Open Letter to the New York Times about Third Party Editorials

I am calling out the New York Times about its guest editorial policies.

I grew up reading the New York Times. I believe we got the Times at school either free of charge or perhaps for 25 cents per week.

We all read the Times avidly because there was a bounty on typographical errors. If I remember THAT correctly, you could earn FIVE DOLLARS for each typographical error you reported, but only the first one to report the error got the five bucks. Even the Times isn’t that stupid. If every member of my homeroom class sent in the same report, which we did several times, we got a polite note back suggesting that we divide the five bucks among themselves.

Now, was that story true or false?  I remember it as being true…but that doesn’t matter because, now that the story has been published  – in The New York Times itself – some of you will believe it for the rest of your lives, and you might even pass the story along to others, fully believing that you are conveying facts rather than fables. (By the way, the story is true, or at least that’s how I remember it.)

Last week, on June 3, the Times published a guest editorial by Senator Tom Cotton (R-ARK) under the headline of “Send In The Troops.” in which he demanded that the federal government unleash “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain, and ultimately deter lawbreakers.”  That Op-Ed was published two days after Donald Trump used federal officers to clear the street between the White House and historic St. John’s Church, known as the Church of the Presidents because it is the house of worship nearest to the White House.

The publication of that Op-Ed set up a  hue and cry that forced editorial page editor James  Bennett to resign yesterday….but James Bennett didn’t create this disaster all by himself. He had help.

In recent years, the New York Times has opened up its editorial pages to guest editorials from public figures whose political leanings are diametrically opposed to those espoused by the traditionally Liberal Democratic news organization

This creates a serious pattern of cognitive dissonance in which the readers of the New York Times, most of whom subscribe to the Times because they presumably agree with the editorial policies of the newspaper and its management, find themselves reading opinions diametrically opposed to those that the Times sometimes espouses on the very same page. (The Times homepage is organized so the editorials share the homepage with the news columns, making it difficult to distinguish between factual reporting and editorial comments.)

As a newspaper, The New York Times is not obligated to honor either The Fairness Doctrine or the Equal Time Rule. The Fairness Doctrine was suspended by the Federal Communications Commission in 1987  and the rule was removed from the FCC Code in 2011. As a newspaper, the Times was never obligated to abide by either the now-defunct Fairness Doctrine, nor was it obligated to provide Equal Time, a rule that only applies to broadcast news organizations.

Nevertheless, the Times appears to have been bending over backward to give Republicans and their cohorts space on their homepage to espouse positions with which the Times disagrees. There is some speculation that this practice was a reaction to President Donald  Trump’s frequent attacks upon the Times as a “failed news organization” that publishes fake news.

Perhaps the Times thought that, by publishing the views of right-wing commentators, they could either attract more conservative readers or at least deflect some of Trump’s criticisms.

However, what they actually accomplished was to sow confusion among readers who were accustomed to the liberal bias the Times has embraced for many years and were therefore almost forced to give serious consideration to the right-wing rhetoric from these Op-Ed contributors.

The Republican party has its own media outlets, which are quite capable of promoting the opinions of the party and its network of right-wing supporters. These Republican media outlets do not, as a rule, give equal time to Democrats and, when they do, they provide a biased forum from which they could debate and refute the liberal rhetoric, further disaffecting their readers by inoculating them against the facts in dispute.

We are in a political conflict between a frankly Fascist Republican party and a disorganized and somewhat inept Democratic party…but it is the Democratic party that offers the only hope of combating the disease, fixing racism, and repairing the economy because the Republicans aren’t even going to try.

By giving space to the opinions of the Fascist fear-mongers, The New  York Times gives aid and comfort to the enemy….and make no mistake: the Reconstituted Republican party is a fascist organization today.

The Times reached the height of absurdity earlier this year when, far in advance of the New York Democratic primary, the paper endorsed not one but TWO candidates for the Democratic nomination, supporting Elizabeth Warren as their pick for progressive voters and Amy Klobuchar for more conservative mainstream Democrats.

Newspaper editorial boards have often endorsed ONE candidate from each of the two major political parties, meaning one Democrat and one Republican, but no one has ever endorsed two candidates running for the same nomination.

A moment’s thought reveals the insanity of these endorsements. By endorsing two separate candidates for the same position, The Times divided it’s readers between the two candidates, making it a virtual certainty that neither would win the popularity contest.

In order to be taken seriously as a newspaper again, the Times has to rethink itself. It has to decide if it is a partisan player, as it has always been before, or some kind of disinterested, neutral observer.

In the Age of Trump, being a neutral observer is tantamount to casting a blind eye toward a fascist regime that has taken over the Republican party and threatens the nation with the annihilation of our historic experiment in self-government.

If it hasn’t become obvious yet, let me be the first to inform you that, at long last, the times, they are a-changing, and it is time for the Times to change with them. If the Times chooses the latter course by pretending to be a disinterested reporter rather than an active participant in the democratic process,  I will be canceling my subscription forthwith…and I suspect that many others will be doing the same.