How 'the New York Times' descended from news to nuisance - opinion

Beneath its carefully cultivated veneer of objectivity and integrity, the so-called paper of record was clearly biased and agenda-driven.

 SEND IT to the dustbin: The paper’s New York City office. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)
SEND IT to the dustbin: The paper’s New York City office.
(photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)

As a youth growing up in America in the 1980s, I had a decidedly complex and often uneasy relationship with The New York Times.

For a news junkie both by birth and by training, life in the antediluvian days before the Internet offered a considerably narrower selection of sources through which to learn about current events.

Television was shallow, cable was in its infancy, and the radio was a better source of noise than news.

And so it was the written word, delivered early each morning at random spots in the driveway in the form of a rolled-up newspaper, that offered nourishment to a teen thirsting to understand the world.

But even at that tender age, when one’s primary concerns are the pains of puberty and the appearance of acne, it quickly became apparent to me that something was amiss at The New York Times.

The sun peaks over the New York Times Building in New York August 14, 2013  (credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)The sun peaks over the New York Times Building in New York August 14, 2013 (credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

For beneath its carefully cultivated veneer of objectivity and integrity, the so-called paper of record was clearly biased and agenda-driven.

One could see it in its coverage of just about any subject, ranging from the Reagan presidency to the Middle East, as the lines between the news and opinion sections were often blurred beyond distinction.

The paper’s preference for liberals over conservatives, for the Palestinians over Israel, and for the Yankees over the Mets was as glaring as it was galling. But the Times continued to play an outsized role in defining the contours of the daily news narrative.

Thankfully, in the intervening decades, much has changed in the world, including the media landscape, and the Times has lost much of its perceived luster.

Indeed, for many years now, I have studiously avoided the paper as it descended ever further into outright propaganda, only reading an article or two forwarded on sporadic occasions by a friend or loved one.

It was just such an incident that prompted me to write this column, when my eldest son sent me a news story from last week’s New York Times along with a suggestion that I write about it.

At first glance, the item in question – an article in the arts section on how actress Mayim Bialik wants to host the television game show Jeopardy! – would hardly seem to warrant comment, let alone any ink.

But even in its coverage of this rather arcane subject, the newspaper unwittingly offered its readers a glimpse of the bias that pervades its pages.

Under the heading, “Mayim Bialik Wants the ‘Jeopardy!’ Job. Is She ‘Neutral’ Enough?”, the story queried whether her opinions on controversial issues made her unsuitable for the position, describing her as someone who “has courted controversy by weighing in on hot-button issues online.”

“Bialik — a popular sitcom actor who blogged when blogging was popular, vlogged when vlogging was popular, and now has her own podcast — has long drawn attention, and controversy, with copious public statements of her own…,” said the Times, adding pointedly that, “She blogged about donating money to buy bulletproof vests for the Israel Defense Forces.”

In other words, as far as The New York Times is concerned, if someone supports the right of Jewish soldiers not to be wounded or killed in the line of duty, that raises questions about their neutrality and fairness.

As media critic Ira Stoll of the Algemeiner cogently pointed out, “Is it a ‘hot button’ ‘controversy’ to be of the opinion that soldiers of the Jewish state — like those of other national armed forces, like New York City police officers, like even New York Times reporters in war zones — should be protected by body armor? Would Times arts editors or readers prefer instead that the Israel Defense Force soldiers go into battle unprotected from enemy bullets, so that they be slain more easily?”

Apparently, we know what the answer is.

But as shocking as this may seem, it is in fact not all that surprising given some of The New York Times’ recent dalliances with antisemitism.

The cartoon in The New York Times International Edition showing a blind US President Donald Trump led by a dog with the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a Star of David on his collar (credit: screenshot)The cartoon in The New York Times International Edition showing a blind US President Donald Trump led by a dog with the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a Star of David on his collar (credit: screenshot)

Just two years ago, in April 2019, the paper printed a political cartoon in its international edition depicting president Donald Trump wearing a kippah as he walked a dog representing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a leash with a Star of David.

Later that year, in August, Tom Wright-Piersanti, a senior Times staff editor, had to apologize for a series of antisemitic tweets he had posted, one of which read as follows: “I was going to say ‘Crappy Jew Year,’ but one of my resolutions is to be less antisemitic. So… HAPPY Jew Year. You Jews.”

Following up on this charming record of tolerance, the Times in 2020 hired Charlotte Greensit to manage its opinion section, a woman who had previously defended antisemitic statements made by a controversial American congresswoman, and had helped to spread a false conspiracy theory on her Twitter feed suggesting that Israeli security forces were training American police to commit human rights abuses.

Then, in October 2020, the Times published an op-ed praising Louis Farrakhan, the antisemitic extremist who has referred to Jews as “termites,” said that Judaism is “a gutter religion,” and called Adolf Hitler “a very great man.”

In May of this year, the paper ran a column entitled, “Attacks on Jews Over Israel Are a Gift to the Right,” comparing “Right-wing Zionists” and “antisemitic anti-Zionists.”

There are many other such examples, but I think the point is clear.

Like many of the local sports teams that it covers, The New York Times is a newspaper that never fails to disappoint. It has gone from delivering news to being a nasty nuisance. And yet it continues to be read by countless Jews and others as though doing so is a worthwhile use of one’s time.

But subscribing to the Times, or even clicking on its stories on the Internet, only serves to keep the paper afloat, adding to its influence and reach.

So do yourself, Israel, and the Jewish people a favor: forget about The New York Times and consign it to the dustbin of history. There are far better, more enlightening options out there for getting your news. 

The writer served as deputy communications director under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term in office.