February 28, 2019


Why the Left Can't Stand The New York Times (Amber A'Lee Frost, WINTER 2019, CJR)

Just for example, last spring I noticed not one but two pieces in the Times dedicated to a Twitter tempest in a teapot about whether it was "cultural appropriation" for a white Utah high school student to wear a cheongsam, a dress of Chinese origin, to prom. This is not journalism, cultural commentary, or even, really, a trend piece--it's an attempt to appear relevant. (But I suppose if you want your small town to get some ink in the Times, you should do something that would infuriate Sarah Lawrence students.) In an effort to survive the internet age, the Times has stooped to tracking tweets, chasing the sound and fury of never-ending online spectacles that rarely mean anything to anyone, save for an online microculture dedicated to "the discourse." 

Some fluff could almost be confused for reportage, such as the bizarre amount of space the paper of record devoted to Alan Dershowitz's alleged travails as a social pariah on Martha's Vineyard for his support of Trump, but if I wanted gossip I'd read the society pages. The paper's collective decision to dedicate space--even in the infinite arena of Web content--and resources to such utterly meaningless and unnewsworthy trivialities indicates an editorial commitment not to journalism, but to educated-middle-class dinner party talking points.

The greatest factor in the decline of liberal journalism, however, is the decline of the Left itself. In the absence of labor desks at local papers and a vibrant trade union movement to fund working-class publications, the labor beat goes largely unreported, or merely reported within the confines of an egregiously bourgeois myopia. Take #MeToo, a "movement" to combat the scourge of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. The media obsessively focused on wealthy movie stars and high-profile women in (you guessed it) the media. If readers had zero knowledge of the US and they picked up the Times, they might assume these rich, famous women are the most vulnerable women in the world, and not, as it is, the exact opposite. (FT is no Studs Terkel, but as a paper of capitalism its editors at least keep the focus on policy and women at work, without trying to pass endless lurid celebrity gossip off as feminist journalism.) 

A strong labor press would have expanded the conversation about #MeToo to include women who pick tomatoes, work assembly lines, wait tables, and clean hotel rooms. A strong labor press would have politicized the problem with serious policy and labor law demands. "Progressive" publications are no substitute for a labor Left, either. At this point The Nation appears to be largely a brochure for the magazine's woke travel agency (that's a real business). Unmoored from any working-class institution, they skew liberal, and of course suffer from the same funding woes as any other publication. 

And so the media landscape is dominated by the liberal publications and their clickbait #resistance outrage, their Fukuyama worldview still preserved in jiggling aspic. It's a difficult spell to break, especially when the ideologues are doubling down in a manic panic. 

Posted by at February 28, 2019 5:37 PM