The New York Times’ Editorial Retreat
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The New York Sun marks with regret the New York Times’ decision to retreat from its tradition of issuing daily editorials. We may lurk well to the right of the Times, but we’ve read nearly every editorial the Gray Lady has issued in our lifetime — even in recent years, when her editorials have helped lead the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party and fanned the heavy swells in which liberalism has capsized.
The Times says it is not ending altogether the unsigned editorials that sketch the official position of the newspaper that claims to deliver all the news that’s fit to print. According to the editor’s note the paper issued Wednesday, readers will continue to see editorials. Its plan, though, is to reserve them for when reporting by its editorial board has led it “to support certain arguments” and for “matters of great significance.”
Why this retreat? Is it that the increasingly strident editorials were failing to contribute their part to circulation or clicks? We are not privy to the Times’ internal surveys. Our years at the Wall Street Journal, though, taught us that its editorials “sold papers,” a fact of which its then-editor, Robert Bartley, was proud. No doubt the same can be said of the deeply-reported editorials the Journal has been issuing under Paul Gigot.
We’ve also heard speculation that the Times’ retreat is an appeasement of a younger generation bent on their personal brands. We don’t sneer at the young columnists the Times has cultivated, however detached from our issues they may be. The Times’ paid online circulation is said to be soaring. The more its young columnists proliferate, though, the greater is our own yearning for a sense of the Times institutionally.
The saddest possible explanation of the Times’ retreat is that it’s a logical consequence of the decision of the paper’s own news department to abandon, in the face of the rise of Donald Trump, the goal — some would say pretense — of objectivity. That was signaled in the summer of 2016 in a front-page column by the Times media maven, Jim Rutenburg, and endorsed soon after by the paper’s editor, Dean Baquet.
It was a breath-taking development that has been well-chronicled by, among others, Michael Goodwin in the New York Post. What strikes us is this question: If every Tom, Dick, and Harriet on the news side is going to be writing opinion, what’s the point of editorials? And what did the abandonment of objectivity produce? A readership that was caught off guard and stunned when Mr. Trump emerged as president.
The Times proceeded, a week after the election, to issue its famous apology, while denying it was an apology, and vowed to do better. Then the paper’s editorials commenced a years-long dirge against the presidency of, in Mr. Trump, the candidate who played by the electoral rules in the Constitution (albeit a Constitution the reading of which in Congress the Times some years earlier editorialized was a “ghastly waste of time”).
It may be that the Times just got tired of the temptation into which it had given. It says the goal of its cutbacks “has been to increase the originality and value of contributions made in the institutional voice.” Maybe the Times figures that carping about Israel is more valuable when done once a year than once a month. And plugs for higher taxes fetch more when issued once a month than once a week. Maybe something good will come of it. That’s the Sun’s official hope.
Drawing by Elliott Banfield, courtesy of the artist.