THE EQUIVALENCE, IT IS FALSE

If you keep up with the old war horses of the establishment-left media you've no doubt noticed that the New York Times Opinion page has turned into something of a raging shit fire in the past few months. You're not alone; everyone in their peer group as well as ordinary readers are definitely noticing the shift. It was not always perfect, but its flaws tended to be blandness and the reflexive promotion of "Look, we have right-wingers too but we made sure they went to prep school and Yale and are well-scrubbed!" types like Ross Douthat and David Brooks (pale imitations of Buckley and Safire).

Lately, though, they've bought into the theory that Edgy and Provocative are inherently good. It's shameless pandering for clicks, attention, and the Hottest of Takes in one of the few venues in which readers, and I daresay the country, legitimately do expect a little better than that. They hired (for 8 hours) some Raconteur Milo-type who turned out to have a thing for being sorta racist and apologetic for Nazis (How do you hire someone without even skimming their back-tweets?) and a bunch of other mediocre Twitter Celebrity types to add to their steady diet of white male Never-Trump conservatives and Paul Krugman. Then they aired AIPAC cheerleader (and Twitter own-goal machine) Bari Weiss just in time for her to embarrass herself on the larger platform. It's a real shitshow. This pile of trash from David Brooks after the most recent school shooting typifies the new approach.

The news side of the paper, apparently, is getting embarrassed. Editor James Bennet responded, in part:

We publish dozens and dozens of op-eds a week. Look at them as a whole and you’ll see the breadth of voices there. Sure, Erik Prince wrote in our pages. You know who else has written in our pages? Bernie Sanders, and not just once.

OK. Do not make this about Bernie Sanders. This is about the Editor of the Editorial Board of the Paper of Record presenting Blackwater founder / Mercenary Enthusiast Erik Prince and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Erik Prince is Kevin Spacey's villain character in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. He was given the space to write what amounted to an advertorial for "private military contractors" in place of the normal military and law enforcement structures of a sovereign state. It was self-serving, intellectually vapid, and frankly pretty revolting.

Bernie Sanders is a United States Senator and one-time presidential candidate who has been invited to contribute to the Opinion page to talk about policy.

These are the mental gymnastics the Both Sides centrist approach requires in order to be internally consistent. Hey, sure, we're loaded to the gunwales with apologias for white nationalists, reactionary conservatism, and the absolute worst actors in the free market, but it balances out because sometimes we have an elected official talking about policy proposals that are to the left of some mainstream Democrats. See? Balance.

The Times remains one of the best-staffed news operations in the world. If they don't right the ship on the editorial page quickly, there is a nonzero chance it could sink and take the rest of the paper with it. Adding fresh voices is a good idea; editing the page from the perspective that all opinions deserve airing and are equally valid is exactly the kind of nonsense that has ruined god knows how many other media outlets desperate to please everyone by adhering to the dumbest possible conception of Objectivity.

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39 Responses to “THE EQUIVALENCE, IT IS FALSE”

  1. Michael Says:

    I’m no expert but I did go to J school at a top 50 university, and I think the fallacious “fair and balanced” approach which has supplanted truth all over the media landscape might be the biggest problem our electorate faces today.

  2. Greg Says:

    I do really like seeing Lindy West and Bryce Covert there, but they in no way make up for Brooks, Stephens, Weiss, and Prince.

  3. Camembert Says:

    Would the NYT lose any readership if it shut the opinion pages down entirely?

  4. Mostly Lurking Says:

    I've always wondered how the equal-time approach to objectivity became so popular, given how incredibly obviously it is stupid ("Is the earth round or flat? Here are both sides of the debate"). One standard story is that it makes sense in a two party system (even though it does not: Once one side takes a factually wrong position, objectivity demands that it be labelled as such). My favorite hypothesis is that the equal-time approach is simply easy and hence cheap: Instead of finding our about facts, one only has to report what each side claims.

  5. Amanda Says:

    Seeing their articles come up on my Twitter feed is always a game of "Onion or NYT?". I think I've seen it all and then something like "Nazis Wear Crocs, Should You?" pops up and I discover that I have more capacity for surprise.

