The New York Times is dying before our eyes

May 20, 2020 • 12:30 pm

by Greg Mayer

The New York Times is dying before our eyes, and for longtime subscribers, such as myself, it is a sad and painful experience. From Orwellian editorial practices to crusading for wokeism, the decline has been clear for some time now. I used to think that Jerry was reacting too strongly to some of the Times‘ missteps, but I’ve realized for a while that, sadly, he was prescient.
One area in which the Times has stumbled in a major way has been its coverage of woo, everything from “energy healing” to “non-invasive face lifts“.  Its embrace of astrology has been especially dismaying– why on heaven’s earth would they do this? We’ve noted this before here at WEIT (for example here and here), and the woo just keeps coming. Here’s one of the latest:

The online sub-header is exquisite in its irony:
Will Coronavirus Kill Astrology? The pandemic has affected all of us. Who saw it coming?
The answer, of course, is epidemiologists and virologists saw it coming, not astrologers. But through journalistic gymnastics that defy common sense, it turns out that, according to the article, astrology is doing a fine job. It’s like all those various millennial cults who have gathered for the second coming (or the rapture, or Armageddon, or whatever), and when it doesn’t happen, they double down, finding some excuse for why the prophecy really is correct– it’s not just that the believers are fools. It’s textbook motivated reasoning. I’m reminded of what a colleague said after 9-11: “If this doesn’t give religion a bad name, nothing will.” Nothing did, and I guess the same goes for astrology.
This next example of the Times‘ love affair with woo one goes beyond astrology to ghosts!!

The online sub-header is oh-so dishonest:
For those who believe they’re locked down with spectral roommates, the pandemic has been less isolating than they bargained for.
“For those who believe…” What crap. Do they do articles coddling the idiotic myopia of “those who believe” that Obama is not an American? Or “those who believe” the world is flat?

In an article last summer, which I missed at the time, but which Jerry has recently brought to my attention, the Times actually lays out its strategy and goals for its popularization of astrology. It’s disturbing reading coming from a paper that once aspired to be, and was thought of as, the ‘newspaper of record‘.

Read this, and weep:

“We cover it because people have made it newsworthy,” said Choire Sicha, the editor of The Times’s Styles section, which reports on cultural trends and has published many of the recent articles on astrology. “It is a so frequently used part of people’s Instagram lives and online lives.”

Cicero said there is nothing so absurd that it has not been said by one philosopher or another. And the corollary to that you is don’t have to be a philosopher; masses of people, both small and large, may say and do absurd things (see Wikipedia on Heaven’s Gate; if you click on the immediately previous link, I would not advise clicking on anything within the page it goes to). It may be interesting to explore and understand the motivation for why people hold absurd beliefs. The study of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds has been well underway since at least the 19th century. But we should take the phenomenon of credulity and delusion seriously, not the beliefs themselves.

The Times used to boast that it had “All the news that’s fit to print.” Now its motto and operating procedure is “Anything that will attract eyeballs.” And they’re willing to swallow their principles—if they still have them—to do so.

43 thoughts on “The New York Times is dying before our eyes

  1. Is this not a symptom of the decline of newspapers? Their readership is ageing, dying or unwilling to pay for news, so they must hope, vainly, to find readers elsewhere.

    1. If the NYT is increasingly written and run by idiots, why should we be surprised when they believe idiotic things? It seems somewhat predictable, and presumably my astrologer could have told me so.

  2. I don’t disagree with you that the Times is fading, but this; “We cover it because people have made it newsworthy…” is, I think, an important point to consider. They are reporting what people have made newsworthy. Maybe there is a growing problem in the credulity that they employ in their reporting, but reporting on “newsworthy” things IS the job of a journalist, is it not?

    One other thing, I do believe the NYT has a history of publishing nonsense in addition to and despite its well deserved reputation for journalistic excellence.

    1. No, they don’t “cover it because people have made it newsworthy”, they cover it because people want to read it and it gets clicks and adviews.

