Observations On The New York Times Column Rationalizing And Justifying Liberal News Media Bias

From the New York Times media columnist, Jim Rutenberg, in a piece called “Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism”:

If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him? Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable….

…Mr. Trump’s candidacy is “extraordinary and precedent-shattering” and “to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous with readers.” t would also be an abdication of political journalism’s most solemn duty: to ferret out what the candidates will be like in the most powerful office in the world.It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.


1. The column disqualifies itself in the very first sentence. If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

How? Factually. Fairly. Objectively. Of course. What the journalist “believes” is irrelevant and inconsequential. The journalist’s job is to report facts, undistorted by what the journalist “believes” and “feels.” Doing otherwise is an abuse of position and a breach of ethics. That a Times journalist would have to ask the question reveals how arrogant and untrustworthy the field of journalism has become.

2. How is what Rutenberg describes regarding Trump any different from myriad previous examples when the news media decided it was appropriate to slant its reporting because its journalists felt their political views deserved to prevail? The mainstream media, decided to actively promote the candidacy of Barack Obama, with uncritical saturation coverage, soaring accolades, and a near total absence of skepticism. News sources, especially the Times, have minimized the significance of Obama fiascos, helped Administration cover-ups of misconduct in episodes like the IRS mistreatment of conservative groups, and blatantly lobbied for policies they “believed” in, like restricting gun ownership, same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act.

Is Rutenberg kidding? “Throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century”…does he mean the textbook of journalism ethics from which the Times developed this, its standard of fairness in its Code of Standards and Ethics…

The goal of The New York Times is to cover the news as impartially as possible — “without fear or favor,” in the words of Adolph Ochs, our patriarch — and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and others fairly and openly, and to be seen to be doing so…

that textbook? When was the last time any honest reader of sound mind could argue that the New York Times was “as impartially as possible”? How stupid and gullible does the Times think its readers are?

3. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that.” Not if you’re a competent and ethical professional, it won’t. Does a lawyer who thinks her client is guilty let the quality of her representation reflect that? Not if she has any business practicing law. If  a surgeon would be happier if a patient were dead, would that doctor withhold medical treatment? Not if the doctor follows his profession’s values. The difference is that journalists make up their ethical standards as suits their whims and biases at the moment. They are not true professionals at all.

4.Mr. Trump’s candidacy is ‘extraordinary and precedent-shattering and ‘to pretend otherwise is to be disingenuous with readers.'” This is pure rationalization…six of them, in fact. Any rule or standard can be ignored by using these handy excuses…

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

14. Self-validating Virtue

25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”

28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”

31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”

40. The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”

..and all in the service of the most corrupting standard of all: “the ends justify the means.”

5. In brief, the New York Times has told us that its reporters doing anything less than abandoning objective, non-partisan, impartial journalism would be “untenable.” The New York Times has just openly jettisoned journalism standards and ethics, as well as journalism itself, and called upon its colleagues to do the same. It has declared that rejecting integrity is integrity, and rejecting fairness is fair.

6. Somewhere, somehow, American journalism forgot that its function in a democracy is not to force-feed the public what its practitioners believe, but to inform the public thoroughly and competently so it can form its own beliefs.

If the New York Times is truly the flagship of American journalism, then American journalism is corrupt, untrustworthy, undemocratic, and dead.

35 thoughts on “Observations On The New York Times Column Rationalizing And Justifying Liberal News Media Bias

  1. The grey old lady can get lost! The problem is that ultimately journalists go by their feelings and not by the facts. Where is the evidence that Trump is a racist? So he does want to put a moratorium on Muslims coming into the the country from states that practice and promote terrorism. The president’s job as I see it is to protect the lives and freedoms of American citizens and those who were admitted legally. But no! The New York Times feels that it would discriminate against a group that cannot be effectively screened to determine terrorist connections. So we must put up with their ranting that Trump is a racist and any tactics used against him are justified.