  6. Jesse B Says:

    I first noticed the technique back in the late 80s, when Faux News started. Their tag line, from the get-go was, "Fair and Balanced". Of course, they were nothing of the sort, but their m.o. was to make the rest of the media look biased for being reasonable. And they sold it. They looked different. Camera tricks, lighting, filters, all looked different than the rest of the other channels. They still do today, but other outlets have done their best to copy them, CNN, mostly successfully.

  7. drew Says:

    They just chose the wrong two sides of issues. Issues have many, many sides, after all. Is the current administration stupid or merely pretending to be? Should we ban all guns or merely semiautomatic weapons? Should all people be covered by universal health care or should it exclude the wealthy, who can obviously look out for themselves? The list goes on.

  8. Nunya Says:

    I don't think there is a real need to go hard right reactionary but a less than uber-woke, self-hating lefty would probably do the trick.

  9. PrairieBear Says:

    @ drew: yes they choose which sides are considered, and only two, and how much difference there is between them. As Chomsky has said, we are allowed to have vigorous debate within a narrow range of options.

    I sometimes stumble into the NYT when someone in a blog post has a link in the text without saying what it is. Then they will tell me I've used up my one free article per month or whatever it is, as if I'm supposed to feel left out and want to subscribe or something. Otherwise, I don't bother looking at them and I wouldn't use the hardcopy version to … well, you know.

  10. mago Says:

    It's so easy to take a cheap shot and say "All the News That's Shit to Print", but of course it's more complex and nuanced than that.
    However, the paper of record is on record for more than a hundred years as a slanted news source. The coverage of and editorials on Russia, unions, women's suffrage and WWI in those pages is both cringe worthy and prescient.
    Fair and balanced. Hahaha.
    David Brooks. Don't get me started.

  11. JustRuss Says:

    "… ruined god knows how many other media outlets desperate to please everyone by adhering to the dumbest possible conception of Objectivity."

    But they don't even clear that low bar. If they were trying to please everyone, they'd have lefty equivalents of Prince and the Nazi apologists. But they don't, Sanders is about as far left they're willing to go. So they'e not even trying for Objectivity or Balance, it's propaganda with a little center-left fig leaf.

  12. Dave Bearse Says:

    I respect even if I typically disagree with Brooks, but you certainly identified a piece of trash.

    It only war to Brooks and establishment types since the left began to fight back using GOP tactics rules.

  13. Major Kong Says:

    Eric Prince is a white Persian cat and a monocle from being a Bond villain.

  14. democommie Says:

    The NYT op/ed is horrid. It's still far better than anything else out there for news.

    A Major Kong:

    Erik Prince is a death away from being a good Neo-nazi.

  15. terraformer Says:

    It's kinda like how Josh Marshall coined the phrase "Washington is wired for Republican control" – but applied to the NYT (and a host of other papers, for that matter).

    Things have become so ridiculous on the R side of things – from supply-side will work this time (for sure, trust us!), to there really is quite a lot of uncertainty on climate change, to all the pandering of aww-shucks types at diners across the land who just think Trump tells it like it is, you know? – the NYT feels it has to cater to this semblance of "balance", even though it's objectively crystal clear that one side is fucking bonkers.

    Because if they don't do that, if they decide, "Wait a fucking minute, this is ridiculous, we're going to call this shit out for what it is, and not give these evil fucks space on this page to peddle their lies and filth," then the upper-1%ers will take their marbles and go home, the flying monkeys will be released, and no one of real import gets cocktail-weenie party invites any longer. Better to be part of the new order than to rock the boat, I guess.

  16. Andrew Farrell Says:

    "They hired (for 8 hours) some Raconteur Milo-type who turned out to have a thing for being sorta racist and apologetic for Nazis (How do you hire someone without even skimming their back-tweets?)"

    Uh, this is not who Quinn Norton is.

