I am a life-long customer of The New York Times, and generally a satisfied one.
For sheer news-gathering firepower, they continue to stand out in a tarnished but still important field. They’ve covered — or uncovered — virtually every major story of the last century and a half. Their investigative prowess is unquestioned.
Plus, they have Paul Krugman on their op-ed page, an invaluable source of level-headed insights on a wide range of subjects. He combines a Nobel-level knowledge of economics with an astute political eye that is almost always dead on. He alone is worth the paywall, at least to me.
But with all that said, the Times has lately been pissing me off. They’ve become unreasonably invested in what Krugman himself has decried as “false equivalency” — better known as “both-siderism.” They continue to pretend that our two major parties are equally engaged in reasonable discourse, and are equally responsible for the fractious and violent state of the nation.
The Times scrupulously maintains this bizarre fiction even as it becomes clear to anyone paying attention that things are already far darker, and that one of those parties has gone dangerously rogue.
Shouldn’t they be explaining the threat to us? Or at least calling it a threat? Shouldn’t they be helping us understand both the dimensions and consequences of an armed insurrection being organized in plain sight? I understand the need for objectivity, but what’s the other side of armed insurrection?
Even as alarms blast in our ears, the Times insists on bringing us a rich variety of false equivalencies, seamlessly blended into “Democrats in disarray” stories. Part of the frustration in seeing these narratives, especially in the Times, is that they tend to be subtle — they imply more than they state outright — and pointing them out can seem almost petty.
So call me petty, but last week there was one article that fried my circuits. It was a discussion of the Jan 6 committee, and the tactics being used to build its case. These tactics, the authors note, are prosecutorial in nature, and are generally used for the takedown of organized crime figures.
Is this a bad thing? Are these tactics questionable? Are they undignified behavior for a Congressional committee? The authors don’t say.
What they do say, with a whiff of disapproval, is that “The committee has interviewed more than 475 witnesses and issued more than 100 subpoenas.” This comes in the fourth paragraph, with the implication that these numbers are somehow significant. But significant compared to what? Hold that thought.
Articles like this invariably gravitate toward the folly of Democrats, and sure enough, a Democratic operative duly warns us that Democrats may come to regret these tactics: “They think they’re fighting for the survival of the democracy and the ends justify the means. Just wait if the Republicans take over.”
This quote is as obvious as it is disingenuous, since Republicans will behave atrociously no matter what the committee does or doesn’t do, or whether they do or do not “take over.” Republican anti-democratic subversion is now a given in our lives, and everyone knows it. But the article never goes near it.
Still, with all that said, the real razor in the apple doesn't arrive until paragraph sixteen — a transition so awkward, a digression so clunky, I’m guessing it was inserted by an editor working under some both-siderist mandate from above.
It begins with the words “By comparison,” but the comparison is not evident. Indeed, one has to go all the way back to paragraph four — to the thought we’ve been holding about the 475 witnesses and 100 subpoenas — to discover that the Jan 6 committee is about to be compared, believe it or not, to the Benghazi hearings:
By comparison, the House select committee that spent two and a half years investigating the 2012 Benghazi attack issued just a dozen or so subpoenas — a small fraction of the number issued by the Jan. 6 committee so far — and made no criminal referrals.
Wow. So on one side, we have the Jan 6 committee, patiently investigating overwhelming evidence of a violent conspiracy, organized and perpetrated by armed quasi-military groups, aided and abetted by members of Congress, planned and executed at the highest levels of the executive branch, and specifically implicating the former president of the United States.
But OMG, look at all those witnesses! All those subpoenas!
On the other side, we have the notorious Benghazi hearings, which the Times knows full well were a partisan farce from day one. Set up as a Republican tribunal, the special committee worked tirelessly to dig up what they knew they would find all along — nothing. Not a shred of evidence of wrongdoing, anywhere in the U.S. government. Not a single witness to malfeasance of any kind. No basis for assuming the attack on the U.S. embassy was anything but what it was: a vile act carried out by a terrorist cell, exactly as the Times reported the day it happened.
Still, the committee did take two and a half years — and tens of millions of taxpayer dollars — to perform this feat. And they did it with “just a dozen or so subpoenas.” How efficient!
The article neglects to mention that there was virtually nobody to subpoena. You can’t have witnesses to something that didn’t happen. Nor can you make criminal referrals when there’s no crime to refer to.
The Times knows all this. They covered the Benghazi committee from gavel to gavel. They know exactly how bogus the hearings were. There was no earthly reason to bring them up here. Yet beyond the absurd apples-and-orangutans comparison, the article slyly implies, outrageously so, that the Benghazi committee might have taken some sort of smarter approach. Or in other words, Democrats are screwing up again.
The Times is not alone in this. Most of the mainstream media is just as bad or worse. The Washington Post can’t write an article about inflation or gas prices without putting either Biden or Democrats in the headline, implicitly blaming them. Conflict and controversy are what they all sell, at the expense of important information and perspective that might just come in handy when one’s democracy is under assault.
I single out the Times because it should be leading the way. It has the resources and, I submit, the responsibility to tell us what we need to know as citizens, and spare us the inane false equivalencies. If there’s danger, we need them to warn us. Who else should we trust? Facebook?
Reliable information is harder and harder to come by. Those with a reputation for providing it need to live up to that reputation. Soon.