      If you want to claim anything that gets clicks and adviews is newsworthy, fine, but then anything entertaining that happened recently is “newsworthy”.

      Presumably some people want to look for a source of news that isn’t just tabloid trash.

      1. I was once at one of their morning briefings, not long time ago. They big wigs were all there with all the lieutenants.
        The whole thing lasted about 40 minutes, of which at least 10 was spent on what has got most clicks during the last few days and how they have to focus on those subjects.
        After that 20 good minutes were spent ranting about Trump. 5 more minutes complaining about all the other conservatives around the world.
        There were few more minutes spared for the economy.

  3. Well, at least we now understand how the
    1619 project was hatched at the NYT: the planets Venus, Mars, and Hoth were ascendant in the fourth house of Aquarius. As for proof that the American revolution had no purpose other than defending slavery from reform by the King of England, that undoubtedly comes from reading the Tarot.

    1. “As for proof that the American revolution had no purpose other than defending slavery from reform by the King of England, that undoubtedly comes from reading the Tarot.”

      You obviously have not kept up with how the NYT is treating the relationship between the Revolution and slavery. The questionable passage has been corrected to this:

      “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”

      In a subsequent article the Times says:

      “If the scholarship of the past several decades has taught us anything, it is that we should be careful not to assume unanimity on the part of the colonists, as many previous interpretive histories of the patriot cause did. We recognize that our original language could be read to suggest that protecting slavery was a primary motivation for all of the colonists. The passage has been changed to make clear that this was a primary motivation for some of the colonists. A note has been appended to the story as well.”

      So, I give credit to the NYT for seeing a mistake and correcting it. Perhaps, the correction doesn’t go far enough. Like many historical issues, historians are usually not always in agreement. You’ll note the many eminent historians the Times referred to. Nevertheless, it no longer intimates that the defense of slavery was the only purpose of the Revolution and that all colonists revolted for this reason. The NYT did what all good journalists do: acknowledge errors and correct them. You don’t seem to recognize this.

      1. I’m deeply saddened by the steep decline in trust in the media in recent times (as evidenced by a slew of public polls). To an extent, the media, and here specifically the NYT, must carry some of the blame for this. You can be an activist or you can be a journalist, you cannot be both at once.

        1. It really doesn’t matter what the NYT publishes. The important thing is that their staff of journalists has diversity.

      2. In a subsequent article the Times says:

        “If the scholarship of the past several decades has taught us anything, it is that we should be careful not to assume unanimity on the part of the colonists, as many previous interpretive histories of the patriot cause did.”

        The history text book we used when I went to high school — Our American Republic, Link and Muzzey, 1966 — devoted an entire page to the Loyalists in the Revolution, and stated: “In all probability the Loyalists comprised at least one third of the entire population of the thirteen colonies…”

        The history text book we used when I taught high school history in the early 1980’s — A People and a Nation, Ver Steeg and Hofstader, 1971 — said approximately one-third of colonists supported the revolution, one-third were Loyalists, and one third were neutral.

        I don’t know where the Times came up with “unanimity” on the part of the colonists among “many” previous histories.

        1. I, also, was taught that the colonists were not unanimous in support of the Revolution with the same reported breakdown into thirds you cite. I’m quite sure there were many more family’s than Ben Franklin’s in which family members held opposing views and took opposing actions (although, Ben seemed to try to keep things together as long as he could before his major involvement on the American side later on.)

          As examples of how that has occurred in this country over time (and, no doubt, in other countries also), Missouri was torn apart before, during and after the Civil War by internal support for North vs. South, and vice versa. My Missourian Great Great Grandfather was a Northern scout killed by Southern forces he encountered while he was scouting alone in Southwestern Missouri. His body was never recovered. My Great Grandfather and three of his brothers fought on the side of the North in the same military unit. All of them were fortunate enough to live and return home. One of those brothers later was killed in Oklahoma after the war, probably due to his having been pro-North and the Oklahoman who killed him was probably pro-South. (Although, the purported real reason was that my Great Granduncle was paying too much attention to the Oklahoma farmer’s wife.) Other members of their and, my, family fought for the South. The opposing civilians in Missouri continued to fight each other during and after the war in various ways: stealing, burning and killing each other. In my own family, my Mother was a Republican and my Father a Democrat. My brother and I carry on this tradition of extremely differing political opinions. And, my sister-in-law is still pro-South.

