The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

There is No "Straight News" Anymore

The New York Times, once very careful about mixing news and opinion, is now an overtly partisan newspaper

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I've been reading the New York Times since fifth grade, and the quirks I've noticed over the years have been interesting. For example, until I saw that someone referred in print to Russell Baker as a "humorist," I had no idea his columns were supposed to be funny, though I had stopped reading them years earlier because they were so dull.

Anyway, the Times always had a liberal bias in its news pages, but the bias was almost entirely in what was covered and how it was covered. The stories themselves were written and edited in a careful, nonpartisan way. At some point, the Times starting to run "news analysis," which gave reporters an opportunity to shade things the way they saw them, but the readers at least knew in advance these weren't straight news stories.

Things have been slipping ever since the 2008 presidential campaign, when for the first time I thought the tone of coverage made it clear which side the reporters were on. Nevertheless, it was relatively subtle, and even during the Trump-Clinton campaign, with passions obviously very high, the Times was still a world away from NPR, whose reporting seethed with Trump-loathing.

Since 2016, the Times has faced a revolt from its staff regarding neutrality, as they believe that the Times should have gone full resistance against Trump, and its failure to do so bears responsibility for Trump's election. It's been a downhill spiral ever since, including widely reported internal meetings in which the staff made clear that it doesn't believe in "objective journalism."

All that said, after reading the Times off and on for over forty years, I did a double-take when I read this in a straight reporting story (not an op-ed, not even a "news analysis"):

The fact that an outsider like Mr. Mellon has emerged as one of the few supporters willing to be so generous illustrates a surprising problem for the president: his struggle to attract and retain a reliable stable of millionaires and billionaires willing to write seven-figure checks, despite his takeover of the Republican Party and a policy agenda that largely serves the interests of America's ultrawealthy.

This is the sort of overt opinion-stating in a news story that must have an earlier generation of news editors rolling in their graves. In one sentence, three separate opinions are expressed: (1) Implicitly but clearly, that one would expect very rich people to donate money based on what serves the interests of very rich people, not on whatever other values or opinions they might have; (2) That Trump caters to the super-rich, and not just here and there, but "largely"; and (3)That these policies in fact in practice largely serve the super-rich's interests, which contains two sub-opinions (a) that what's benefiting the super-rich isn't benefiting the rest of America; and (b) that whatever unnamed policies Trump is pursuing to help the super-rich is in fact largely serving their interests. On (b), surely some progressives would argue that Trump's tax cuts or whatever are bankrupting the country and that this will hurt all Americans in the long-run by eventually creating a budget crisis, which will in turn hurt everyone, but perhaps disproportionately those who benefit from stable capital markets, i.e., investors with large portfolios.

The sort of people who tend to big fans of the New York Times used to chortle at Fox News overtly biased news coverage. It turns out that their favorite paper is using it as a model.