Part 1—Sophisticated reader alert: Arthur Brisbane has been rather mush-mouthed as the New York Times’ public editor.
Yesterday, Brisbane wrote his most illuminating column. It was also his most delusional.
Brisbane had spoken with Richard Stevenson, politics editor of the Times. In the wake of that discussion, Brisbane described the current White House campaign and the role the Times should play in covering the ongoing nonsense.
Can we talk? By light years, this is the dumbest White House campaign of the modern era. After describing this grisly state of affairs, Brisbane says the manifest dumbness creates “an acute problem” for the Times.
How should the New York Times respond to the dumbness? As he answered, Brisbane was showing clear signs of delusion:
BRISBANE (7/29/12): By the Times’s own account, a campaign that should be offering voters clear choices on substance has devolved instead into an exercise in attacks and rapid-response counterattacks.Already, Brisbane was turning delusional. Two questions:
This presents an acute problem for The Times, which many people look to for coverage on substantive issues. If there is a news organization with the muscle to force substance back into this presidential contest, it is The Times. Does it have the will to make that happen?
Do people still look to the New York Times “for coverage on substantive issues” during White House campaigns?
It’s always possible—everything is. But we can’t imagine why.
Second question: Does the New York Times have the will to “force substance back into this” campaign? In our view, only a delusional person would ask.
In fact, the New York Times has played a leading role in the disintegration of our political culture over the past five or six White House campaigns. This time around, the campaign coverage by the Times has perhaps been the dumbest yet.
What was the Times’ top campaign story two days before Brisbane’s piece appeared? Lizette Alvarez did a photo-festooned “news report” on the state of strip clubs in Tampa! The GOP will hold its convention there! Inquiring readers needed to know if the strippers look like Sarah Palin!
(See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/12. Prepare to weep for the failing republic and for its empty “elites.”)
For the past five or six White House campaigns, New York Times has rather plainly been the problem much more than the cure. But within the world of our lofty elites, such things are never said.
Rotting elites never announce the fact that they are rotting. This pattern held as Brisbane described his conversations with several experts from elite institutions.
If Brisbane’s account can be trusted, these experts said they hoped the Times will keep things lofty this year.
“The Times is one of a handful of news outlets that can still be looked to to dig into issues, to scrub the background of candidates, to stray beyond the dialogue of the moment,'' Tom Rosenstiel allegedly said, speaking on behalf of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Up at Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Joshua Benton reportedly said something similar.
Question: At this late date, why would anyone expect the New York Times to dig into major issues? Whatever the answer might be, Brisbane soon explained what Stevenson thinks about his newspaper’s challenge.
Only 98 days are left in this dumbest of all modern White House campaigns. How will the New York Times use this time? As he offered his view, Stevenson ticked off the basic delusions which are still used to prop up the Times—and the whole sorry liberal world:
BRISBANE: I asked Mr. Stevenson, the political editor, to provide his perspective on the choices The Times faces in covering the election.There’s nothing wrong with being “relevant and insidery,” Stevenson incoherently said. But the Times should be about something more, he loftily added.
''I don't have a problem with high-frequency” coverage, he told me. ''I guess the question is: Is it worth it in terms of news value? I think we ought to be guided, especially in coverage of politics, by: Are you really adding value for a sophisticated New York Times reader?''
He added, ''I hesitate to say that we don't want to play in that lane at all because I think being up to date and relevant and insidery is not a bad thing, but not at the cost of high-value, high-impact journalism.''
Yet, as he observed, every four years the candidates have a way of defining downward the substance of the debate, reducing important issues to bumper-sticker rhetoric—a process that works against The Times's higher journalistic ambitions.
All the basic delusions are there--or should we say, All the basic cons? This includes the claim that the collapse in our political culture is the fault of the candidates alone, not of the press corps too. It includes the plainly delusional claim that the New York Times has “higher journalistic ambitions.”
But the mother of all these delusions may have come in the second paragraph we have posted. As liberal elites so typically do, Brisbane and Stevenson laid it on thick, fawning to New York Times readers.
Is it true? Does the New York Times boast a cadre of “sophisticated readers?” Signs of that cadre disappeared long ago, but the press corps panders on and the obvious truth can’t be said.
Tomorrow: What would a sophisticated reader think of the Times?