For-profit

New York Times

The New York Times Company logo (link)
Location:

New York City, NY

Tax ID:

13-1102020

Type:

Public Company

Formation:

1851

Publisher:

A.G. Sulzberger

Executive Editor:

Dean Baquet

Revenues:

$1.749 billion (2018) [91]

The New York Times (NYT or Times) is a newspaper and digital media brand published by The New York Times Company. Founded in 1851, the Times has long been one of the most prestigious and highest-profile newspapers in the world. [1] For much of its existence, the NYT was known as “The Gray Lady,” both for its tradition of only printing in black and white and for its careful, deliberative approach to journalism. [2]

While the NYT has featured a left-leaning editorial page for more than a century, its news coverage had been overseen by a succession of executive editors who were widely considered to make good-faith efforts to avoid partisan bias in the paper’s news coverage. [3] [4] In recent decades, that reputation has been eroded by the intrusion of increasing amounts of left-leaning bias and advocacy into news coverage under a succession of more activist editors and publishers. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

History and Ownership

The New York Times was purchased by Adolph Ochs in 1896, and has been controlled by his family ever since. [10] [11] The New York Times Company went public in 1969, but the family retains control through majority ownership of special shares in the company that give them additional voting power. Since Ochs’s death in 1935, every publisher of the Times has been a member of his family.

Editorial Leadership

Long-time executive editor Abe Rosenthal was famous for his public dedication to impartial and unbiased journalism, combined with the understanding that journalists generally tended to lean leftward in their personal views. [12] Later NYT executive editor Joseph Lelyveld said of Rosenthal, “Abe would always say, with some justice, that you have to keep your hand on the tiller and steer to the right or it’ll drift off to the left.” [13]

In 1972, conservative activist and author William F. Buckley’s National Review undertook an audit of the paper’s journalism under Rosenthal and found no evidence of ideological bias, concluding, “The Times news administration was so evenhanded it must have been deeply dismaying to the liberal opposition.” The National Review suggested other media should follow the NYT’s example, writing “Were the news standards of the Times more broadly emulated, the nation would be far better informed and more broadly served.” [14]

Under Rosenthal’s successors Max Frankel and Joseph Lelyveld, the Times’s journalistic approach shifted toward left-of-center orthodoxy on social issues, especiallysexuality, racial issues and the AIDS epidemic. [15]

Many point to the executive editorship of Howard Raines as the beginning of the NYT’s slide into obvious bias, as he pushed a “calcified” Times to become “smarter, livelier, and more appealing to the geographically diverse and demanding national audience.” [16] [17] Raines had been the editor of the NYT’s left-leaning opinion section, which some critics believe influenced the paper’s combination of advocacy and journalism under his tenure from 2001 to 2003. [18] [19] Political consultant Dick Morris, who had managed Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, in 2003 charged that Raines had turned the NYT into a “political consulting firm for the Democratic Party.” [20]

“Under Raines, it is squandering the unparalleled credibility it has amassed over the past century in order to articulate and advance its own political and ideological agenda,” Morris argued. “For decades, the Times was the one newspaper so respected for its integrity and so widely read that it had influence well beyond its circulation. Now it has stooped to the role of partisan cheerleader, sending messages of dissent, and fanning the flames of disagreement on the left.” [21]

One widely cited example of this in action was the NYT’s significant coverage of the conflict over the ban on female members at Augusta National Golf Club, which hosts The Masters golf tournament. [22] [23] Media critic Jack Shafer wrote in Slate that “the Times found a story that it could conveniently exploit for months to the smug satisfaction of its liberal readers: A nation of 140 million women against a men’s club of 300.” The Washington Post reported that two different columns from NYT sportswriters that disagreed with Raines’s preferred editorial stance on Augusta and The Masters were spiked by editors, who called them “intramural quarreling.” [24]

Raines lost his job after reporter Jayson Blair was discovered to have engaged in widespread plagiarism and fraud, which a front-page NYT correction article proclaimed “a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” [25] [26]

The NYT’s next two executive editors — Bill Keller and Jill Abramson – slowed the pace of change from Raines but still continued to mix more news with opinion, implementing changes such as “News Analysis” articles that for the first time encouraged news reporters to provide an explicit point of view on the news they were covering. [27]

Keller questioned the basic concept of media impartiality, saying, “Whether true objectivity is ever possible – I don’t think that is what we’re here for.” [28] However, Keller later attacked Fox News for a lack of objectivity, saying “they probably are convinced that what they have created is the conservative counterweight to a media elite long marinated in liberal bias.” [29]

Critics charge that Abramson’s successor, Dean Baquet, has again accelerated the intrusion of left-leaning bias into the Times’s news coverage. Abramson herself wrote that “Though Baquet said publicly he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump.” Abramson warned that journalistic standards were falling throughout the NYT newsroom after the 2016 election, saying “The more ‘woke’ staff thought that urgent times called for urgent measures; the dangers of Trump’s presidency obviated the old standards.”