  17. Tim H. Says:

    When NYT put up their paywall, I could subscribe, or pick one columnist, Paul Krugman seems infinitely preferable to David Brooks. "Nasty, Brutish and Trump" was worthwhile.

  18. democommie Says:

    "Uh, this is not who Quinn Norton is."

    Journalist is what she and others who are not journalists are called. Bad label.

  19. democommie Says:

    "Uh, this is not who Quinn Norton is."

    Journalist is what she and others who are not journalists are called. Bad label.

  20. democommie Says:

    Sorry 'bout that.

  21. J. Dryden Says:

    Im'ma just cut-and-paste what I said a few columns back about political discourse's horrible drift to the right over the past few decades, and how it's resulted in a "Right vs. Left" dichotomy that might more accurately be called "Faith vs. Reason." As in, the flaming liberal of today is the guy who dares to say "Supply-side economics is empirically without merit" (thank you, Paul K.), and the hard-core conservative is the one saying "White, Straight, Christian Men are God's Chosen People Bow Down I SAID BOW DOWN THE DAY OF THE ROPE IS AT HAND."

    There is no "balance" between madness and sanity, between people who believe in gender superiority and an incremental return to slavery and people who don't. One side is demonstrably based in fact and evidence–even though, as partisans, said facts and evidence may be skewed. The other side is not.

    The Times has abrogated it's ACTUAL responsibility (which is service to the TRUTH) in favor of an untenable service to "Fairness." But one cannot be "fair" to insanity. One cannot say "Maybe the pantsless guy screaming about how immigrants want to rape his wife and turn her lesbian has a point."

    The Times called out Trump for his claim that there were "fine people on both sides" of the White Supremacist rally/counter-rally in Williamsburg. Yet it perpetuates the EXACT same folly on its own editorial page. There cannot be a "fine person" or a "voice worth hearing" on the side of mass deportations, on the side of gutting wages and then telling the poor that they don't get to see a doctor, on the side of forcing transgender kids back into the closet, and smearing traumatized children as 'partisan' because they just saw their classmates murdered and would like to do something about it.

    There's no "other side" to all of that. And the editors at the Times know it.

    Which means that this is click-bait bullshit by cowards. Fuck 'em.

  22. J. Dryden Says:

    *its. Goddammit, *its.

  23. Mo Says:

    Oooh, baby! Here, have a toke.

    … a "Right vs. Left" dichotomy that might more accurately be called "Faith vs. Reason." As in, the flaming liberal of today is the guy who dares to say "Supply-side economics is empirically without merit" (thank you, Paul K.), and the hard-core conservative is the one saying "White, Straight, Christian Men are God's Chosen People Bow Down I SAID BOW DOWN THE DAY OF THE ROPE IS AT HAND."

  24. BLOZAR Says:

    @Ed – on point as usual. Thank you for continuing this blog. Congrats on the recent additional publishing victories.

    WTF is James Bennet thinking? The available evidence seems to fit the hypothesis that a click-bait 'ratings' chasing sensibility is reflected in the Opinion pages hiring policy. Maybe they can also license the Buzzfeed headline-generating algorithm, publish X number of listicles per day, and insert the phrase 'you won't believe what happened next' into everything. Is that truly what the market values more than journalism?

    "Ross Douthat and David Brooks (pale imitations of Buckley and Safire)." – but serving the same purpose, to advance 'conservatism' by providing rationalizations for the comfortable to do nothing to challenge the status-quo, ever. @Driftglass has been gleefully skewering David Brooks's awful shtick for ~13 years and condemned by the Media Gods to be a Cornfield Prometheus.

    I enjoyed this article as a post-mortem report for the Goldwater campaign in 1965. In my fantasy world that article, with a few alterations and a find and replace for some names, should have described the situation in the USA of November 2016. Those 1965 people lived in a consensus reality even though they strongly disagreed, we don't anymore and IMO that opened the door to 2016.

    @Greg – I miss Bob Herbert, Frank Rich, and Randy Cohen. I really miss Molly Ivins, Jimmy Breslin, and Joe Bageant too but they didn't write for the Times, fuck it though, I miss them.

