Why has The New York Times abandoned its commitment to journalism ‘without fear or favour,’ covering this presidential election?
Why is Donald Trump’s non-existent following in Silicon Valley worth a story near the top of the home page of The New York Times — a report in which readers had to scroll down to its 11th paragraph to read the infinitely more remarkable news that Bernie Sanders has collected more than twice as much gold in donations from technology workers across the U.S. than Trump and Hillary Clinton put together?
According to estimates taken from Crowdpac, Trump campaign contributions from a grand total of 52 donors in this segment do not appear to have scraped even $20,000, compared with $2.7 million for Clinton and $6 million for Sanders. The headline for the bizarre NYT piece was just below the masthead when we popped in at the site last Wednesday night.
There was worse to come. Anyone who revisited the online NYT on Friday afternoon would have found no mention at all of the extraordinary backing for Sanders among the techie intelligentsia in an opinion piece by the veteran NYT reporter, Timothy Egan, illustrated with a picture of a supporter carrying a gigantic, clownish, papier-mâché model of Bernie’s head. The dateline for this screed titled ‘Bernie’s Last Stand’? Disneyland. And how did it characterise Sanders supporters? As virtual clowns:
Rumbling and roaring his way across California, Senator Bernie Sanders brought his political revolution to the neighborhood of Goofy and Mickey. […] Sanders … made his point about the great economic disparity in American life. His rallies in California — nearly two dozen in all — have drawn the expected crowds: young white Bernie bros in man buns, aging lefties in mildly subversive T-shirts — but also a fair amount of Hispanics and curious political neophytes. […] The Bern has been felt, the establishment rattled. Voters are decrying a “rigged economy” run by 1-percenters. Time to go back to Vermont, resuming the virtual anonymity that has characterized his quarter-century in Congress.
That is not merely partisan. It verges on vicious, not to mention contemptuous.
Call us naïve, but we confess to being shocked to the marrow by this newspaper smashing any illusion of a continuation of the grand old ideal for the practice of journalism ‘without fear or favour’ famously espoused by one of its own proprietors, in 1896. In hunting for the original declaration by that proprietor, we found the NYT all but disowning any connection to it last August — in a teasing attack on a reporter for the rabidly partisan Fox news network. Any idealist would read as a depressing exercise in revisionism what the story supplied — a sort of explanation for the elimination of an inscription of that quotation beside a statue of the newspaper baron in the lobby of the paper’s offices. It began:
Political madness has surely gripped the nation when a Fox News journalist publicly embraces a 119-year-old guiding principle of The New York Times, as Megyn Kelly did this week by vowing — Donald Trump’s taunts notwithstanding — to “continue doing my job without fear or favor.”
The piece concluded with this sentence: ‘But we still try to abide by Mr. Ochs’s principles.’ Only a Witless Wonder following the big New York paper’s coverage of this year’s presidential election could possibly believe that. Something has changed profoundly at the so-called ‘Gray Lady,’ long viewed by many as America’s sober, irreproachable journal of record — and not for the better.
Googling ‘Bernie Sanders Silicon Valley’ in the small hours of Friday morning yielded a string of headlines like the right-wing Wall Street Journal’s ‘Bernie Sanders Out-Raises Hillary Clinton in Silicon Valley’ and Newsweek’s ‘Who’s Silicon Valley Backing for President?’ with a lot of similar titles on all-digital media sites across the political spectrum. But certainly on Google’s first page of search results, on which any NYT story tends to rank high, there was nothing comparable from that paper. Nothing at all, in fact.
Most dismaying about the NYT’s decision to focus on Trump, not Sanders, in reporting on technology workers’ affiliations, is that the actual story is a good reporter’s or columnist’s dream. It is a paradox of marvellous depth, an as-yet unsolved mystery. Silicon Valley has been singled out for near-universal condemnation — not least, on this blink-and-you-miss-it post-Gutenberg blog — for its seeming callousness and unconcern about extreme, live illustrations of the growing social inequality crisis on its own doorstep. As Gawker.com has also noticed, the techies’ support of Sanders contradicts the Valley’s reputation as a stronghold of libertarian don’t-know-don’t care-about-the-less-fortunate and don’t-you-dare-tax-my-millions-for-government politics. We drew attention last August to the contradiction between this pegging and a statement by Sundar Pichai, the new head of Google, in an interview with a German journalist a few months before his appointment:
The thing that attracted me to Google and to [the] internet in general is that it’s a great equalizer. I’ve always been struck by the fact that Google search worked the same as long as you had access to a computer with connectivity, [whether] you were a rural kid anywhere or a professor at Stanford or Harvard.
Referring to the signs of clear approval, at the northern limit of the region, for the Vermont senator’s focus on income inequality — in spite of the growing tension, for years, between filthy rich techies and the poorer residents of San Francisco — Gawker’s Brendan O’Connor threw up his hands in obvious bafflement:
This is a little bit of an odd thing to say, however, as it is those very Silicon Valley workers who have contributed to said tensions. But! The world is a complicated place.
Over to you, New York Times: how about a spin-free analysis of this question from your army of Silicon Valley reporters and analysts? Seize the chance to prove your claims this very week that old print media capable of thorough, old-fashioned reporting deserve special privileges and protection?