The New York Times has a dilemma. It is both our national paper of record and a paper with a basically liberal editorial stance. Unlike the right-wing press, the Times prizes factual accuracy in its news reporting. So, as good liberals who believe in presenting both sides of a controversy, how to offer space on the op-ed page to conservative viewpoints without sacrificing its core commitment to facts?
Given the tendency of an increasing fraction of conservatives to dwell in the realm of delusion, this goal is not easy. But the Times is bungling it by publishing op-eds by writers who are disingenuous about who they are and what they are selling, as well as intellectually dishonest.
The Times needs a better filter to detect factual whoppers and hidden agendas. Otherwise, it just enables right-wing propaganda. And of course, the placement of an op-ed in the Times by a publicist is pure gold.
As the old saying goes, you are entitled to your own opinion; you are not entitled to your own facts. The American Prospect at any given time employs three interns. Their primary assignment is fact-checking. The Times has far more interns than we do. Even opinion pieces need to be checked for basic factual accuracy. Judging by what gets into the paper, the Times doesnt do that, or doesnt do it well.
A recent emblematic piece, by three writers, contends that conservatives tend to be happier than liberals. Their basic story is that conservatives are happier because they are more likely to be married and to attend church. The claim falls apart on close examination.
If you follow their hyperlinks to sources, their own surveys show that self-described liberals and conservatives are almost equally happy. They also cherry-pick marriage data. Divorce rates tend to be higher in the Bible Belt, and lower in liberal New York and California.
Its not the Times fault there are so few intellectually honest conservatives. But the paper needs a better BS detector.
And they are disingenuous in their use of sources. They quote Arthur Brooks of Harvard. This would be the same Arthur Brooks who was president of the American Enterprise Institute for a decade and now has a very part-time gig at Harvards Kennedy School.
They are also disingenuous about who they are. Their author ID indicates that they are researchers and writers on family life. At the very bottom of the web version of the piece, you learn that all three work for right-wing think tanks that have long made inflated claims about marriage and church attendance.
Even if marriage is broadly correlated with life satisfaction, its dishonest to engage that subject without also addressing who gets a shot at that kind of happiness. Its far harder if you are poor, if suitable marriage partners lack good job prospects, if there is no family leave, and if spousal abuse is still rampant. Keats wrote, long ago: Love in a hut, with water and a crust, isLove, forgive us!cinders, ashes, dust.
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More fundamentally, the piece sidesteps the chilling realities of so much of todays conservatismthe violence-loving, democracy-hating, grossly intolerant bigotry. This may produce a kind of twisted happiness, but can you honestly write about conservative values and happiness while ducking what conservative has come to mean?
Another genre where the Times gets played for fools is the self-interested trade association op-ed masquerading as opinion commentary. A recent classic is titled The Supply-Chain Crisis Is a Labor Crisis.
The piece seems to be saying that workers in various segments of the supply chain need to be treated better. But the most concrete proposal is Governments had a chance to avert this crisis. Transport workers around the world should have been prioritized for vaccination once vaccines became available.
Really? Compared to other causes of the supply chain crisis, transport workers not getting vaccines is less than trivial.
Left out of the essay is any acknowledgment of how deregulation and extreme corporate concentration plus excessive offshoring are at the root of both the crisis and the lousy treatment of workers, which in turn led to the worker shortage. The author is Guy Platten, who is identified as secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, described on its site as the global trade association for shipowners and operators.
Shipping companies, whose profits quintupled thanks to supply bottlenecks, have plenty of political influence without the help of the Times. You wonder why they didnt use that influence on behalf of better treatment of workers, as Platten now urges after the fact.
The Chamber is the last place to find an honest discussion of the issue. It has a self-interest in diverting attention from the true causes of the supply chain crisis and simulating sympathy for workers. The piece is pure spin and propaganda.
Likewise this one: Why the Feminist Movement Needs Pro-Life People, By Tish Harrison Warren. This key passage captures the intellectual dishonesty of the whole essay:
[F]eminists who are pro-life and pro-choice can and must find common cause to improve the lives of women. Pro-life groups need to intentionally support women, not only babies in utero, and push for policies that make it easier to birth and raise children. (There is a growing whole life movement to address this need.) Pro-choice feminists need to prioritize the many other important issues affecting women besides abortion. (emphasis added)
Note the false equivalence and dishonesty about the stance of pro-choice feminists. The womens movement, of course, has long emphasized the entire range of issues to better the lives of women and children. The anti-abortion movement has been obsessively single-issue. Barney Frank, long ago, captured it perfectly, when he said right-to-lifers believe that the right to life begins at conception and ends at birth.
Its an old problem. Robert Frost famously said that a liberal is the man who is too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel. Its not the Times fault there are so few intellectually honest conservatives. But the paper needs a better BS detector.
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(Thanks to Prospect intern Connor Bulgrin for research help on this column. The Times should have such great internsand assign them to fact-check op-ed submissions.)