On September 18, 1851, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Henry J. Raymond and Albany banker George Jones began publishing The New York Daily Times, whose name they permanently changed to The New York Times on September 14, 1857. The founders’ original intent was to publish the paper every morning except on Sundays, but during the Civil War they, like their competitors in the industry, began printing Sunday issues as well.
In a bold move in 1884, the Times decided to become a politically independent paper — discontinuing its tradition of supporting only Republican candidates for elected office (and backing Democrat Grover Cleveland in that year’s presidential election). As a result of this shift in policy, the Times initially experienced a decline in both income and circulation, but within a few years the paper had regained most of its lost readership.
In 1896, Chattanooga Times publisher Adolph Ochs acquired The New York Times and the following year he coined the paper’s well-known slogan, “All The News That’s Fit To Print.” This motto was designed to distinguish the Times from such competing publications as the New York World and the New York Journal American, which were known for their sensationalist, scandal-mongering reporting, or yellow journalism. Under Ochs’ leadership, The New York Times grew both in stature and circulation, establishing itself as a publication of international reach.
In 1904 the newspaper moved its headquarters to the Longacre Square section of 42nd Street in Manhattan, renaming the area “Times Square”; this location would become famous for its New Year’s Eve tradition (begun in 1907) of lowering a lighted ball from the top of the Times building at the stroke of midnight. In 1913 the Times relocated to its current headquarters at 229 West 43rd Street. A new skyscraper that will serve as the paper’s future base of operations is currently under construction at West 41st Street and 8th Avenue.
Today The New York Times is America’s largest metropolitan newspaper and one of the most widely read dailies in the world, with a circulation (as of 2006) of approximately 1,142,464 copies on weekdays and 1,683,855 copies on Sundays. Owned by The New York Times Company, which also owns the Boston Globe and 14 other newspapers, the Times is published in New York City by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. and is distributed internationally. It has 16 news bureaus in the New York region, 11 national news bureaus, and 26 foreign news bureaus. As of December 2005, the Times staff consisted of more than 350 full-time reporters and approximately 40 photographers, in addition to hundreds of free-lance contributors.
During the course of its history the Times has won 94 Pulitzer Prizes (including a record seven in 2002), far more than any other newspaper. These awards have sometimes been fraught with controversy, however. For example, Walter Duranty was a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Moscow correspondent in the 1930s who concealed his knowledge of Joseph Stalin‘s mass murders and other atrocities in the Soviet Union. In 1933, at the height of the Russian famine during which millions starved to death, Duranty wrote that “village makets [were] flowing with eggs, fruit, poultry, vegetables, milk and butter. … A child can see this is not famine but abundance.” According to historians, reports such as these were crucial factors influencing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to grant the Soviet Union diplomatic recognition in 1933. Writes historian Ronald Radosh, “Duranty was a propagandist for Stalin and everything he wrote was a lie.”
The Times was likewise dishonest in its reporting about the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust. Journalism professor Laura Leff, author of Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper, explains:
What did The New York Times report about the Holocaust and how did its coverage affect America’s response to the Nazi genocide?
Throughout World War II, the American media published and broadcast timely, detailed, and accurate accounts of what was happening to the Jews in Europe. The New York Times alone printed nearly 1,200 articles about what we have now come to call the Holocaust, about one every other day.
The articles in the Times and elsewhere described the propagation of anti-Semitic laws in German allied countries; death from disease and starvation of hundreds of thousands in ghettos and labor camps; mass executions in Nazi-occupied Russia; and mass gassings in Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek. The articles also indicated that these were not isolated incidents, but part of a systematic campaign to kill all the Jews in Europe.
And yet, at the end of the war and for decades afterward, Americans claimed they did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening. How was it possible for so much information to be available in the mass media and yet simultaneously for the public to be ignorant?
