It's been quite a few years since I read William McGowan's Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism. It was a surprisingly popular book considering the book does nothing more than discuss some of the basics of modern media bias. McGowan was editor of Washington Monthly and has been published at the Washington Post and the New York Times Magazine, among other places. He's conservative but speaks about journalism as someone who loves journalism. This made his critique much better than a lot of what passes for media criticism.
So his last book was about how many in the media approach news gathering with political correctness in mind. This is why it's not uncommon to see a journalist seek help on a story by asking if anyone knows of a Hispanic woman with a college degree who is struggling to get a business off the ground while managing a healthy work-life balance. I always think, when I come across such requests, "Aren't we supposed to report first and frame the story later?" But these things happen all the time and, sad to say, I don't think McGowan's book did anything to stop it. At least people are more informed about how political correctness can bias the news.
Anyway, McGowan is out with a new book focusing on coverage problems at the New York Times. It's titled Gray Lady Down: What the Decline and Fall of the New York Times Means for America.
The Daily Caller ran a brief interview with him. McGowan begins by saying journalism is one of America's most important democratic institutions, that the Times is central to our policy debates and our common culture, that it used to represent the gold standard of American journalism, but that it's been tarnished. He says his book seeks to understand what policies and personalities are responsible:
3. Is there an individual or a group of individuals who deserve the lion's share of the blame for the decline of the New York Times?
I think the current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who has been in control now for almost 20 years bears the most responsibility. Granted, in the last few years, he and other news executives, at the Times and in the news industry at large, have been dealt a bad hand with loss of revenues from the competition of the Internet. But Sulzberger has played that hand quite badly, allowing ideology to subtract from the paper's credibility and gravitas. And unfortunately, the rot at the top is not going away short of a change of leadership. Yes, the Times has made efforts at reform, especially since the Blair scandal and other institutional embarrassments. But like a recovering addict who pledges sobriety, they've fallen off the wagon with too much regularity and its reform initiatives have had only spotty success.
4. What are the greatest problems you see with the New York Times' coverage of issues today? And is there a particular area where they are especially bad?
The Times has been particularly bad on race, immigration, the growth of Islam in America, gay rights (especially gay marriage), the War on Terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The common thread is a mentality defined by a kind of "punitive liberalism" which holds that America at its core is somehow morally tainted and needs to atone -- to "reclaim its soul" as one of its op-ed columnists put it.
It's not news that the paper has had trouble with coverage of gay rights. Years ago the paper's public editor brutally referred to the coverage as "cheerleading." But it is interesting to see criticism of the coverage of Islam. In later questions, he says the Times is too ready to make accusations of "Islamophobia" when discussing the "War on Terror" and too resistant to report on some aspects of Islamic culture, particularly those dealing with women, that are at odds with progressive American culture.
So what do you think? Has your view of The New York Times changed over the years? What you think is best and worst about the Times? Do you still think it's the gold standard of American journalism? Why or why not? And what do you think about its overall coverage of Islam?