Opinion

Sign of The Times

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Posted: Jul 16, 2020 12:01 AM
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Sign of The Times

Source: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

The past 24 hours of Twitter commentary in response to the resignation of columnist Bari Weiss from The New York Times has demonstrated one thing in particular: too much of Twitter 2020 is people catching up to how far down the rabbit hole we are. They are still assuming some sort of institutional sense of fairness, some commonality of values, some paragon of reason we can all appeal to. That's sadly gone now, and has been for a while.

So what happened to Bari Weiss, a talent, is regrettable but not surprising. Not because The Times is biased, though obviously it is. Instead, it’s because The Times is no longer a newspaper, it's a digital subscription service well in tune with what its audience wants. The Times doesn't have readers, it has subscribers. The editors know what business they are in, which is why they are willing to change headlines in response to their subscribers' demands. They are a digital content provider, and they are really good at it.  

The reputation of the paper, its editorial focus over different eras, and its obvious shortcomings are themselves part of American history and more reflective of us collectively than they are of any individual employees there. Famed journalist Elmer Holmes Davis, who worked for the paper from 1914-1924, described The New York Times of the late 1800s as a “sensational newspaper indulging in coarse, vulgar and inane features.” He boasted about the recovery of the paper’s reputation and the independence of the institution, asserting that editorially “whether we are right or wrong our views are not directly or indirectly presented with any thought that they may please or displease a reader.” 

We know in the current era that’s no longer the case, and maligned former public editor Liz Stayd and the current leadership all know why. In Stayd’s words in 2017, “what’s happening at The Times isn’t only about The Times. It’s part of a fracturing media environment that reflects a fractured country.” They get that and have planned successfully to operate in that environment. 

When we used to think of media bias it was Bernard Goldberg pointing out the partisan slant in the newsroom back in the 90s, or the paper’s admission in the early 2000s of its self-described cosmopolitan outlook on social issues. That’s old hat in an old paradigm. Recognize instead that a non-minor portion of Americans have rejected the founding ethos and embraced a different form of government in a socio-religious movement. What we pledge our allegiance to is no longer the same republic, and a divided nation has a divided media serving it. If you’re unconvinced, simply remind yourself that what used to be our country’s paper of record undertook to dramatically redefine and literally misdate our own founding.  

We should then focus less on the outsize concentration of system-rejecting leftists in the media and academia, and recognize that their philosophy has enough adherents that of course they'll be present in the city papers of our secular urban spaces. The new civic religion of the Left is centered in those big cities, and their millions of coreligionists exist in every field. So of course, they'll have a strong subscriber base. And of course, that subscriber base will make its demands heard. Remember what the NYT is and you won't be surprised by what it does

Let’s together commit to spend less energy condemning The Times for not being what we wish it still was. That time is over now. As America divides, the newspaper is no more immune than any of our other cultural institutions - tech companies, the NFL, the Boy Scouts - from choosing sides. They won’t be allowed to be. America's former paper of record has chosen its side, and it will go down swinging, battling over deckchairs as the ship sinks. 

What that means for America is nothing good.