          In another reference from my husband’s personal genealogical history: He had ancestors who were pro-Revolution and fought with them for a time but, then became pro-British fighting with the Loyalists. At the end of the conflict, he and his family escaped to Canada and took up long-term residence there. All their possessions in New York were confiscated. For a great many years thereafter, borders between the U.S. and Canada were so porous that it was easy for individuals living on one side to cross over at will. He and his family did this. After years of having family members residing in each country or, at different times a specific family residing in first one and , then the other country, they returned to live permanently in the northern middle of the U.S. Ever after, they were considered U.S. citizens. However, as a result of this heritage, my husband was entitled to be a member of the Sons of the American Revolution and whatever the comparable group was/is in Canada.

          I find the Wiki article, “Loyalist (American Revolution)” to be informative although I didn’t verify the source materials
          as I should have done (yet).

      3. The whole series is not named “One of the Many Reasons for the Revolution”. it’s named ‘The 1619 Project’ which is entirely aimed at establishing that slavery is the only reason. Just watch one of those ads on TV about the project.

  4. “We cover it because people have made it newsworthy,”…and profitable. What with so many believers out there who were buying other papers with more magic in them, we wanted a piece of that action. It was in our stars. 😁

    1. ‘“We cover it because people have made it newsworthy,”…and profitable.’

      I take it that the Times is no longer the sole arbiter of “All the News That’s Fit to Print” (if it ever was).

    2. I just don’t have time to read that sort of stuff. So the impression I get from what I do read in NYT is pretty good.

      This business, of printing articles partly because they are about what people are seen to be interested in, surely has plenty of merit. But, in the case of e.g. astrology, if they fail to include considerable material from skeptics in that same article, they are indeed going down the drain. I assume this is the case.

  5. It’s like all those various millennial cults who have gathered for the second coming (or the rapture, or Armageddon, or whatever), and when it doesn’t happen, they double down, finding some excuse for why the prophecy really is correct …

    The quintessential US case being the mid-19th century Millerites — whose post-bust down-doublers eventually morphed into the Seventh Day Adventists.

  6. Having never subscribed to the NYTs I possibly should not comment but I doubt the Times lowering of standards and journalism in general is not so different from other papers. At least the few who survive today.
    Really good quality reporting use to come from many big city newspapers in the past but that is all long gone. Massive amounts of news business have gone away completely and small town local news is nearly gone. People get their so-called news from facebook, google and other questionable sources.

    However, as bad as it is today, I notice when I turn on the cable channels, such as MSNBC or CNN and they are, as always, covering the national political news of the day, they are almost always referring to stories, articles and journalist from two sources – The NYT and the WP. That is still where serious news is covered and made in this country. I happen to take the WP and I am not saying it is perfect but where else would you suggest?

    1. You make a good point. Maybe the NYT has to engage in publishing some woo for financial reasons. It would be a national catastrophe if it collapsed. In my opinion, the NYT and the WP are still the national leaders in providing hard news. This is perhaps why Trump hates them. These papers are a bulwark in revealing and rebutting Trump’s countless lies and his attempt to subvert a free press. So, I don’t get very excited about their frivolous articles. Keeping a free press is much more important to me than quibbling about the non-important.

      1. And you never know. Maybe in 6 or 7 months when Trump is gone and the republicans are no longer in charge of anything, some rebuilding of our newspapers can be done. Everything will have to be rebuilt and fixed so why not the papers.

      2. I do wonder if it is possible to have a free press when the emphasis is more on opinion than fact. If only because pandering to peoples’ opinions is intended to increase advertising revenue.