  2. You don’t need journalistic ethics to report on things you don’t care about. It’s when you have strong feelings either way that you need to follow professional ethics, not ditch them for that very reason!

    Lost for words!

    • To clarify, I meant left wing progressive journalists who usually go by their feelings rather than the facts. Then they feel justified by attacking conservatives and others viewpoint as racist, homophobic, sexist, ad nauseaum. I don’t find these personal attacks from conservative sources so much. Maybe in the old days, demagogues like McCarthy used them but not much today.

      • You don’t see conservative bloggers routinely label their opponents as socialists, Marxists, and even secret operatives of the Muslim brotherhood? You must go to different conservative blogs than I do.

        • But in fact many of the left-leaning sorts do advocate for socialism or socialist-like policies. Beyond any doubt the political left is a Marxian-inspired movement, though it is possible — and likely — that many leftists and progressives do not have enough background to understand their own traditions. Even the most ‘folksie’ progressives of a home-grown sort like Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger have strong Marxian-Progressive links.

          That is not name-calling it is accurate description.

          Though you never enunciate your own vision I will bet a Cuban peso that you have been strongly influenced by ideas formed by people who were open Marxists.

          Now, the only name-calling mentioned here that is over the top is that of being called a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

          But isn’t it an interesting question and problem Chris? To be able to perceive accurately and to glean out of what a person says and writes what their orientation really is? I suggest we can often notice how it so often happens that we pidgeonhole people, not according to what in fact they are, but in accord with our interpretation of them? And how we force our interpetation on them?

          Interesting issue, eh? 😉

        • I think Bernie Sanders announced that he was a socialist correct? And Hillary’s current political positions sure look that way. Anyway, calling someone a homophobe or racist is a bit different and an ad hominem attack.

  3. As a kid watching “Citizen Kane” I foolishly thought yellow journalism was something from a time when Joseph Cotton was a pup. Hah. Ink-stained wretches seems applicable.

    • If I were to forward this post to my Columbia Journalism School grad buddy from college, being a true Metropolitan New York lifetime denizen and of course a Democrat Lefty, he’d say, “Of course The Times writer is right! You want Donald Trump as President?”

  4. This attitude in the journalism community has been pretty solid since before Christiane Amanpour’s statement that it was impossible to be neutral on some things. It’s just more obvious now, and confirmation bias on the part of a lot of consumers means a good chunk of the nation is going to be perfectly ok with it. I for one am having some real questions now after NYT’s publication of a letter against Trump signed by otherwise good conservative soldiers Michael Chertoff (who I have met and appeared before), Tom Ridge, and John Negroponte (who had no issue with getting his hands dirty and doing morally ambiguous things in his days overseeing our branch of the Cold War in Central America). I will still not vote for Hillary, since that would mean endorsing her constant lying, but leaving the top spot blank is increasingly solidifying as a course of action.

    • Interesting: There is now a renewed and increased examination of an entire ‘platform of perception’ about America.

      There are advantages to ‘meta-political perspectives’!

  5. Camille Paglia said something interesting: that it is the ‘Comments’ section in our periodicals that is a new medium and can be studied to gain an alternative perspective. NYTs tends to police theirs somewhat rigorously, and some they won’t publish, but in that article there are some good ones. More interesting and revealing than the article itself! Boy, there are some readers who detest the liberal bias of the NYTs! But then there is an entire faction (an army) of hyper-liberals who buttress the bias. Surely the Times knows who its audience is, and to pander to them — and survive electronically! — it must, mustn’t it?

    Just as the existing structure of ‘Conservatism’ (or is Republicanism a better term?) took a severe hit with the advent of The Wild Card Trump, so too is the edifice of the post-war interpretation of the world. If this is so, then we are in a process of major revisionism. I tend to accept the view that it is the “NY Intellectual Class’ which has taken it upon itself to define America to America, yet I am not sure if that is a completely fair statement. Do separate spheres of journalistic opinion exist in the US? Is there another region which has a distinct and different *take* on things? And what would it mean to ‘see the world aright’? And is it even possible?

