The resignation letter from former New York Times editor and writer Bari Weiss was so powerful because it seemed to state what many once-loyal readers – I’ve been among them for many years, even given the obvious bias of the paper – already knew given the way things there have been going in the last year or so.
Something has gone very wrong at the newspaper of record. Weiss named it in a very satisfying letter writing with a burning desire to tell the truth.
Op-eds that would have easily been published just two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble, if not fired. If a piece is perceived as likely to inspire backlash internally or on social media, the editor or writer avoids pitching it. If she feels strongly enough to suggest it, she is quickly steered to safer ground. And if, every now and then, she succeeds in getting a piece published that does not explicitly promote progressive causes, it happens only after every line is carefully massaged, negotiated and caveated.
At this paper, dogma has replaced reporting. Ideology has displaced facts. All facts are filtered through an agenda. If something doesn’t fit the agenda, it is not reported. I’ve become so frustrated with this, especially during the lockdown months in which the paper seemed to have a rule of blaming the virus and not the policy response for all existing problems, that I find it barely readable anymore.
When precisely this happened is unclear. Some say that the “woke” generation has figured out how to troll the old-time liberals that used to run the shop. Some would name the 1619 Project, which might have been an interesting and important coming to terms with a dark side of American history but instead turned into a full-on trashing of every American value plus the existence of capitalism itself. (You can read Phil Magness’s masterful response in book form.)
My own overwhelming consciousness that something had fallen apart began on February 27, 2020, with the New York Times podcast. Reporter Donald McNeil told the host of this podcast that “this is alarmist, but I think right now, it’s justified. This one reminds me of what I have read about the 1918 Spanish influenza.”
Reminds him? That’s his justification for spreading international panic? He claimed that “If you have 300 relatively close friends and acquaintances, six of them would die.” The host of the show summed up McNeil’s message: “2 percent lethality rate of 50 percent of the country,” meaning 3.5 million dead. McNeil didn’t disagree.
I was stunned because there was zero evidence for such outlandish claims. Not even Neil Ferguson predicted anything that ridiculous. Meanwhile, genuine experts were desperately trying to calm people down even as the New York Times was spreading maximum panic, probably for political reasons.
In the weeks and months since then, the paper’s coronavirus doctrine was set in stone. It goes like this. This is a terrifying pandemic. Many millions will die. Everyone is vulnerable. The only solution is to lock down. If we don’t lock down, it is Trump’s fault. Therefore Trump is responsible for all death. That message has been repeated thousands of times, every day in every way, ever since.
This is not science. It is not reporting. It is fanatical ideology in the guise of reporting. Thank goodness former Times reporters like Alex Berenson call them out daily.
Now, readers see all this and say to me, hey, things have never been right at this paper. I would dispute that. From 1934 to 1946, the great economic journalist Henry Hazlitt wrote not only a daily editorial but also curated the Book Reviews. There were times when the name Ludwig von Mises appeared on the front page of that review section, with glowing reviews of his books.
Even looking back at the paper’s virus coverage of the postwar past, the rule was always the same: bring calm and urge trust of medical professionals to manage the disease but otherwise keep society functioning. That’s what the paper said in 1957-58 (Asian Flu) and 1968-69 (Hong Kong Flu). The paper has a long tradition of trying to find that “vital center” while allowing editorials on either end of that so long as they seemed responsible. (As for its coverage during the Progressive Era, I’ll leave that alone; it was nothing about which to brag.)
However, there is one gigantic, glaring, appalling, and essentially inexcusable exception to that. It is the case of Walter Duranty, the Times’s bureau chief in Moscow from 1922 to 1936. He was in a prime position to tell the truth about the catastrophic famines, political purges, rampant murders, and millions dead at the hands of the Soviet regime during these years. He was stationed there, ruled the roost, and had access to information denied to most of the rest of the world.
In particular, Duranty might have covered the millions who died (were slaughtered really) due to deliberate famine in Ukraine from 1932 to 1933. He did not. He did the opposite. In frequent articles for the Times, Duranty assured readers that all was well, that Stalin was a great leader, that everyone was more or less happy, that there was nothing to see in Ukraine.
His later book was called I Write as I Please (1935). It should have been called I Write to Please Stalin. Incredibly, the paper won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his coverage. The paper has never repudiated it. They still claim credit for it, despite the horrors that its pages were responsible for hiding from the world.
It’s extremely difficult to face this terrible history but once you do, you experience a major example of how lies can perpetuate a killing machine. Duranty ruled the press in Moscow, suppressing truth in every way possible and convincing the world that all was well in the Soviet Union, even though it is quite clear from the documented history that he knew better. He preferred the lie to the truth, probably because he was being blackmailed but also because he was a communist and had absolutely no moral compass. To what extent his New York editors cooperated in this outrageous fraud remains unclear. At the very least, they wanted him to be correct so much that they didn’t bother with an ounce of incredulity, even though he was exculpating and celebrating a totalitarian dictator.
It was this disgusting period of the paper’s history that ultimately led to the cover-up of one of the century’s greatest crimes. It was only revealed, through great moral courage, by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge (writing for the Manchester Guardian) and then by Gareth Jones, an independent English journalist who saw the suffering first hand, experienced near starvation, barely got out of Moscow, and, at great risk to himself and others, revealed the crimes of Stalin and the calamity in Ukraine to the world.
Which brings me to the real inspiration for this article: the 2019 movie Mr. Jones. You can rent it on Amazon. I urge you to do so. It’s a riveting historical epic based entirely on the true story of Duranty, Orwell, and Jones.