The reason is that the American media in general and the New York Times in particular never treated the Holocaust as an important news story. From the start of the war in Europe to its end nearly six years later, the story of the Holocaust made the Times front page only 26 times out of 24,000 front-page stories, and most of those stories referred to the victims as “refugees” or “persecuted minorities.” In only six of those stories were Jews identified on page one as the primary victims.
Nor did the story lead the paper, appearing in the right-hand column reserved for the day’s most important news – not even when the concentration camps were liberated at the end of the war. In addition, the Times intermittently and timidly editorialized about the extermination of the Jews, and the paper rarely highlighted it in either the Week in Review or the magazine section.
What kept American journalists from recognizing the significance of the systematic murder of six million people? Worldwide carnage on an unprecedented scale helped obscure the Jews’ plight. There was also skepticism bred by fake atrocity reports during the previous world war. The Roosevelt Administration’s determination to downplay the news also contributed to the subdued coverage. But the media had enough credible information to treat the news of the extermination of the Jews as important. And the New York Times played a critical role in why it didn’t.
For no American news organization was better positioned to highlight the Holocaust than the Times, and no American news organization so influenced public discourse by its failure to do so.
Because of its longtime commitment to international affairs, its willingness to sacrifice advertising rather than articles in the face of a newsprint crunch, and its substantial Jewish readership, the Times was able to obtain and publish more news about what was happening to the Jews than other mainstream newspapers. In addition, Jews of German descent owned the Times and thus knew the fate of family members, some of whom they sponsored to immigrate to the States, some of whom they didn’t. The family’s deep, if not always amicable involvement with the American Jewish community also led the Times to learn much about the Jews’ situation.
So the New York Times was less likely than other news organizations to miss what was happening to the Jews. But it was also more likely to dismiss its significance. Fearful of accusations of special pleading or dual loyalties, the newspaper hesitated to highlight the news. In addition, the newspaper’s Jewish publisher believed that Jews were neither a racial nor ethnic group, and therefore should not be identified as Jews for any other than religious reasons. He also believed that Americans would only want to help Jews if their cause was melded with that of other persecuted people. He therefore ensured that his paper universalized the Nazis’ victims in editorials and on the front page.
The result: The New York Times was in touch with European Jews’ suffering, which accounts for its 1,000-plus stories on the Final Solution’s steady progress. Yet, it deliberately de-emphasized the Holocaust news, reporting it in isolated, inside stories. The few hundred words about the Nazi genocide the Times published every couple days were hard to find amidst a million other words in the newspaper. Times readers could legitimately have claimed not to have known, or at least not to have understood, what was happening to the Jews.
The Times’s judgment that the murder of millions of Jews was a relatively unimportant story also reverberated among other journalists trying to assess the news, among Jewish groups trying to arouse public opinion, and among government leaders trying to decide on an American response. It partly explains the general apathy and inaction that greeted the news of the Holocaust….
Controversy also surrounded a December 16, 2005 Times article revealing leaked information that President Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to conduct wiretaps of certain international telephone conversations between suspected terrorists in the U.S. and others abroad without first obtaining court warrants for the surveillance. Critics of the policy charged that such wiretapping was unconstitutional and in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. Supporters of the measure held that it was both a crucial and legally permissible counter-intelligence tool, and that the Times’ disclosure of the secret program amounted to treason. The reporters who brought the story to light, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, were awarded Pulitzer Prizes in 2006.
Another controversy of recent times involved Jayson Blair, who was fired from his job as a New York Times reporter in May 2003 when it was learned that he had committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud. Blair had concocted, in part or whole, many of the 600-plus stories he had worked on at the Times — fabricating_ quotes _and events, and lifting material from other newspapers and wire services. The paper’s top two editors — Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd — resigned their posts following the revelations about Blair.
