will often complain that readers donít properly understand the
distinction between editorialists and reporters. To be fair, itís often
quite difficult to tell. Thatís not only because of bias in coverage or
because the Internet has largely wiped away the compartmentalization of
the traditional paper, but because reporters now regularly give their
opinions on TV, write ďanalysisĒ pieces, and make their ideological
preferences clear on social media. Many news outlets ó†The Daily Beast,
BuzzFeed, etc. ó openly report from a left-wing perspective.
not sure if this kind of transparency is necessarily a bad thing, but
whatever the case, an editorial board is still run separately from the
newspaper. It offers arguments regarding public policy and culture.
Ideally, it publishes op-ed columns by an array of voices with varying
points of view, occasionally even challenging its readers. When I was a
member of an editorial board, our mission, at least as I saw it, was to
offer rigorous, good-faith arguments for whatever point of view we were
taking. I never once consulted anyone in the newsroom.
In his botched sting on The Washington Post
this week, for instance,† James OíKeefe demonstrated just how easy it
is to either confuse the editorial board with the newsroom or to
manipulate readers to confuse them.†At some point, however, it also
becomes the paperís fault, as well. What happens when an editorial board
goes beyond arguing for liberal positions and debating policy to
actively politicking for one party?† Thereís a big difference between
political discourse and partisan activism.
This week,†The New York Times
editorial board took over the paperís opinion Twitter account, which
has around 650,000 followers, ďto urge the Senate to reject a tax bill
that hurts the middle class & the nationís fiscal health.Ē By urging
the Senate, it meant sending out the phone number of moderate
Republican Sen. Susan Collins and imploring followers to call her. In
others words, the board was indistinguishable from any of the
well-funded partisan groups it whines about in editorials all the time.
(202) 224-2523, particularly if you live in Maine, and ask her to
oppose the Senate tax bill because it would repeal Obamacareís
individual mandate, driving up the cost of health insurance. #thetaxbillhurts pic.twitter.com/id69OJ4CPC
ó NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) November 29, 2017
Iím forgetting instances of similar politicking, but I donít think Iíve
ever seen a major newspaper engage in the kind of partisan activism The New York Times is involved in right nowónot even on an editorial page. The Timesí
editorial board isnít saying, ďBoy, that Republican bill is going to
kill children,Ē itís imploring people on social media ó most of whom
donít even subscribe to their paper or live in Maine ó to inundate a
senator with calls to sink a tax reform they dislike. (Itís worth
pointing out that most of the hyperbolic contentions the board makes
regarding the bill are untrue or misleading, but thatís another story.)
average news consumer doesnít care about the infrastructure of a news
organization. When they see a media giant engaged in naked partisan
campaigning, it confirms all their well-worn suspicions. You can grouse
all day long about readersí inability to comprehend the internal divide,
but how could a Republican trust The New York Timesí coverage
of a tax bill after watching the same paper not merely editorialize
against it, but run an ad that could have come from any of the proxies
of the Democratic Party?
Maybe this is just a more honest way to do business. The fact is, itís highly unlikely that The New York Times cares about enticing conservatives anymore. Like many others, the Timesí
board likely feels a moral obligation to act because they see
everything Republicans engage in as an apocalyptic event. So, like
political norms, journalistic ones fall every day on both sides.
makes this kind of activism (which is likely to be ineffective, anyway)
particularly hypocritical and distasteful, though, is that the Times
has long argued in favor of empowering the government to shut down
corporations ó just like them ó that engage in campaigning by
overturning the First Amendment via Citizens United. This is worth remembering as the board turns into the equivalent of a super PAC.