    I would suggest — it likely falls on deaf ears — that the evolving perspectives of the European New Right be at least considered. One must understand that this critical approach is deeply suspicious of the NY Jewish intellectual class. What this means is a post-Holocaust interpretation of history that has been *installed* in the mental fore-structure. Just to entertain THAT idea as a possibility will be radical for many. It is something quite huge. So large it is difficult to step back enough to be able to see.

    What I notice about American politics, and of course conventional political journalism, is how *patrolled* it is. I don’t know how to express it. It seems that one must always perform *sideways and backwards and upside-down readings* on any given viewpoint or slant. If this is so, and if I am any measure of a phenomenon, what this does is to turn readers into suspicious, even paranoid, subjects of a noisy *spun* perception-system which — and everyone knows this — seeks to have its way with us. This is my basic perspective. I wonder if anyone else or if everyone else shares it?

    Ages ago I gave up having much faith at all that reading any periodical I would be provided with anything BUT a slanted perspective. A discriminating reader, in our age, must be one who reads and inverts, reads and doubts, reads and notices the tentacles of manipulation seeking entry to one’s mind.

    (Additionally, — and please excuse the opportunistic comment — since I have been writing here I have received little BUT paranoid, mal-interpretive, purposefully inverted and *spun* interpretations of what I am actually saying. This indicates (to my mind) a pre-slanted reader with a pre-established perspective of creeping hyper-liberalism. How shall that be discussed in the context of examination of ethics?)

    • It would surely be a good test for anyone on the political right, or far right, to have to describe and demonstrate that they understand how Trump could be a severe political danger (as this reader notices) while still remaining true to their political understanding.

      Similarly, a test for the left-leaning to be able to accurately see and describe Trump as a danger while simultaneously seeing and understanding why it is that he is popular and many people are willing to take such risky risks with him …

      One thing I have surely gained from my time on EA is how important *accurate description* is, and how rare. It is certainly hard to achieve but it is a honorable goal.

      • Well, to be fair. You don’t hesitate to throw out descriptions and as a person on the receiving end. I’d debate your accuracy. Accurate is one of those words that is thrown around and is essentially meaningless. What you declare to be accurate I know to be inaccurate. This stuff is opinion. Accuracy doesn’t come into it. Or, if it does, it’s by accident.

  6. [Hearing more tiny, chipping sounds…as even the tombstone of the First Amendment is disappearing…]

    But, these “mainstream media” you speak of, Jack – they’re not so geared to enable an Evil Overlord, and to enable themselves to continue doing “The Lord’s Work” in service to him, or her, or The Herimness – are they?

      • I am (or, was) poking at your totalitarian detector – or, if you prefer, your “totalitarianism alarms.” I used “The Herimness” as a (mock) gender-neutral title for a totalitarian. But, what difference, at this point, does it make, between having a totalitarian who strong-arms into the White House with military forces, or a totalitarian who, commanding the grovelingly obedient and servile armies of so-called mainstream media, installs herself by way of a rigged election? I agree with the Christopher Webb comment that Michael shared: Hillary’s packs of lap dogs would have been barking the same and biting the same, no matter who was her chief competitor. So, you’re going to get who you want. Your girl. Your vote (as if it matters).

        • Very unfair, as you probably know. Hillary has one function: she blocks an ethics free charlatan boob from the White House. That hardly makes her “my girl.” She’s like the T-Rex in “Jurassic World”—she stops the more dangerous monster. (Well, with the help of a mosasaur and a brave little raptor.

          • Unfair? How? You’ve said you’re going to vote for Hillary. You have made the choice for a person for an office that has become a virtual dictatorship, thanks to the never-ending expansion of the Executive Branch. Your choice rejects a man who would be utterly inert in such a position (highly desirable, in my anti-totalitarianism book, if even only temporarily feasible), and embraces a woman who knows exactly how to make the most of such a position exclusively for her own benefit (and who has all the help she could ever want, all along the way). (I do enjoy your Jurassic Park analogy, nevertheless.)