On August 25, 2012, Arthur Brisbane, who was stepping down from his post as the Times‘ public editor, wrote a final column in which he acknowledged the paper’s leftwing bias:
“[The Times] is powerfully shaped by a culture of like minds — a phenomenon, I believe, that is more easily recognized from without than from within. When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times. As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects…. [A] kind of Times Nation has formed around the paper’s political-cultural worldview, an audience unbound by geography (as distinct from the old days of print) and one that self-selects in digital space. It’s a huge success story — it is hard to argue with the enormous size of Times Nation — but one that carries risk as well. A just-released Pew Research Center survey found that The Times’s ‘believability rating’ had dropped drastically among Republicans compared with Democrats, and was an almost-perfect mirror opposite of Fox News’s rating. Can that be good?”
In August 2019 the Times, in response to angry complaints from its left-leaning readers (including numerous high-profile Democratic politicians) who were furious that the paper did not openly call Trump a “racist,” changed a Page One headline for a news story about President Donald Trump’s official remarks about a deadly mass shooting in El Paso from “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” to “Assailing Hate, but Not Guns.”
According to a leaked transcript of a town hall meeting of Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and staffers of the paper later that month, Baquet said at the meeting that openly labeling the president a racist would be less politically effective than implying or demonstrating that he was a racist. Moreover, Baquet addressed the Times’ strategy going forward. Noting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s recently completed 22-month investigation on the now-discredited Trump-Russia collusion narrative had left the Times “a little tiny bit flat-footed,” Baquet said: “Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, ‘Holy s–t, Bob Mueller is not going to do it.’ And Donald Trump got a little emboldened politically, I think. Because, you know, for obvious reasons. And I think that the story changed. A lot of the stuff we’re talking about started to emerge like six or seven weeks ago.”
That new “stuff” would be a relentless focus on race and racism. In the transcript of the meeting, one anonymous Times staffer said: “I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.”
Baquet responded by saying that “race in the next year is going to be a huge part of the American story,” and that the Times would address it by way of its newly launched “1619 Project,” which identifies the arrival of African slaves in the British colony of Virginia as the real birth a a nation conceived in sin. The Times describes this project as follows: “The 1619 Project is a major initiative from The New York Times observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.”
In August 2019, Breitbart News revealed that Tom Wright-Piersanti, who had been a Senior Staff Editor at the New York Times for more than five years, had posted numerous racist, anti-Semitic, and vulgar comments to his Twitter account in years past. For example:
In September 2019, the Times printed an article about a newly published book about Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s 2018 Supreme Court nominee. That piece – written by the book’s authors, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly – noted that the book, titled The Education of Brett Kavanaugh, discussed allegations in which a woman named Deborah Ramirez, who had been a Yale University classmate of Kavanaugh more than 30 years earlier, claimed that a drunken Kavanaugh had once exposed his penis to her during a campus party. The article further reported that another “former classmate,” Max Stier, claimed to have personally witnessed the incident in question. But the article never mentioned Stier’s deep ties to the Democratic Party – most notably, he had worked for President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, while Kavanaugh was a member of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr’s investigative team which looked into Clinton’s misconduct in office. Nor did the article mention that Ramirez had refused to be interviewed about the alleged incident; that all three of the friends whom she had identified as witnesses steadfastly maintained that it never occurred; and that all three friends had stated that not even Ramirez herself could recall the incident.
On June 3, 2020, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas published an op-ed in The New York Times with the headline “Send In the Troops.” It was Cotton’s perspective on the violent riots and looting that had been raging in the nation’s capital and other major cities across the United States — all in response to the recent death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man who had died after being physically abused by a white police officer. Specifically, Senator Cotton made the case for using overwhelming force to suppress the mayhem. He made it clear that he was not talking about “the majority who seek to protest peacefully.” He focused his concerns on the criminals “simply out for loot and the thrill of destruction” and the “left-wing radicals like antifa.” Senator Cotton suggested deploying military forces under the Insurrection Act in those circumstances where local officials were unable to cope with the violence and adequately protect their own communities.
Hours after Senator Cotton’s op-ed was published, New York Times staffers offended by the senator’s point of view tweeted, “Running this puts Black @NYTimes staff in danger.”
