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New Doc on Gray Lady Ignores Paper’s Institutional Bias

Pay no attention to the donkey in the room — Page One: Inside the New York Times certainly doesn't.

by
Christian Toto

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July 5, 2011 - 12:00 am
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The new documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times examines all the reasons why the Gray Lady faces an uncertain tomorrow.

All, that is, except one: the newspaper’s institutional liberal bias.

The film views the struggles of the newspaper industry through the Times’ lens, and few papers could serve that purpose better. The Times once set the news cycle with its daily reportage, and even in today’s mutating media world plenty of reporters still consider it their de facto Bible.

And yet ignoring the elephant in the editorial room, the liberal agenda seeping into the content, discredits Page One. And that’s a shame, since it effectively captures the dilemma facing modern journalism.

Page One starts with the headlines over the demise of many long-running newspapers. The view then shifts to the New York Times’ headquarters, a gleaming Mecca that hardly looks as if it’s burdened by fiscal concerns. But like every other paper in the country the Times is a-changing, and not for the better.

They’re slashing staff, cutting corners, and looking for ways to compete in the new media age.

It’s become a common refrain in journalism circles — will the Times survive?

The film focuses on several big stories to show how the Times handles the modern world. The biggest threat to its power might be WikiLeaks, the information dump of sensitive, and secret, documents that forced the media to re-examine what news is truly fit to print.

We watch as Times editors hash out their feelings regarding the content of those dumps, which they reluctantly decide to publish after a considerable debate. Nothing shocking here.

It’s more illuminating to see WikiLeaks guru Julian Assange deal directly with the newspaper’s staffers.

“Is journalist a word you attach to yourself?” one reporter asks Assange, clinging to the old-school notion of the term as if he were a drowning man desperate for a life preserver.

There’s little in Page One to burst the bubble of those who worship at the paper’s altar. We see skeptical reporters discussing how to cover tough assignments, and watch young scribes sign up for dangerous gigs like a stint at the Baghdad bureau. The film follows the media desk with the most scrutiny, a shrewd choice given the desk has to indirectly cover itself and its own survival.

But what about the news meetings where the potential bias could seep into otherwise hard news? We don’t get much of that here.

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