    @PrarieBear, @MostlyLurking – Manufacturing Consent was a good read (lol – no, Chomsky is painful) but are we confident Chomsky's take on sausage making still applies? The 'narrow range' of topics seems to have been overwhelmed by unlimited 'shit-posting'of right wing insanity. Instead of a back and forth between Left and Right viewpoints discussing issues in a status-quo reinforcing set of framing constraints we have a kind of crashing dirigible of dribbling non-sense filling up the many channels where reality-based information should be flowing. Audiences are not living in some kind of consensus reality when FoxNews, Hate Radio, Trump, and every lip-glossed doom-bot (Dana, Tomi, wevs) is pumping out madness and big journalism's increasing response is to take up and transmit the crazy while erasing the line between reasonably true and total fucking bullshit. What does objectivity mean in this world?

    @Drew – "…many sides"…to everything. Yes, but in US politics doesn't it usually boil down to a binary of the 'DO SOMETHING' side versus the 'DO NOTHING' side which almost always ends up perpetuating the status quo? Disappearing into a cloud of nuanced perspective is usually functionally equivalent to shouting support for the 'DO NOTHING' side.

    @J. Dryden – A-FUCKING-MEN!

    @Andrew Farrell, @Democommie – "Uh, this is not who Quinn Norton is." Have you tried her recent 'Doppelganger' piece? What she is is worse than an easily dismissed Nazi-snuggler, she is a timewasting silly BORE.

  25. Poultine Says:

    @J. Dryden – I don't think you've been listening to the real flaming liberals lately. The far left is trending toward it's own brand of fascism and bizarre irrationality (e.g. the response at Evergreen to a teacher who thought that evicting all the white folks from campus was maybe not all that progressive and started), and the seething anti-capitalism (some of the marches here in Seattle are detached from reality, like demanding Amazon pay all city citizens a minimum income). As a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, I really wish that the anti-free speech folks, for example, would find some other affiliation (where anti-free speech includes violently protesting to the point that you prevent Milo from speaking at Berkeley). Those are definitely not my people.

    Yes, let's get the educational opportunity, health care, gun control, equal rights for LGBT folks, consumer protection, outrageously friendly tax treatment for the super rich, etc., sorted out. But maybe not by treating successful companies as pure evil, or by deciding the way to win an ideological fight is to suppress other voices.

  26. Jrod Says:

    The day those crazy fascist leftists can get a single representative into Congress as opposed to mucking up a college campus for a few days is the day I'll take them seriously as a legitimate threat. Until then, I'll continue worrying about the fascists who control one of the two major political parties and every branch of government.

  27. democommie Says:

    @ BLOZAR:

    Thank you, for reading that so I don't have to! The world of Newsopfotainmercials is full of boring, vapid, obsequious, expensively uneducated jerkwads–I haven't (fortunately) got time to be wasted reading all of them.

  28. Ten Bears Says:

    There are two major political parties?

  29. PrairieBear Says:

    @ BLOZAR that is an interesting point and yes, the model may have changed some. For one thing, I think I might have misstated it somewhat. I think the idea was not a narrow range of topics, but a narrow range of allowable or "respectable" positions within a given topic. Many possible topics. But it's probably useful to the system to have all the "shit-posting insanity" to help overwhelm the system with noise.

    I still think Chomsky's framing of it has value. For example, I would say that the gun "debate" might be an example. Not exactly a narrow range of options in it, but framed, at least by one side, as only two: guns or not-guns, and bitterly polarized and raging. I could be wrong; I don't really have the time now to work it out carefully and this would not be the space anyway probably.

  30. Alice Johnson Says:

    @Andrew Farrell

    Once the machinery of outrage gets rolling, nothing will change anyone's opinion, unfortunately. I suspect no one here had even heard of Quinn before the "vaguely racist nazi apologist" framing had caught fire across the Internet, and now that they have heard of her within that framing, there is no changing their opinions.

