Gerard Baker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, And Differing Notions Of A Partisan Press
Posted by: Jon Fine on November 12, 2008
(This post originally misspelled Baker’s first name.)
There is a great deal of stuff flying around the Web and being forwarded to me that point out some of the more indelicate partisan statements made by this suddenly-prominent British gentleman, Gerard Baker. Not sure what the fuss is, myself. At least he’s not about to start overseeing news coverage at a major American newspaper or anything …. oh, wait!
(Sorta-confidential to M.K.: I stole it because It never stops being funny!)
What we have here is a Americans-Are-From-Mars-And-Brits-(and Aussies)-From-Venus moment.
In Britain, even the most serious papers are expected to have a strong partisan tilt (hello, Guardian and Times of London and the Telegraph—ditto, for that matter, other news sources like the BBC and the Economist). In the US—oh no, no sir, no such thing. The notional straitjacket of objectivity—a relatively recent construct, given the great ideological tumult of American tabloids in the early decades of the 20th Century--still reigns. This is especially so at the New York Times, a paper whose work I cherish above all others. Although its original ombudsman Dan Okrent wrote a column, thatthe Times was, yes indeed, liberal--to his eventual regret, he revealed in this book, because in the retelling much of his nuance was obliterated.
(I’m sure nothing I say here will change the minds of the liberal- media-bias crowd, especially where the Times is concerned. But anyone who thinks the New York Times inevitably favors anything young-ish, liberal-ish and Democratic . . . ish, should go back and read how the paper covered Bill and Hillary Clinton in the ‘90’s. Note especially the exhaustive work of Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta in this regard.)
The US insistence on press objectivity occasionally results in ridiculous spectacles. The former executive editor of the Washington Post, Len Downie, stopped voting when he took that joband didn't start until he retired. And now we know that MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann refuses to vote, for reasons even he appears to admit are symbolic at best, even though six seconds with his show tells you where his sympathies lie. I can't imagine the British analogues to Downie and Olbermann would do the same.
I’ve defended, even very recently, against the notion that a News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal has been slowly tilting rightward, a notion that more than a couple of Journal readers have floated past me in recent weeks. I still stand by this. Although what’s more to the point is that I frankly don’t care, as long as the Journal reports actual facts and I can still access hundreds of other news sources as a counterweight.
All the same, I have to wonder how New York Times detractors would react if it named a politically identifiable entity like Arianna Huffington or Paul Krugman or even Joe Klein as its next #2 editor.
Actually, never mind. I don’t have to wonder how they'd react. I think I have a pretty good idea.