by Park MacDougald
Friday, 18
March 2022
Spotted
17:15

Is the New York Times headed back to the centre?

A new tone at the paper hints at a broader change
by Park MacDougald

America’s culture of free speech is in danger. So argues the New York Times editorial board in a piece published this morning.

Screengrab from NYT editorial

Citing new polling showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe it is a problem that ‘some Americans do not speak freely in everyday situations’ and that a majority of Americans have, over the past year, ‘held their tongue’ over fear of ‘retaliation or harsh criticism’, the board concludes that Americans ‘are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds.’

This is an odd piece for the Times to publish in 2022. ‘Free speech’ has been highly politicised since at least the late Obama years, and debates over it have tracked the progress of the ‘Great Awokening’. Since speech is rarely curtailed by the government, the debate is generally over whether private institutions should tolerate speech that violates the taboos of young, woke progressives.

Throughout the Trump years, the Times tended to side with the young and woke, albeit with some reservations. They published an op-ed about how “Free Speech Is Killing Us” and one extolling “What Snowflakes Get Right About Free Speech.” To quell newsroom revolts from junior staff, the paper publicly apologised for publishing a Tom Cotton op-ed at the height of the summer 2020 riots, and, last February, fired a veteran science reporter for using the n-word in the context of a conversation about the word (i.e., not as a slur directed against any individual).

So why is the paper now shifting gears? Part of the reason may be internal — reporting from the Cotton and McNeil controversies, and from a more recent one involving a Times reporter caught badmouthing his woke colleagues, suggest a split in the newsroom, with older employees irked by the perceived oversensitivity of the young. Perhaps the adults are winning the day.

But the editorial also comes at a time when, after the excesses of the Trump years (and especially 2020), many liberal opinion leaders are tacking back to the centre. For nearly a year now, Times star David Leonhardt has been waging a one-man jihad against Covid panic, stressing that it’s out of step with the views of most Americans; Matt Yglesias and Times Magazine writer Jay Caspian Kang have recently attacked the liberal campaign against “disinformation”; and in his first State of the Union speech in February, President Biden explicitly repudiated progressive sacred cows like “defund the police” while urging Americans to take off their masks and get back to the office.

In other words, with Trump gone and the midterms looming, liberals are starting to reckon with the fact that many of the cultural stances they’ve taken over the past four years are deeply unpopular with the American people. It’s an encouraging trend, but one suspects that the radicals — now institutionally entrenched, and with long careers ahead of them — won’t roll over so easily.

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Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
3 months ago

There were no excesses in the Trump years. The excesses were in reaction against the Trump years.

Jacob Mason
Jacob Mason
3 months ago

Are you talking about excesses of the Trump administration or of the Times’ writers during that period?
Both seem to be accused in their turn.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
3 months ago

I believe that is what he meant – the excesses at the NYT during the Trump years.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago

No….? Arrest Hilary Clinton? Ban Muslims, except those from the only country, Saudi
Arabia, whose citizens HAD directly attacked the US? Etc etc.

Trump was such a great President that he won with a huge majority in 2020 against a feeble, past-it Democratic candidate…

Oh, sorry, no that must be a mistake……

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago

“Since speech is rarely curtailed by the government”

I don’t know about USA but in the UK there is a category of thought/speech crime called Hate Crime which police prosecute more vigorously than actual physical crime.

Last edited 3 months ago by Brendan O'Leary
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

And the NYT admits the Ukraine and Hunter Biden’s laptop emails were…. true.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago

17 months after the fact! Who wants to subscribe to ‘old news’.!?

Melissa Kane
Melissa Kane
3 months ago

I’ll believe it when I see it. I recently ditched my online subscription to the NYT after an advert for the paper showed a picture of a woman supposedly ‘imagining Harry Potter without JK Rowling’. All this woke stuff has gone far too far and the NYT has placed itself at the vanguard of the culture wars over the past few years. Being anti-Trump is one thing, but they went too far in the opposite direction. A course correction is long overdue, but I’m not holding my breath yet.

Last edited 3 months ago by Melissa Kane
Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  Melissa Kane

Yes, I think Unherd had an article about this. I definitely didn’t read about it in the NYT. I abandoned that some years back.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
3 months ago
Reply to  Melissa Kane

Perhaps the NYT is changing because of people like you, voting with their money.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
3 months ago
Reply to  Melissa Kane

That’ll be my measure of when progressives have renounced wokeness – when JK Rowling is appreciated by them for her stance on women’s identity and rights.
I can’t see that happening for a very long time.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago

With regard to the NYT, this is surely a cynical attempt to placate or win back Trump Democrats.

