuracy that he has declared them an "enemy of the people"—curious language for the leader of a democracy. He of course means that they are an enemy of him. And in a sense they are, in the same way light is an enemy of mold.

The New York Times is and has been at the top of the president's list of news sources he strongly does not like. I couldn't say I love it either. So, he and I feel similarly on this matter, but for very, very different reasons.

The Times's coverage of the president, his campaign, and his performance so far in the White House has been reasonable, as one might have expected. The NYT, when it comes to domestic policy, operates around the political center. That is, on matters such as the environment, healthcare, and abortion, its positions approximate where most Americans sit on these issues. The president and his administration being rightwing and stylistically an aberration, a staid, centrist journal such as the Times could be expected to do actual journalism.

Some personal context: I read the NYT every day and have for many years now. I usually carry the day's paper (or days' worth of them) on me just about everywhere I go. During any downtime, I can be found poring over it (or them). A lot of this downtime is spent on college campuses, places of abundant foot traffic. It is noteworthy how often I get questions and comments—mostly the latter—concerning the paper. (I of course read other sources, but I have only the Times delivered in print, to help ensure I read it more thoroughly, among other reasons.)

The comments I receive are invariably negative or dismissive: "The Times is kinda leftist, isn't it?" Or: "I've heard it's pretty biased." Or: "It's elitist." Or: "I have no use for it."

The close attention I pay to the NYT is not based on fondness (I'm rather critical). Nor that it reinforces my worldview (I wouldn't describe myself as liberal). In addition to the Times being a reliable resource, my choice is based to a degree on the paper's prestige and the window it offers into the culture that produces and reads it. But this requires some elaboration.

I've therefore decided to repost an article I published on CounterPunch about four years ago, which examines the NYT and discusses why, despite its flaws, it's my first media port of call.


Especially in the current atmosphere, being informed is crucial. And just as crucial is understanding that choice and preference are two different things. The goal is to improve our understanding and gain insight, not seek opinion confirmation and judge according to the metric being applied in the Oval Office.

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