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Ed Driscoll

How the Gray Lady Became Margaret Dumont

November 3rd, 2010 - 6:25 pm

Almost ten years ago veteran journalist William McGowan wrote Coloring the News, a devastating look at how a lethal cocktail of political correctness, multiculturalism, and what is now commonly known as an obsession with “social justice” helped lobotomize the newspaper industry’s collective ability to reason. As Mark Steyn once said, “In 1978, having driven your print competitors out of business, you could afford to be a dull city newspaper,” but by the late 1990s, PC and bias made them even more sclerotic, effete and unreadable, and it’s no wonder that if the industry was determined to finish itself off, the Blogosphere was more than happy to come along to complete the job for them.

Of course, there’s one newspaper in particular that the words PC sclerotic and effete sum up instantly, and it’s the subject of McGowan’s newest book. It’s titled Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of The New York Times Means for America, and the New Criterion has some excerpted highlights, in a must-read article titled “Pop goes the Times.”

Here’s the opening:

Is The New York Times a liberal newspaper? In 2004, Daniel Okrent, then the paper’s “public editor,” wrote a column asking that very question. His answer: “Of course it is.” Okrent noted that the word “postmodern” had been used “an average of four times a week” that year, and if this didn’t reflect a Manhattan as opposed to a mainstream sensibility, he remarked, “then I’m Noam Chomsky.” (In August 2010, the standards editor, Philip Corbett, urged the Times newsroom to limit the use of the word “hipster,” which he said had appeared 250 times in the last year alone.) Okrent also noted that the culture pages of the Times “often feature forms of art, dance or theater that may pass for normal (or at least tolerable) in New York but might be pretty shocking in other places.” The Times Magazine, he said, featured photo essays of “models who look like they’re preparing to murder (or be murdered), and others arrayed in a mode you could call dominatrix chic.” In the Sunday Style section, he found “gay wedding announcements, of course, but also downtown sex clubs and T-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘I’m afraid of Americans.’ . . . The front page of the Metro section has featured a long piece best described by its subheadline, ‘Cross-Dressers Gladly Pay to Get in Touch with Their Feminine Side.’ ”

Okrent acknowledged that a newspaper has the right to decide what’s important and what’s not, but stipulated that some readers will think, “This does not represent me or my interests. In fact, it represents my enemy.” He finished his controversial meditation: “It’s one thing to make the paper’s pages a congenial home for editorial polemicists, conceptual artists, the fashion-forward, or other like-minded souls (European papers, aligned with specific political parties, have been doing it for centuries), and quite another to tell only the side of the story your co-religionists wish to hear.” For those with a different worldview than the one that dominates the Times, the paper must necessarily seem “like an alien beast.”

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the publisher, responded to a query from Okrent by saying that he preferred to call the paper’s viewpoint “urban.” The tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment that the Times occupies meant that “We’re less easily shocked,” Sulzberger said. He maintained that the paper reflected “a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility.” But the cat was out of the bag. An authoritative voice at the Times had said, in effect, that the paper’s views—especially in matters of culture—were characterized by moral relativism and a celebration of the transgressive over traditional American norms and values.

I love that line that “We’re less easily shocked,” and all of its inherent hubris. Particularly since it’s been obvious for years that the sensibilities of those who inhabit the offices of the Times cause them to get the vapors at the slightest offense. For well over a century, the goal of bohemian modern art was “épater le bourgeois” — shocking the bourgeois — but as David Brooks noted a decade ago (before he became a would-be presidential fashion critic), today’s wannabe bohemians are the bourgeois. The average person who drops in on the Museum of Modern Art is rather jaded these days when he views the output of this week’s newest would-be Mapplethorpe, but look at how easy it is to shock the left:

Ad nauseum, as the cocooned, politically correct, metropolitan environment that the Times and its core readers inhabit means that they’re endlessly shocked — and by just about everything and everyone that exists in the land that they grudgingly acknowledge exists between the runways of JFK and LAX to boot.

No wonder they hate you so — look at all the damage you’ve caused their nervous system!

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