Ed Driscoll

Newspaper That Traps Its Readers in Self-Reinforcing Discourse Attacks Scalia for Choosing 'Self-Reinforcing Discourse'


Dispatches from deep inside the liberal cocoon, from “inside The New York Times – where they like to believe they’re not insular, even though their idea of a fierce conservative is David Brooks* – media columnist David Carr is carping about Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s interview where he said he doesn’t read the Times or The Washington Post,” Tim Graham writes at Newsbusters:

Scalia proved “that the tendency to limit one’s sources of information to avoid dissonance is not the province of a bunch of narrow-minded, politically obsessed characters who send mass e-mails from their mother’s basement.” No, Carr believes Washington is suffering from “gerrymandered news” at the extremes:

Political analysts trying to explain the current standoff in Washington are quick to point to redistricting as helping to foster ideological extremism in Congress. Representatives have been skillfully gerrymandered into safe districts of like minds where they can do as they please, listening only to reflections of their own thinking without fear of political consequence.

But given that politics in its current form is threatening to produce a crisis that threatens to create financial mayhem on a global scale — while striking one more blow against claims of American “greatness” — perhaps something more complicated than sketching out voting districts is at play. The polarized political map is now accompanied by a media ecosystem that is equally gerrymandered into districts of self-reinforcing discourse. Justice Scalia and millions of news consumers select and assemble a worldview from sources that may please them, but rarely challenge them….

The village common — you know, that place where we all meet to discuss our problems, relying on the same set of facts — has shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, surrounded by the huge gated communities of like minds who never venture into the great beyond.

This can sound like self-interested pleading: “How can you possibly tell people you don’t read The New York Times?” Obviously, Scalia spends large chunks of his day reading the arguments of liberal justices, lawyers, and law clerks, so he’s hardly closed off from the liberal mind. He doesn’t need Maureen Dowd twaddle to deepen his intellect.

It’s awfully rich of David Carr to attack Justice Scalia for avoiding the New York Times, when in 2011, in an appearance on Bill Maher’s Time-Warner-CNN-HBO TV series, Carr did his best to turn away potential readers with this outburst:

“If it’s Kansas, Missouri, no big deal. You know, that’s the dance of the low-sloping foreheads. The middle places, right? …Did I just say that aloud?”

Why yes you did. That same year, Bill Keller, nearing the end of his tenure as executive editor of the Times, wrote:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

Rick Santorum is a Catholic. Michelle Bachmann is a Lutheran. These are “fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity?”

Regarding Mitt Romney’s faith, last year Charles Blow, an opinion columnist with the Times, infamously tweeted:

And this past year, the Times’ anti-religious biases caused it to virtually ignore the Kermit Gosnell trial, to the point where even Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, wrote:

The behavior of news organizations often owes more to chaos theory than conspiracy theory. I don’t think that editors and reporters got together and decided not to give the Gosnell trial a lot of attention because it would highlight the evils of abortion.

I do think that it wasn’t on their radar screen–and that it should have been. The murders of seven newborn babies, done so horrifically, would be no ordinary crime. Any suggestion, including mine on Friday, that this is just another murder trial is a miscalculation. And it’s certainly possible that journalists who were more in touch with conservative voices and causes would have picked up on the importance of this trial sooner.

If you take your religious faith seriously, why should you read the New York Times? If you’re someone who hasn’t fully drunk the Obama Kool-Aid, why should you read the Times? As the paper becomes both increasingly open regarding its bias to the left, and increasingly out there with what it does with it, Scalia joins an ever-growing circle of influential conservatives who have abandoned the Gray Lady, as Jay Nordlinger wrote at National Review nearly a decade ago:

Michael Barone, the all-knowing Washington political journalist, stopped reading the Times in August 2002. (Like many ex-Times readers, however, he still sees the occasional article on the web, or checks in with a preferred columnist.) Barone finds that he is saving a lot of time. He also finds that he is on a surer news footing: Too many of the Times’s stories were questionable, “and I thought, ‘I have to go on television, I have to be accurate, and this isn’t helping.’”

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It will probably not surprise his critics that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t read the Times; he hasn’t “for a couple of years.” First, “there is no longer enough difference between the editorial pages and the news pages, particularly the front page.” Second, “I found myself questioning the accuracy of the paper based on my own knowledge. I too often wondered, ‘Hmmm—is that true?’” Third, “the New York Times is just one of many nearly identical components of the mainstream media. The point is, I know what I’m going to see or hear anywhere in the mainstream media. They are all a giant cliché now. I know them like I know my whole naked body, not just the back of my hand.”

What about the fear that, if you don’t read the Times, you’ll miss out on some “national conversation”? Among the scoffers is Peter Kirsanow, a Bush-appointed member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission: “I’ve gone long, blissful stretches without reading the Times and have found that during such periods I remain as well informed as when I read it regularly — but without the residual anger, anxiety, and irritability. Since reading the Times is not mandatory where I live — in the mid-Atlantic states — even among the elites — I’m not viewed as illiterate simply because my conversation for the day hasn’t been directed by R. W. Apple or Maureen Dowd.”

Speaking of the sticks: Sometime in the mid-1990s, the Times wrote a blistering editorial about Jesse Helms. The senator’s new, eager press secretary quickly drafted a letter to the editor, and took it in to the senator. Helms, of course, had not seen the editorial. He glanced at the letter and said, “That’s nice, son. Do whatever you want with it. But understand something: I don’t care what the New York Times says about me, and no one I care about cares what the New York Times says about me.” Therein lay some of the senator’s power.

Aside from bias, partisanship, pomposity, or other defects, some just find the paper dull. The southern (and decidedly un-dull) writer Dave Shiflett says, “I still read the Times, but not like I used to. It’s simply a bore most days, despite its evangelical political mission, which should at least liven up its prose. No such luck. A dull evangelist is easy to ignore, especially when there are so many vibrant news sources available. There’s simply nothing special about the Times, or at least special enough to warrant a wade through what is, on a daily basis, the flattest selection of prose published anywhere outside the State Department.”

Hilton Kramer, editor of The New Criterion — and for 17 years a top critic at the Times — once made a quip about Max Frankel, editor of the Times from 1986 to 1994: “He gave New Yorkers their Sundays back” — so dull (in this view) had that behemoth become.

Heh. As the Times’ writers become increasingly more vitriolic and insular, the paper has inadvertently given lots of Americans their Sundays back, and the rest of the week as well. Why shouldn’t Justice Scalia join them?

* Who recently described Texas Senator Ted Cruz as “the Senator from Canada,” perhaps the only time a representative of the Gray Lady has ever referred to the 49th Parallel in a pejorative sense.