    Having followed her work for quite a bit longer than the latest kerfuffle myself, I agree with you that she is being utterly misrepresented and I think it's tragic that someone who could have contributed greatly to a newer, smarter NYT is being compared to the rest of the raft of sellout centrist assholes.

    Imagine, having a pacifist anarchist who cut her journalistic teeth by embedding with and reporting on Anonymous campaigns writing for the NYT op-ed page. You'll have to, of course, since the only person answering that description to get anywhere near the job was fired in hours.

    Enjoy your sellout centrist assholes, folks. Next time you bitch about the NYT op-ed page, remember that you helped build that.

  31. El dodo Says:

    Any number of you have nibbled around the edges, but the heart of this issue is that we only have one political party and the republicans are bat shit nuts. All of these various institutions do not know how to react to them and are still pretending we still have 2 equally important factions. Nytimes is not any different than the senate or any number of institutions that are stuck in neutral. Our country isn’t designed to exist in this manner, it’s why this conversation is boring & has been repeated for 20+ years

  32. jcdenton Says:

    @Andrew Farrell
    @Alice Johnson

    While I'm pretty sure that some of details have been blown out of proportion, Quinn does have a questionable record of being unrepentant friends with an unabashed Nazi (w**v), and having a number of tweets that liberally used n****r and f****t against her enemies. She claims that most of that was ironic, but these days, the context has kind of changed. There are no more ironic Nazis, just regular Nazis playing as ironic Nazis. If she believed that this doesn't represent who she is, she should have dropped w**v and scrubbed her damn timeline before applying for the job. Sorry, but her idea of what a pacifist anarchist is kind of doesn't intersect with her public record, if she thought that the two had diverged from her earlier days as channer, she should should have made sure he public record didn't look quite so compromising.

    @Everyone else
    It's important to remember that the NYT was never "good".
    Some things the NYT has done:
    – Made a very vocal case for the Iraq War
    – Supported broken windows policing
    – Supported gentrification
    – Supported Charter schools
    – Ignores the US's role in the Yemen disaster
    – Repeatedly shit on Antifa
    – Perpetuates warmongering nonsense about Iran
    – Broadly supports neoliberal economic policies

    They're just a font of trash, cleverly disguised as a "center-left" paper

  33. Andrew Farrell Says:

    "She claims that most of that was ironic"

    I'd be interested in seeing this, I suspect this claim (yours) is inaccurate.

    "that liberally used n****r […] against her enemies"

    I'd be interested in seeing this too, as I'm pretty damn certain that's inaccurate. Are you coming at this from a few "what's hot in the web this week" summaries?

  34. jcdenton Says:

    @Andrew Farrell

    Huffpo has screencaps of her tweets here: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/ny-times-quinn-norton-neonazis_us_5a837db8e4b0cf06751f8fbe

    I think about a year or two ago, her kind of "co-opting the terminology and using the Nazi's language against them" schtick would have been fine (if that is what she's in fact trying to do, hence my claim about irony). These days it can serve as a cover for more cynical perpetuation of Nazi ideas.

    Her actual friendship with uh… a guy who hacks on behalf of The Daily Stormer (and other Nazis, as she herself admits), is a lot more questionable. Again, a few years ago the "I'm friends with Nazis because I'm trying to convert them" line may have had some traction, but these days, it's a lot riskier to permit that sort of bullshit fence-sitting and naiveté.

    Ultimately, you can make an argument that she was fired because we all have hair triggers now. I don't think Quinn is actually a Nazi, or even a racist. But she's pretty compromised and frankly the kind of internet culture that she grew up in and draws much of her inspiration from (the wild west of early late 90's/2000's that I also grew up in) is partially responsible for the kind of shitty internet culture we have today. If nothing else, she should have scrubbed her TL.

    I don't think she should write for the NYT. But then again, I think that the NYT is an imperialist piece of shit newspaper and no one should write for it. The very least it can do is not give platforms to people with whiffs of Nazism. There's frankly enough outlets willing to do that already.

