17 Jul 2008

American Habit: Hating the New York Times

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Matt Pressman at Vanity Fair explores the many ways in which Americans hate the New York Times.

It’s such a given in the media business that few even stop to notice it: people love to hate The New York Times. They read the paper every day, and seemingly could not function without it, yet they never tire of, and often seem to delight in, pointing out its errors, biases, and various other real and imagined shortcomings. They’re a bit like the callers on sports talk radio—hopelessly devoted to an institution, but wanting nothing more than to voice their (often very loud) opinion about how awful and disappointing it is. …

The most commonly cited explanation was that same nagging emotion that makes the French love to hate America and computer geeks love to hate Microsoft: envy and resentment. “The Times is the coxswain, the one setting the pace for the entire culture,” Jonah Goldberg says. “Sociologically, it just matters more.” (“Ideologically, it drives me fucking bonkers,” Goldberg couldn’t resist adding.) “It occupies a position that no other newspaper does,” adds Alex Pareene. “So you get more offended when they’re using that platform to promote David Brooks or something.”

Then there’s the question of the paper’s attitude. “Almost in inverse proportion to its own survivability, The New York Times becomes more and more holier-than-thou,” says Michael Wolff. “You’ve lost your way journalistically, you’ve lost your way from a business standpoint, you’ve lost your way from an authoritative standpoint, and yet you are still so holier-than-thou.”

Goldberg echoes Wolff’s complaint, saying, “The idea that ‘we’re not part of that club’ feeds a sort of resentment on both the left and the right.” Goldberg says, among his conservative brethren, the paper’s offenses occasion “an eye-rolling thing—there they go again.” But when the Times “screws the left,” he says, “it feels like a matter of betrayal. So, in some ways the rage is much more intense.” …

Wolff, it’s fair to say, has stopped expecting better. “Once, it mattered. Once, it set an agenda,” he says of the Times. “But it’s like a time delay: We know you’re over with, but you don’t know it, and you’re still here, so die! Let’s not put a fine point on it. They don’t do anything right. Their journalism is not good, their view of the world is not correct.”

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