Inconsistent Editorial Positions

The New York Times has received criticism for editorial positions that appear to lack consistency based on the political affiliation of their supporters.

Minimum Wage

In 1987, a NYT editorial said that the appropriate federal minimum wage was “$0.00,” noting that “there’s a virtual consensus among economists that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market.” [30]

By 2016, the Times’s editorial position had flipped, and it called on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to support the $15 federal minimum wage demanded by organized labor unions, writing, “Reasonable people can disagree about the ideal level for the minimum wage. There is no doubt, however, that the longer it takes to get to a new minimum, the higher it should be.” [31]

By 2018, the NYT was fully behind the union-funded “Fight for $15” campaign, with editorials calling for increases in the minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers, [32] home health care workers, [33] manufacturing workers in the South, [34] and eventually for everyone in America. [35] The paper’s editorial board blamed President Trump’s “War on Worker Rights” for the failure to enact a federal minimum wage increase. [36]

In 2019, columnist Gina Bellefante wrote that the $15 minimum wage was not enough, and that “we need $33 an hour.” [37]

Immigration Policy

Another policy topic on which the NYT’s coverage changed was on immigration policy, especially on deportation of illegal immigrants. President Barack Obama’s administration set new records for deportations, even though he claimed his enforcement efforts were focused on, “criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.” [38] During this time period, deportations of non-criminal immigrants were covered by the NYT as a sign that the Obama administration’s policy was “inconsistent” and blamed “leadership saying one thing and the rank and file doing another.” [39] It wasn’t until 2014 that the NYT reported on third-party research showing that two thirds of Obama deportees had either committed some minor offense such as a traffic violation, or no crime at all. [40]

Even though the Trump administration reportedly deports fewer immigrants than the Obama administration at its peak, [41] the NYT’s editorial board castigated Trump for his “tough-strut policies” that made immigration law enforcement “more frustrating and even dehumanizing” for the immigrants being deported. [42] In this editorial, it characterized Obama administration deportation policy as focusing “especially on criminals” despite the NYT’s own reporting in 2014 over the reality of those policies, while at the same time saying Trump’s “hard-line policies make little to no distinction between people who pose a genuine risk and those who miss an immigration court date.”

Democratic Party Alignment

The New York Times’s editorial board has not endorsed a Republican candidate for President since Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. [43]

Times reporters are often accused of being “soft” on Democratic candidates. During the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton campaign emails leaked to far-left Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald described Politico reporter Maggie Haberman as a “friendly journalist” who had “never disappointed” the Clinton campaign. [44] Shortly after that email, Haberman was hired by the NYT to cover the Clinton campaign. The leaked emails also showed another NYT reporter, Mark Leibovich, allowing the Clinton campaign media relations staff to have “veto” power over which quotes from Hillary Clinton he would include in a story. [45]

Conservative Columnist Backlash

While New York Times columnists consistently lean leftward, the paper has a tradition of hiring one or rarely two center-right columnists at any given time, despite consistent opposition from its readers and staff. [46]

In 2004, NYT public editor Daniel Okrent described the NYT’s columnists as, “seven opinionated columnists, only two of whom could be classified as conservative (and, even then, of the conservative subspecies that supports legalization of gay unions and, in the case of William Safire, opposes some central provisions of the Patriot Act).” [47]

This began in 1972, when Nixon White House speechwriter William Safire was hired to a “storm of protest.” On Safire’s retirement from regular column writing, the hire of Weekly Standard editor William Kristol was met with a column from public editor Clark Hoyt titled, “He May Be Unwelcome, but We’ll Survive” in which Hoyt claimed that of more than 700 messages he had received from the NYT’s readers about Kristol’s hiring, only one was positive. In 2017, center-right columnist and former Wall Street Journal deputy opinion editor Bret Stephens was met with a “fiery revolt among readers and left-leaning critics” as well as public criticism from NYT writers that public editor Liz Spayd wrote, “raises the even larger issue of whether The Times should be a paper for all of America or whether it’s already been claimed by one side.” [48]

