November 18, 2021 - 3:00pm

To understand the mindset of liberals in America, it is always worth reading The New York Times. As traditional liberalism gave way to its more identity-centred successor, there followed a discernible shift in the language, editorial direction and content of the paper. 

But the NYT’s drift towards ‘wokeness’ seems to be slowing down in recent months. In fact, green shoots of common sense are starting to emerge, such as the hiring of John McWhorter, a heterodox thinker who in his newsletter has criticised various liberal shibboleths like critical race theory, identity politics and systemic racism. Other well-known columnists have been taking more liberal-sceptical positions too. Michelle Goldberg, for instance, is one of the most reliably progressive columnists in the blue media ecosystem. Yet even she — especially over the last couple of months — has published pieces in favour of free speech, criticising sex-positive feminism and, just this week, lambasting the ‘absurd side of the social justice industry’. 

It’s not just the columnists either. After Glenn Youngkin’s surprise victory in the Virginia Governor’s race, the Gray Lady published an editorial entitled ‘Democrats deny political reality at their own peril’, warning:

What would do justice, and what is badly needed, is an honest conversation in the Democratic Party about how to return to the moderate policies and values that fueled the blue-wave victories in 2018 and won Joe Biden the presidency in 2020.
- New York Times

And around the same time, it produced a video blaming liberal hypocrisy for “fuelling” American inequality. It has garnered nearly four million views (far higher than comparable videos) and the comments below give a pretty clear indication of how well it has been received.  

This is important because there is a common conception that the NYT, like nearly all media outlets, has given up on the centre ground and now caters exclusively to its liberal readership (93% Democrat). But if this is true, then the NYT’s readership is not as ‘woke’ as it seems; reading below the comments (an admittedly anecdotal exercise) shows that many readers have grown weary of ‘woke lingo’.

So perhaps the paper is finally cottoning on to the fact that only a minority of its readers really like this type of content. Indeed, now that Satan has left the White House (for the time being), the paper can hopefully start to have a more honest conversation about the problems on its own side. Given the drubbing Democrats took in state elections and the party’s dire forecast for the 2022 midterms, some degree of introspection is desperately needed.

Of course, these examples do not mean that there has been a sudden sea change at the Gray Lady, but that it has shown a willingness to entertain more liberal-sceptical content is worth paying attention to. 

is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.