The New York Times is fascinating in how closely it mirrors American liberalism - both in its politics and in its intellectual evolution. Like the American left, the Times has moved from the intellectual and patriotic liberalism of Jack Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan to the politically correct, post-American leftism that dominates what today we call "liberalism" - a term now completely unmoored from its etymology.
That's the argument made by veteran journalist Bill McGowan, a former Times freelancer and long-time Times reader in his new book "Gray Lady Down," elaborated on the Times's political evolution in a recent interview with Ed Driscoll of Pajamas Media.
"At a certain point," McGowan told Driscoll in discussing the Times's 1960s-style, counter-cultural skew, "you just have to say, this is not reporting. This is propagandizing."
Due chiefly to the Times's neo-leftist style, McGowan argues, "we've been extremely ill-served" by the paper since the September 11 terrorist attacks - arguably the event that most cogently characterized the beginning of the new millennium, and an event that simultaneously crystallized and challenged America's national identity.
I set up a duality on the epigraph page, where I have a quote from 1972 from Bill Buckley and National Review, and he says "were the news standards of the Times more broadly emulated, the media culture would be more honest and the nation at large would be served more honorably."
Flash forward to 2004, when Dan Okrent wrote that piece, and I quoted just part of that piece, saying, Okrent said: "if you believe the Times is running down the middle on divisive social issues, you've been reading the paper with your eyes closed."
And he got into all of the kind of oppositionalist, counter-culturalist, transgressive kinds of coverage that clearly, almost beyond - I mean it's not even classical liberalism in the sense of an economic agenda, it's counter-culturalism in the sense of doing stories ad nauseum of gay marriage, of various people who are thumbing their noses at the bourgeoisie, you know, it's like salt in the eye every day. They're looking for more and more examples of the family that is deconstructed, of the community that is no longer Ozzy and Harriet, and, you know, at a certain point you just have to say, this is not reporting. This is propagandizing.
By September 11, 2001, the Times had already established itself as the standard-bearer not for anti-Americanism, per se, but for what McGowan calls "counter-cultural antagonism towards the idea of America." That idea faced a serious global challenger - in transnational Islamo-fascism - for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Times was no longer up to the task of defending it.
They had some fine, fine months right after 9/11 putting everything together. They won Pulitzers for it, and they deserved them. But very quickly, they lapsed back into their mode of not wanting to march along with the Bush administration, even though they criticized the Bush administration for not doing enough.
When the Bush administration did rally and implement tools that were specifically designed to root out potential sleeper cells, the Times immediately took a page from the ACLU handbook and started complaining about racial profiling, about Islamophobia, about the onset of a police state, all these screeching, overarching, overly-frightened accusations, that were kind of a drag on trying to cope with a deeply, deeply unsettling and chaotic condition.
The Times's "punitive liberalism" has also severely damaged the quality of their product, McGowan argues. He cites the case of the Duke University lacrosse players who were falsely accused of rape.
The Times just...pushed a crusade against these kids because it seemed to feed a racial script of white oppression and black victimization. And it wound up blowing up in their faces when it was discovered that the woman was a liar, that there was no DNA evidence, and there was never an apology to these kids. I think they should have sued for slander.
McGowan sums up his attitude towards the Times by comparing its ideological evolution to that of the Democratic Party:
I am actually a fan of the Times, I've read it since I was in 6th grade... I've written for it, I was published very prominently early in my career, and I think I feel the way that a lot of conservative Democrats feel about the Democratic Party.