        Who wants to read about people behaving well with good intentions?

        1. That’s actually increasingly what people have ben seeking out, particularly in quarantine. They want good news. They want hopeful things. It could go this way, if the papers lead it in that direction, aside from reporting on the heavy, real topics that must be covered because of their importance.

      3. Face it. Trump hates them because they hate Trump and never tire of reminding us of that.

    2. It is true. We can see how other sources of news and education were very different years ago. Look at National Geographic and Scientific American. They are definitely ‘squishy’ around the edges now.

  7. Cicero said there is nothing so absurd that it has not been said by one philosopher or another.

    And Cicero never had to read any Judith Butler. He could’ve given remonstrations against her that would’ve made Catiline blush.

  8. Some years ago, I kept getting telephone calls from the NYT imploring me to subscribe.
    I always asked the telephone voice “Do they have funnies?”, and explained my failure to subscribe by their answer in the negative. But in the last such call, the voice on the phone said “Yes”, they did have funnies. I thought he was just an overzealous salesman, but now we know what he was referring to.

  9. I used to receive mail for a Mr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz at my address, and I assumed they were previous tenants who had died at the address before I moved in. I told friends that Mr. and Mrs. Jurkiewicz still haunted my basement. I portrayed them as an elderly couple with courtly manners and impenetrable Polish accents, who liked to rattle basement doors and occasionally materialized and floated through a wall. My son’s keyboard synthesizer would mysteriously turn on and play Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude”, especially on the birthdays of St. Andrzej or Ignacy Paderewski.

    I mention this because the NYT story on “Quarantining with a Ghost?” conveys a dozen stories of exactly this sort, except that the NYT article’s tone is not joking but (pardon the pun) dead-serious. Unfortunate, really, that the NYT reporter didn’t interview me. I could have filled her ear.

  10. “But through journalistic gymnastics that defy common sense, it turns out that, according to the article, astrology is doing a fine job.”

    Of course it is. Astrology predicted 21 of the last 3 epidemics, 19 of the last 4 successful political movements, and 76 of my last 1 love affairs.

  11. I usually don’t read the whole content but thanks to you that I have gone through every word of this article. I really liked the cold calling part and I got to know about the price idea for billboard in Time Square. I also have saved a image to print it out for my desk. Thanks a lot for this kind of information. I subscribed to be updated.

  12. As a NYer the Times’ wokeness grinds my gears – but its submission to woo that really breaks my heart.
    If it were a friend I’d fire it for that alone but I live here – I can’t afford to fire them. (sigh)
    D.A., J.D., Chelsea, Manhattan

  13. “At a White House briefing, President Trump theorized — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.”

    The Times said that (since retracted). They might as well have said “The emperor’s new clothes – non-existent, in the view of some experts – are creating quite a stir.”

    The Times has been astonishingly mealy-mouthed about Trump, unable to come to terms with what he is, and reporting on him as if he were just another president.

    Despite the great depth of reporting they can muster from around the world, their status and reputation has plummeted. They can no longer be relied on to report the news in a straightforward way, especially if it is remotely political.

    1. Given the death throes of newspapers all over the country that would like to remain in business, I can understand this catering to
      individuals who prefer non-news or “fake news” or poorly written news. The Oregonian, which was once a fairly substantial newspaper in size and heft has been turned into a sylph of its’ former self. I don’t like it, but I can understand that a news medium wanting to survive might feel they have to cover woo and other such questionable topics to meet the reading preferences of whomever will buy.

      On the other hand, whether it’s print media or other sources of written “news” or discourse, I have to take it in small doses because the writing has become so awful by so many: incorrect use of language. little, no or incorrect usage of punctuation,(I’m sometimes guilty of this one,.) misspellings, lack of editing. Too many generations of students poorly trained in readin’ ‘n’ ritin’.

      Not to mention the proliferation of slang usages as acceptable language on the net.

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