At first, publisher A.G. Sulzberger defended the decision to publish Senator Cotton’s article. “I believe in the principle of openness to a range of opinions, even those we may disagree with, and this piece was published in that spirit,” Sulzberger wrote in an email to the staff on June 4. But Sulzberger quickly folded under pressure from the Times’ staffers. He told attendees at a virtual staff town hall held on June 5 that the op-ed was “contemptuous,” and he blamed “a significant breakdown in our editing processes.” The editorial page editor, James Bennet, resigned on June 7 after first defending the decision to publish the op-ed and then reversing himself.
The New York Times’ mea culpa declared that Senator Cotton’s op-ed “should not have been published.” The editors lamented that “the tone of the essay in places is needlessly harsh and falls short of the thoughtful approach that advances useful debate.” They faulted themselves for failing “to offer appropriate additional context — either in the text or the presentation — that could have helped readers place Senator Cotton’s views within a larger framework of debate.”
Harvard-trained attorney Joseph Klein pointed out the hypocrisy of the Times‘ position, writing:
The Times’ double standard is sickening.
Where was the “additional context” that could have been offered to readers in connection with the New York Times’ publication of an op-ed article by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the terrorist group Taliban? “I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop,” wrote the terrorist whose militants continue to kill and maim. The Times’ readers would have benefited from some context about this terrorist’s murderous past.
Where was the “additional context” that could have been offered to readers in connection with the New York Times’ publication of an op-ed article by Turkey’s dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan? This Islamist with designs to revive the Ottoman empire wrote, “Turkey proposes a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the root causes of radicalization.” The Times might have reminded its readers, as context for assessing Erdogan’s credibility, that Erdogan’s thugs had violently assaulted protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington D.C. two years prior to his op-ed article. It might also have helped for readers to know, as they perused Erdogan’s op-ed, that his regime has one of the world’s worst records on jailing journalists.
Op-eds by a terrorist and a dictator apparently met the New York Times’ standards for publication, but not an op-ed by a conservative United States senator. The Times has also published op-eds and its own editorials that unreservedly praised the Black Lives Matter movement. No “additional context” was provided.
For example, a New York Times editorial back in 2015 entitled “The Truth of ‘Black Lives Matter’” falsely depicted the Black Lives Matter movement as a group of perfectly innocent protesters airing their grievances in the tradition of past civil rights movements and made excuses for its racially exclusive motto. In 2016, the Times ran an article entitled “Why ‘All Lives Matter’ Is Such a Perilous Phrase.”
A staff writer at The New York Times Magazine wrote on June 5th that Black Lives Matter is “America’s current incarnation of a civil rights movement.” The author, Jenna Wortham, rhapsodized, “This is the biggest collective demonstration of civil unrest around state violence in our generation’s memory. The unifying theme, for the first time in America’s history, is at last: Black Lives Matter.” Her article was entitled “A ‘Glorious Poetic Rage.’” This was the phrase an activist involved with Black Lives Matter in Minnesota used to describe how the third day of protests in that city felt “when a police station house was lit on fire.”
During the first weekend of July 2020, The Times devoted its entire “Sunday Review” section to an economic manifesto titled “The Economy We Need,” calling for: (a) banks to apologize for “structural racism”; (b) the enactment of an Amendment enshrining “voter equality”; (c) wealthy Americans to “give up your privilege.” The manifesto focused on redressing economic inequality — not economic growth or job creation — as America’s main economic challenge. Toward that end, the lead editorial called for the Federal Reserve to target black unemployment only, instead of overall unemployment, and for banks to pay reparations. It also demanded that: (a) banks “apologize for their culpability for and complicity in structural racism” and “commit to serving black people as they do whites”; (b) consumer debt should be cancelled; (c) banking fees be eliminated for black customers; and (d) black homebuyers and businesses be awarded interest-free mortgages and loans.