Left-Leaning Readership

A 2014 Pew Research study on the political views of media consumers found that 65 percent of the NYT’s readership was politically left-of-center, while only 12 percent was right-of-center. [49] This placed the NYT to the left of media outlets such as PBS, explicitly liberal Huffington Post, MSNBC, the Washington Post, and CNN; and to the right of NPR, Al Jazeera and the Daily Show. Similarly, a 2019 Morning Consult poll named the NYT as the fourth-most politically polarized brand in the country, with Democrats 62 points more likely to hold a positive view of it than Republicans are. [50]

The NYT’s leadership are aware of their readers’ political views, as well as those of their reporters. In 2019, executive editor Dean Baquet told his staff, “What I’m saying is that our readers and some of our staff cheer us when we take on Donald Trump, but they jeer at us when we take on Joe Biden.” [51]

Response to Election of Donald Trump

In August 2016, NYT media writer Jim Rutenberg argued in a front-page column that, “balance has been on vacation” since the launch of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, calling Trump “a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies.” [52]

Rutenberg contended that when it came to Trump’s candidacy, reporters “have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional.”

Trump’s subsequent election proved good for business for the NYT, with the paper reporting a doubling of its subscription numbers in 2016. [53] An editor at the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that after the 2016 presidential election, “subscribing to the Times was something actionable for people who were afraid of Trump, much like signing up for email lists, volunteering for political campaigns, or donating to the American Civil Liberties Union.” [54]

In 2019, NYT Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in a leaked recording of a staff meeting that the paper had “built our newsroom” to cover the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and charges of obstruction of justice that were investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. [55] “We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well,” he told his newsroom employees. “Now we have to regroup, and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story” about “what it means to be an American in 2019,” which he said, “requires deep investigation into people who peddle hatred.”

In a 2019 speech at Brown University, Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger blamed President Trump for violence against journalists around the world, saying that violent attacks on reporters, including the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian intelligence personnel, “are being passively accepted and perhaps even tacitly encouraged by the president of the United States.” [56]

Public Editor Bias Warnings and Elimination

In 2003, the New York Times created the position of “public editor,” hiring respected and experienced journalists on two-year contracts to serve as ombudsmen who could provide accountability and transparency for the paper in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. [57] The NYT’s public editors regularly addressed the topic of “liberal bias” at the paper, and consistently found the paper to have meaningful problems with a left-leaning worldview that impacted its journalism.

In 2004, then-NYT public editor Daniel Okrent answered the question, “Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?” with the sentence, “Of course it is.” [58] He noted that on social issues such as same-sex marriage, Second Amendment rights, abortion, and environmental regulation, “if you think The Times plays it down the middle on any of them, you’ve been reading the paper with your eyes closed.”

Okrent specifically called out the NYT’s coverage of the same-sex marriage debate, calling it “a very effective ad campaign for the gay marriage cause.” He charged that while other newspapers such as the Boston Globe (then owned by the NYT’s own parent company) and San Francisco Chronicle had written balanced articles including potential negative impacts of policy change, “On a topic that has produced one of the defining debates of our time, Times editors have failed to provide the three-dimensional perspective balanced journalism requires.”

Public editor Arthur S. Brisbane warned against the “political and cultural progressivism” prevalent throughout the NYT’s reporters and editors, saying that it led to the paper covering topics such as Occupy Wall Street and same-sex marriage “more like causes than news subjects.” [59]

In 2016, another of the paper’s public editors, Liz Spayd, cautioned the paper against its perceived leftward bias and suggested “building a better mix of values into the ranks of the newsroom’s urban progressives,” warning, “A paper whose journalism appeals to only half the country has a dangerously severed public mission.” “Imagine a country where the greatest, most powerful newsroom in the free world was viewed not as a voice that speaks to all but as one that has taken sides,” Spayd wrote, adding, “Or has that already happened?”[60]

Spayd had been editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and managing editor of the Washington Post before taking the NYT’s public editor position on a two-year contract. The NYT’s leadership eliminated the public editor position and terminated Spayd before that contract was complete after receiving heavy criticism from the left for her efforts to hold the NYT to traditional standards of nonpartisan objectivity. [61] [62] [63] [64]