AC Harper
AC Harper
3 months ago

In recent polls (ha!) the Democrats and Republicans had similar numbers of supporters. The independents though had bigger numbers than either main party. On the basis that the independents are the ones to court, and perhaps are the quiet majority, then it’s all to play for. Moving the Overton window further left or further right will garner no extra votes. It’s the middle where the battle will be fought.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
3 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

This make a lot of sense – well observed.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Dare we celebrate the return of the centre?

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago

Too soon to tell – it ain’t happening yet. Why on earth would the NYTIMES be considered a bell weather when it totally lost the plot years ago?

William Hickey
William Hickey
3 months ago

We should not.

This is how the political and cultural Left wins: after the Left destroys the normal, the Right settles for calling the resultant chaos the “center.”

The Right does this so it doesn’t have to fight.

This weekend in the Times Morning newsletter the term “liberal democracy” was casually applied to nations that “allow same-sex marriage,” a description that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.

If two people are holding a rope, one at each end, and the person on the left is pulling as hard as he can and the person on the right is just trying to keep from falling, in which direction will the rope move?

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
3 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Interesting.
I would have thought independents poll well when elections aren’t near – since people are more likely to be creative.
Which perhaps is also why NYT are veering away from the loonies now that ‘anyone but Trump’ is in office.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

…and what will the NYTIMES do if Trump runs again? – I’m guessing it will have another meltdown. So who needs to read a ‘neurotic’ publication!?

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 months ago

It’s an encouraging trend, but one suspects that the radicals — now institutionally entrenched, and with long careers ahead of them — won’t roll over so easily.
Yup. But they’re smart enough to lay low in the run up to an election where their favored party is at risk.

William Hickey
William Hickey
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Exactly.

The late, great Rush Limbaugh said it dozens of times on his radio program during the Clinton 1990s:

Every day the Democrats wake up, look at themselves in the mirror and say, “How are we going to fool them today?”

Benjamin Greco
Benjamin Greco
3 months ago

I wonder what the reaction to the Times editorial will be. Has Twitter exploded yet?

James Rix
James Rix
3 months ago
Reply to  Benjamin Greco

Yes – it’s almost like someone vomited in the punch bowl at their wonderful woke party.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 months ago
Reply to  James Rix

Thanks for suffering Twitter on behalf of the rest of us.

Your sacrifice is duly noted.

Karl Juhnke
Karl Juhnke
3 months ago

I guess when you are losing credibility and customers, you need to do something to keep the dollars rolling in.

William Hickey
William Hickey
3 months ago
Reply to  Karl Juhnke

They know exactly who their customers are and they are serving them.

It ain’t you.

And they are so flush with money because of their adept marketing strategy that they are outperforming the rival newspaper which is owned by the richest man in the world.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago

When I read the the NYTIMES’ headline of ‘America has a problem with Free Speech’, I thought it was a joke given the source or perhaps a Babylon Bee goof. That said, NOTHING could make me resubscribe to what became crazed propaganda, a rag. We dropped it after 35 years – I refuse to have it in the house. Luckily there are so many ways to get the news today and other good essay reading. RIP to the Old Gray Lady.

Last edited 3 months ago by Cathy Carron
John McKee
John McKee
3 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

Amen! I did the same thing..

Donn Olsen
Donn Olsen
3 months ago

These observations are easily understood. Starting with Covid and onward, the stances taken are BIG losers. Those embracing such stances are unsurprisingly therefore losers. Many manifestations of these consequences, including the (un)favorability polls and the ratings collapsing of some of the represented-as-liberal media sources such as CNN and MSNBC in the USA.

Hardee Hodges
Hardee Hodges
3 months ago

As the overreach of the woke bunch has caused too many to fall over themselves to comply, the average person is now in revolt headed out the door. The NYT must detect the shift went too far and is now trying to right itself. Wise move.

Elizabeth Dichter
Elizabeth Dichter
3 months ago

I suspect the NYT has read the polls and finally realized that: 1) its left wing Democrat and progressive customer base is shrinking (and likely to get trounced in the upcoming elections); 2) left wing and progressive policies espoused by the Editorial page of the NYT are losing popularity among a growing number of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other traditionally Democratic adherents; 3) the NYT by having a left/progressive agenda has lost its reputation for credible, fact seeking journalism, and 4) as a business the NYT must realign itself with the growing market of people in the political and cultural center.