In July 2020, Times editor Bari Weiss resigned from her position at the paper and posted a resignation letter to Times publisher A. G. Sulzberger on her own website. Her letter about the breathtakingly irresponsible and dishonest direction that the Times‘s reporting had taken in recent years, created a firestorm in the media. Below are excerpts from the letter:
It is with sadness that I write to tell you that I am resigning from The New York Times.
I joined the paper with gratitude and optimism three years ago. I was hired with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages: first-time writers, centrists, conservatives and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home. The reason for this effort was clear: The paper’s failure to anticipate the outcome of the 2016 election meant that it didn’t have a firm grasp of the country it covers…. I was honored to be part of that effort….
But the lessons that ought to have followed the election—lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.
Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions….
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.
There are terms for all of this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge. I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.
I do not understand how you have allowed this kind of behavior to go on inside your company in full view of the paper’s entire staff and the public. And I certainly can’t square how you and other Times leaders have stood by while simultaneously praising me in private for my courage. Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.
Part of me wishes I could say that my experience was unique. But the truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times. Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world? And so self-censorship has become the norm.
What rules that remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity. If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets.
Op-eds that would have easily been published just two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble, if not fired. If a piece is perceived as likely to inspire backlash internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it. If she feels strongly enough to suggest it, she is quickly steered to safer ground. And if, every now and then, she succeeds in getting a piece published that does not explicitly promote progressive causes, it happens only after every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated….
The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people. This is a galaxy in which, to choose just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program is lauded for its “diversity”; the doxxing of teenagers in the name of justice is condoned; and the worst caste systems in human history includes the United States alongside Nazi Germany.
Even now, I am confident that most people at The Times do not hold these views. Yet they are cowed by those who do. Why? Perhaps because they believe the ultimate goal is righteous. Perhaps because they believe that they will be granted protection if they nod along as the coin of our realm—language—is degraded in service to an ever-shifting laundry list of right causes. Perhaps because there are millions of unemployed people in this country and they feel lucky to have a job in a contracting industry.
Or perhaps it is because they know that, nowadays, standing up for principle at the paper does not win plaudits. It puts a target on your back. Too wise to post on Slack, they write to me privately about the “new McCarthyism” that has taken root at the paper of record.
All this bodes ill, especially for independent-minded young writers and editors paying close attention to what they’ll have to do to advance in their careers. Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually, the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry….
I can no longer do the work that you brought me here to do—the work that Adolph Ochs described in that famous 1896 statement: “to make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”
Ochs’s idea is one of the best I’ve encountered. And I’ve always comforted myself with the notion that the best ideas win out. But ideas cannot win on their own. They need a voice. They need a hearing. Above all, they must be backed by people willing to live by them.
In March 2021 — just hours after Congress had passed the $1.9 trillion “COVID relief” bill — The New York Times published an op-ed by Rachel Cohen which stated that while the coronavirus pandemic was a “nightmare,” it was something to be celebrated because it had “made the radical possible”:
“Last spring, as a poorly understood virus swept the planet, something remarkable happened: Across the country, all levels of government put in place policies that just a few months earlier would have been seen by most people — not to mention most politicians — as radical and politically naïve. Nearly 70 percent of states ordered bans on utility shut-offs, and more than half did so for evictions. Mayors authorized car-free streets to make cities safer for pedestrians, and the federal government nearly tripled the average unemployment benefit. Within weeks, states eliminated extortionist medical co-pays for prisoners and scrapped bail. New Jersey passed a bill that released more than 2,200 incarcerated people all at once.… It is essential we get the word out on what has been accomplished as a result of this crisis and what our government still can do, and to remember what grass-roots activists understand deeply: Whether anything happens at all is largely up to us.”
The New York Times’ current Executive Editor is Dean Baquet, who succeeded Jill Abramson (2011-14), Bill Keller (2003-11), and Howell Raines (2001-03). The paper’s op-ed columnists include David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Thomas L. Friedman, Bob Herbert, Nicholas D. Kristof, Paul Krugman, and Frank Rich.
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