In her final column as public editor, Spayd warned the NYT’s editors and reporters against ruining the paper’s reputation by being too partisan in their attacks on President Trump, writing “I leave this job plenty aware that I have opinions — especially about partisan journalism — that don’t always go over well with some of the media critics in New York and Washington.” [65]

The 1619 Project

To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving in the British colonies that would later form the United States, the New York Times Magazine published “The 1619 Project,” a collection of articles, stories, poems and other media with the goal of “reframing the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the center of the national narrative.” [66]  According to a leaked transcript of a NYT staff meeting, Executive Editor Dean Baquet told newsroom employees the project was undertaken “to try to understand the forces that led to the election of Donald Trump.” [67]

The 1619 Project claimed that the arrival of African slaves in Virginia’s Jamestown colony was the “true founding” of America. The original printed version of the magazine’s front cover read that when the first slave ship arrived in Jamestown, “America was not yet America, but this was the moment it began.” [68] In the online version, this was changed to read, “No aspect of the country that would be formed here has been untouched by the years of slavery that followed.” [69]

Other assertions made by writers in the 1619 Project include:

  • America has a “peculiarly brutal economy,” and slave plantations were the “birthplace of America’s low-road approach to capitalism.” [70]
  • Racism is the reason the United States does not have a British National Health Service-style government-run health care system. [71]
  • In American professional sports, the term “owner” is a vestige of slavery, and “a line can be traced to the modern N.B.A. from antebellum slavery.” [72]
  • The U.S. sugar industry is “designed to codify black loss” and still operates on a “racial caste system that sugar slavery helped create.” [73]

The 1619 Project was conceived of and led by left-wing journalist and activist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who covers “racial injustice” for the Times and claims that as a journalist, “There isn’t a beat you can cover in America—education, housing—where race is not a factor.” [74]

Hannah-Jones proposed the concept of the 1619 Project to the NYT Magazine’s editors in January 2019, having spent the previous year partially funded by a fellowship at New America, a left-of-center think tank with ties to alumni of the Obama administration. [75] [76] [77] In an interview with a Times colleague, Hannah-Jones admitted, “I have spent every moment of this project keenly aware of what it means to be doing this in The New York Times… It’s very powerful.” [78] [79]

Writers and other contributors to the 1619 Project were chosen to promote Hannah-Jones’ leftist views on American history and culture. In her words, “The entire special issue is making an argument, and every essay is just a scope in that argument.” [80] Virtually all contributors were African American, a “nonnegotiable aspect of the project.” [81]

1619 Project School Curriculum

The New York Times partnered with the left-leaning Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to develop classroom materials, lesson plans and other curricula based on the 1619 Project’s left-leaning views of American history and culture. Suggested activities for students include “Come together as a class to create a new timeline of U.S. history,” with the specification, “Your timeline should start with the year 1619” and “Create an infographic that visualizes racial inequity in the U.S. and its links to slavery.” [82]

The Pulitzer Center funded the distribution of hundreds of thousands of copies of the 1619 Project special issue to schools across the country. In September 2019, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice K. Jackson announced that every high school in the district would be receiving 200 to 400 copies of the issue, and hosted Hannah-Jones at an official school event to discuss it. [83]

Longtime African-American community development activist Robert Woodson criticized the Pulitzer Center’s “dangerous” curriculum in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, writing, “The most devastating aspect of the project’s narrative is its insinuation that blacks are born inherently damaged by an all-prevailing racism and that their future prospects are determined by the whims of whites.” [84]

Criticism

Socialist Party activists criticized the 1619 Project as a politically motivated and biased effort to promote Democratic Party interests, charging “Its aim is to create a historical narrative that legitimizes the effort of the Democratic Party to construct an electoral coalition based on the prioritizing of personal ‘identities’—i.e., gender, sexual preference, ethnicity, and, above all, race.” [85]

Economist Philip Magness published a detailed critique of the academic research on which the 1619 Project based its assertions about the economic impact of slavery, questioning Hannah-Jones’s reliance on a limited number of researchers whose work had been criticized by academic peers for potentially inflating the size of the pre-Civil War slave-based economy by as much as 10 times its actual size. [86]

Other critics argued that the 1619 Project failed to put American slavery in historic and international context, misrepresented the role slavery played in the American Revolution, unfairly characterized historical figures such as John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln, and otherwise functioned more as left-wing propaganda than journalism or history. [87] [88] [89] [90]

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