Gina Overholser, a writing about a liberal paper, remarks of the New York Times that
Its investigative and enterprise work rises to today’s unprecedented challenges. But in day-to-day political reporting, the Times is hopelessly stuck in the past. Its proud allegiance to presenting “both sides” in a time of political breakdown renders it a handmaiden to the degradation of truth.
Here’s a recent example: One politician makes an appeal to hold a president accountable. Another responds by telling the first to put aside partisan politics. One statement will stand as historic; the other is nonsense. But the reporter solemnly adds: “But the appeals to rise above the tribalism of the moment from the two veteran lawmakers fell on deaf ears.” The distortions in the name of balance grow more painful as the article continues.
Wikipedia calls it “bothsidesism.” Its Twitter hashtag does lively trade. But the Times (and The Washington Post) have girded their loins against the frequent outcries over their commitment to it.
The damage this journalism is doing is awful enough. But think too of the promise of what could happen if we were freed from this contortion. Along with the courts, the press has the capacity to bring the nation together when norms are changing. The Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage is one example. So is press coverage of sexual harassment. (Here’s an interesting piece of research on this topic.)
The only worse view, perhaps, would be to think there’s only one perspective (although those deciding between the lesser of a false moral equivalence and a monochromatic viewpoint have a melancholy choice).
An aside about the New York Times: the paper has a fair number of critics from the right, but it’s criticism from the center-left, in circumstances like ours today, that represents a bigger challenge to the publication’s future. Conservative complaints about the Times have been present for years; center-left critiques like Overholser’s are newer, and grow more common each day. Conservatives may love to hate the NYT, but the center-left, if sufficiently aggrieved, will simply turn elsewhere.
No one in our time will acquit himself or herself well through insistence on false similarities or indiscernible differences. Not everyone’s a liar, not everyone’s a bigot, and not everyone’s a tyrant – society has some, but only some, who are like this.
It’s right and necessary to see as much.