The New York Times may have reached a new low. True, its liberal bias has a long history, undisguised by the promising motto embedded at the top of Page 1 by publisher Adolph Ochs more than a century ago: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”
But “Fit to Print” became a highly subjective standard that suited the Times’ constricted view of “fitness.” The Holocaust, for example, did not meet that criterion lest the Times be seen as a “Jewish” newspaper.
Times change, even if the Times does not.
In a striking display of integrity and independence, Bari Weiss, a staff editor in the opinion section, resigned her position on July 14—and befitting any good journalist went public with the reason for her decision. She was hired three years ago, she recounted, “with the goal of bringing in voices that would not otherwise appear in [its] pages”: among them conservatives “who would not naturally think of The Times as their home.”
Weiss took her responsibility seriously. Among her wide-ranging array of subjects were feminist scholar and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Palestinian-American novelist Zaina Arafat, Monica Lewinsky and Lebanese-American FBI agent Ali Soufan. Along the way, she discovered that “truth” at the Times was “an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job it is to inform everyone else.”
Weiss paid a price for her “Wrongthink.” Badgered by Times colleagues who called her a “Nazi” and a “racist” for “writing about the Jews again,” she was smeared as a “liar” and “bigot” (thereby revealing their own bigotry). She had coworkers who bizarrely believed that she needed to be “rooted out” for the Times to be truly inclusive. This in a newspaper that had recently fired op-ed editor James Bennett, who permitted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to advocate a military response to the wave of civic rioting in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. On the other hand, an op-ed by Peter Beinart calling for the end of Israel as a Jewish state was recently welcomed on the opinion page.
Weiss’s critique of the Times is eviscerating. Truth “isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else” in a form “molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.”
She came to understand that “intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at the Times,” where opinion pieces must be “ideologically kosher.” Only those whose “ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy” are protected from laceration, followed by firing. If a submission does not promote “progressive” causes, it will be published “after every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated.” Although most people at the Times, she believes, are not so rigidly narrow-minded, they are “cowed” by their superiors who require adherence to the newspaper’s party line.
In this culture of conformity that has come to resemble a “new McCarthyism,” certain rules must be followed. As Weiss enumerates them: “Speak your mind at your own peril”; never go “against the narrative” demanded by the Times; “never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain.”
I was struck by her concluding phrase.
Against the Grain was the title of one of my books, a collection of published writings that tracked my journey as a historian. Coincidentally, it was followed by Print to Fit, an exploration of The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, published last year. I had been a faithful Times reader ever since 1945, when my father pointed to its photo of Hank Greenberg greeted by exultant teammates after hitting the pennant-winning grand-slam homerun for the Detroit Tigers, and proudly identified him as our cousin. Over time, as my interest in baseball dimmed, I realized that the Times had (and still has) a severe Jewish problem, blatantly on view in its unrelenting criticism of Zionism and, since 1948, the State of Israel.
Now it turns out, as Bari Weiss bravely asserts and expansively documents that the Times also has an integrity problem. As she properly notes, Adolph Ochs’ confident assertion that his newspaper would “invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion” has been eviscerated by the wave of political correctness that has inundated its staff. “All The News That’s Fit to Print,” she reveals, has deteriorated into camouflage for liberal intolerance.
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author of “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016,” which was recently selected for Mosaic by Ruth Wisse and Martin Kramer as a “Best Book” for 2019.