            • “Your choice rejects a man who would be utterly inert in such a position”

              That’s utter fantasy, and pure, irresponsible rationalization. An authoritarian idiot with delusions of grandeur and the self control of an infant won’t use the most powerful office in the world. You should be ashamed of yourself. I mean it. Self delusion is one thing, but trying to foist the delusion of on others is disgraceful.

              • You’ve self-blinded. I am not fantasizing. You can’t see, by how others in Republican leadership positions are responding to Donald’s weirdnesses, that try as Donald might, he will never be able to surround himself with willing minions to serve his ignorance and recklessness. He would have literally no power at all – no way to use whatever powers his office is supposed to have – to employ the illegal means that his populist base seems to demand. He would have mutiny from top to bottom – and it’s about damned time the Executive Branch suffered such paralysis. Yes: a crisis of authority – because the alternative is a crisis of lack of liberty. Ashamed? Hell no! I’m proud of the fact that there is still an adequate number of people in this country who would make that mutiny – a glorious reaffirmation of dedication to democratic (non-authoritarian) governance.

                You make it tough for yourself, Jack. On one hand, you can’t say enough about Donald’s incompetence. On the other, you can’t say enough about how dangerous his incompetence is. If our government was a dictatorship, that danger would be real. But our government is not a dictatorship – not yet, anyway – although it’s damned close (I even said “virtual dictatorship” earlier), but still salvageable from true authoritarian tyranny. There are plenty of people competent enough to prevent a dictatorship that tries to plug itself into power from the very top. They just have to be hired. So our choices are between who can (and will) lock-out those competent people at the top-most levels, and thus enable actual dictatorship (Hillary), and who won’t be able to help himself any more than blabbering himself into a corner, such that those competent people are hired in spite of him, and lock *him* out, rendering him into a mere figurehead. But, alas, I have lived as long as you (maybe longer), and so like you, I can foresee accurately how this year’s elections are going to turn out, despite my druthers. You need not worry with doubt about whether Hillary will win in a landslide. This year’s elections are probably the most solidly rigged in U.S. history.

                • I am definitely with Jack on this one. There are always people who will be “minions”. They may not be the ones who normally you would expect to be in that position. Worse, they will be people who would otherwise not be able to get in those positions of power, who would otherwise be relegated to the sidelines, and will then jump at the chance to get in a position of power. We’ll end up with additional incompetent people in those positions.

                  I also see Trump as having NO problem with throwing around executive orders whenever he sees fit, which will be all the time if he doesn’t get his way with Congress. I could see him surpassing Obama in the first year alone with his personality.

                  In addition, he has shown, time and time and time again, that he willingly goes to court to enforce, break, or change, any rule that is against him. I’m not sure how much he would do himself, but he’ll just have of his “best men” do it for him.

                  There will be no “inert” bystander of a President here.

                  • Doesn’t matter. We’re all stuck with Hillary, and with every lousy impact that she, her bizarre policy preferences, and her minions are going to create.

                    I’ll do you all a favor: From hereon, no more comments about either Hillary or Donald, or this fix we’re all in on, called (hilariously enough) an election.

                    Enjoy the vaginatorship.

  7. I’m still bemused by the fact that, even in the face of editorials and columns like this, there are still people who genuinely, passionately believe that not only are accusations of the media leaning left unfair, but that the whole establishment actually leans right.

  8. Part of the problem, and perhaps it root, goes back to Watergate, when the press discovered it was able to topple a president it didn’t like. Ever since then, every reporter wants to be either Woodard or Bernstein.

  9. … (J)ournalists make up their ethical standards as suits their whims and biases at the moment. They are not true professionals at all.
    If the New York Times is truly the flagship of American journalism, then American journalism is corrupt, untrustworthy, undemocratic, and dead.

    If the first comment is true, then it won’t make any difference where the flagship sails, no?

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