New York Times ombudsman Clark Hoyt takes his own paper to task this morning over the NYT’s coverage of John McCain’s putative affair and supposed bias in favor of a lobbyist. Excuse me for going psychoanalytic, but there was something weirdly self-destructive in the newspaper’s behavior on this matter.
I cannot believe that an intelligent man like Bill Keller was entirely unaware that most people would be repelled by the thin gruel his paper published – even though he evinced astonishment at the huge number of negative comments, including many from Obama supporters, that appeared on their website. Others may say he and his fellow editors were just unconscious of the way people think, but I am not convinced. As evidence I offer the simple fact that they were for months reluctant to publish. Was the imminence of The New Republic story on the inside deliberations at The Times the trigger? Maybe partly. But again I suspect there was more to it. The New York Times is run by human beings, like everything else, who are subject to the same conflicting cocktail of motivations we all are.
The Jayson Blair affair, of course, was damaging to the paper, but I suspect the fallout here will be worse, since we are in the midst of a presidential campaign to determine the leader of the Western World. I don’t think this necessarily means any kind of shakeup in editorial staff. It means something more serious – the continued degradation of the newspaper’s already weakening reputation.
And this is a very good thing. No matter what your politics, for too many years The New York Times has had far too much power over our national discourse for one outlet. No media source should have that much authority in a democracy. We need, pardon the expression, a thousand flowers to bloom. I know Bil Keller agrees with that, because I have heard him acknowledge it. He was clearly under considerable pressure from his reporters and editors to publish this unprofessional nonsense. Why did he finally pull the trigger? I submit that he may have done so, at least in part and most likely unconsciously, to shoot himself and his own institution in the foot.