  35. Andrew Farrell Says:

    That hasn't made me any less curious about your level of knowledge – I'm not sure if you've read that link, but it doesn't support either of your claims, and the phrase you've put in quotes doesn't seem to be in any sense a quote from her, or in any way a summary of her motives.

    "But she's pretty compromised and frankly the kind of internet culture that she grew up in and draws much of her inspiration from (the wild west of early late 90's/2000's that I also grew up in) is partially responsible for the kind of shitty internet culture we have today."

    We can argue how much 'much' is – she has a lot of strings to her bow, and first came to my attention when writing a series of articles about Scotland's Independence Referendum – but basically I completely agree with this. Which is _why_ having an excellent empathetic writer with roots in this culture is someone that would be good to have on the NYT. Or the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal, or the Guardian – I'm not valorising the NYT here, just to be clear.

  36. jcdenton Says:

    @Andrew Farrell

    My knowledge of this issue consists in googling around and doing a bit of textual analysis of her tweets (which, I think, it probably what the majority of us have). No, those quotes aren't hers. They are my attempt at summarizing her thinking here.

    It's pretty obvious to me that when she uses "f*g", she's reclaiming it as part of the LGBT community (although she's also using it and "tard" as part of the lulzy bullshit from earlier incarnations of the internet, which is how we got here today). However, when she uses "n****r" as part of "If God had meant a n****r to talk to our school children, He would have made him president. Oh, but wait…" she has really no right to appropriate the term. Yes, she's using the language of the shitlord community against itself (hence the ironic inversion), but often that kind of shit just perpetuates the text without the also carrying through the ironic inversion of the subtext. i.e. Ironic bigotry still often just ends up looking like bigotry to most.

    Her position on the idea that you can be friends with Nazis and not have them affect your politics is naive. They may not affect your politics personally, but if you have any social standing, they gain something as part of that association. The issue isn't that she knew w**v a long time ago when they were both in the trenches of hacktivism, its that she holds the view that being friends with Nazis is just about her personally and also the really-questionable idea that you can or should try to convert Nazis.

    Again, its possible to see her firing as a contextual event, predicated on weariness of Nazi sympathy and also on the NYT's recent track record of becoming a platform for an assortment of right wing ghouls and actual Nazis. In that kind of environment, I don't know if an "empathetic" writer, someone who may end up soft-focusing more Nazis on a national platform as part of her attempt to convert them, is really needed. If the NYT was all fire-breathing leftists or whatever, then having a moderating or empathetic voice could be good. As it stands, it would be a bunch of right wingers and someone who might end up sounding a lot like them, although for completely different reasons. She's a complicated person, but ultimately not that useful to the left in pushing any kind of strong narrative on a national stage.

    That said, yeah, she should probably write for like the Guardian or the Intercept or something. But those papers already have at least visible leftist voices.

  37. Andrew Farrell Says:

    "However, when she uses "n****r""

    That would be a retweet, though – not as she admits a particularly well-thought-out one, but it's not liberally using it against her enemies.

    I don't think we're that far apart – you say naive, I say optimistic (though optimism based on trying the thing and having some success with it). I don't believe there would be any danger of soft-focusing, that isn't really her style. But I understand the NYT's concern.

    I was more reacting to the idea that any of this was either ironic in the commonly understood way, or anything that she should 'scrub' – the comments, even the unfortunate ones, are a part of her, and I believe her claim that she genuinely thought this had been taken into account when they offered her the job.

    I think a world in which she could have kept the job is a better one than this one – while acknowledging that it's _not_ this one.

  38. jcdenton Says:

    @Andrew Farrell

    It would be a better world. Unfortunately, this shitty one is the only one we've got.

  39. Lynn Dewees Says:

    I don't know. The WSJ editorial page has apparently gone way off the rails, while the reporting remains coherent. (The editorials sometime contradict the facts in the news section.) They seem to be doing OK. Maybe the editorial page can become the bait that sucks people in to read the actual reporting. Or maybe they should have side-by-side editorials – one lunatic fringe/Republican and a response from someone sane or vice versa.