Lynden Calling

The ‘Times,’ They Aren’t Changing

A newspaper on its last intellectual legs.

By 2.6.14

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Lynden, Washington
In mid-January, Catherine Rampell fact checked George Will’s backside.

Will, longtime conservative columnist at the Washington Post, had written about the futility of using government subsidies to override consumer preferences. People opting for big trucks over the Chevy Volt in spite of a $7,500 tax credit argues for personal preference over progressive priorities, he columnized.

Au contraire, wrote Rampell on the New York Times’s Economix blog: you say potato, I say tax deduction.

“Taxpayers often buy vehicles and claim them as business expenses so they can deduct the cost of the purchase,” she explained.

The government places limits on how much you can depreciate the value of vehicles for tax purposes. However, those large trucks and sports utility vehicles “get preferential treatment — meaning that you can take a larger deduction for big, gas-guzzling vehicles — which is why your accountant might suggest that your next business-related vehicle purchase be a Ford F-Series.”

It was a small disagreement. I wouldn’t mention it but for the fact that Rampell was hired as the latest addition to Will’s own Washington Post op-ed page.

Her hire was announced at the end of January. The way the long hiring process for these slots usually works, that means she criticized a likely future colleague by name. At the Times op-ed page, such things just don’t happen.

On a Huffington Post Live appearance, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman explainedTimes etiquette” like so: “talk about the school of thought, not the guy” — if “the guy” is your fellow op-ed page columnist.

It makes for deadly dull reading, with a bunch of columnists either banging on about their pet obsessions or shadow boxing with each other ineffectively.

Conservative columnist, blogger, and movie critic Ross Douthat is the one bright spot on the Times’s op-ed page and likely the only member of the entire opinion staff who still believes in that quaint Rawlsian notion of public reason.

Douthat uses logic and evidence. He writes to convince people who don’t already agree with him. The rest of the lot — Krugman, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Gail Collins, et al. — prefer to pose, platitudinize and snipe.

Moreover, it’s not just conservatives who are noticing the Times’ decline. This week the New York Observer ran a long story reporting on “how deeply the liberal-leaning reporters at The New York Times resent the liberal-leaning editorial page of The New York Times.”

In more than two dozen interviews with current and former Timesmen, the Observer found that Andrew Rosenthal is a deeply disliked man.

The Times newsroom views editorial pages editor Rosenthal as petty and protected. He has a huge staff of writers and editors producing doctrinaire, forgettable unsigned editorials while the rest of the paper faces downsizing. The Times continues to publish a bunch of well-paid op-ed regulars well past their prime.

Rosenthal’s opinion section is resented by Times journalists who are generally sympatico with the paper’s leftward leaning because it is seen as lazy and, worse, ineffective.

In the recent mayoral election, the editorial page pulled for Christine Quinn. She finished third. It backed Dan Garodnick in the city council speaker race and endorsed Dan Squadron for advocate. Both lost.

Times reporting influenced those races. Its editorializing? At best, people ignored it. At worst, they rallied against it.

As with New York, so with DC. Is the Times’ editorializing on any subject likely to be passed around the Obama administration these days, much less result in concrete action? Are Tom Friedman’s or David Brooks’s calls for more Chinese- or American Greatness-flavored executive power likely to convince any significant sliver of the population that’s a good idea?

No and no.

The Times is, in short, done, spent, intellectually bankrupt likely to be followed by the real thing after America’s next economic downturn.

This abdication of leadership and of reason has created an opening that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has surprisingly decided to fill. We’ll look at how well he’s doing on that front next column.

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About the Author
Jeremy Lott is an editor of rare.us.