There is something weighty about being “the paper of record,” even if everyone knows that the paper of record leans to the left of the average Democrat. Increasingly, however, The New York Times has been vying for a different kind of status — party broadsheet, first class.
Evidence of this new ambition has long been plentiful, but dramatically surfaced again over the weekend when two of their top staff reporters, Robin Pogrebin and Kate Kelly, published in the Sunday Review explosive new allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh while he was an undergraduate at Yale University some three decades ago. The reporters, drudging up already-discredited allegations, also published shockingly graphic comments on Twitter which bizarrely minimized the alleged sexual assault only to insinuate that Kavanaugh’s real crime was that he made an Hispanic student at Yale feel unwelcome: “it confirmed that she didn’t belong at Yale in the first place.” The Times deleted the tweet, and apologized, stating that it was “clearly inappropriate and offensive,” and that they were “reviewing the decision-making with those involved.” Yet the sensational and now-deleted tweet promoting the story is not actually the most damaging aspect of the affair.
Leading presidential candidates in the Democratic primary race, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Julian Castro each insisted that the story was evidence that Brett Kavanaugh had lied to Congress and that he must be impeached. It was as if they each were reading from the same PR brief. Now why were four leading progressives ready to speak up with one voice within hours of this story appearing in the Sunday Review? Will Joe Biden follow suit? Inquiring minds should want to know. Yet incredibly, it is not the Pravda-like political coordination with The Times that is most discrediting.
The reporters, who have written a forthcoming book on Justice Kavanaugh, omitted from their story a key detail from their own book: the alleged victim, Deborah Ramirez, denies having any memory of the alleged assault. Potential or possible witnesses for the alleged crime say that it never occurred. So now we have a question of legitimacy for the so-called paper of record. The New York Times published this story as “news analysis” — a blend of news and opinion — which made serious allegations against a sitting Supreme Court Justice on the basis of uncorroborated allegations denied by the alleged victim. In any other forum of life, we might just call this what it is: lying. Or perhaps, with Harry G. Frankfurt’s theory of “bullshit,” we would do better to call it “speech intended to persuade without regard for truth.”
The New York Times staff reporters and the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party moved in perfect unison, and with great alacrity, to leap right over the alleged crime of sexual assault to a political process which has great resonance for presidential politics: impeachment. Even the reporter’s bizarre attempt to leap over the alleged assault in order to stress that the greater crime was that he made an Hispanic woman feel unwelcome at Yale, smacks of political, electoral calculation for 2020 where immigration remains a key wedge issue.
That fact pattern does not add up to an interest in justice for an alleged victim precisely because the reporters are perfectly aware that nothing corroborates their story, and they are perfectly aware that the editorial correction, amended to their story, will neither diminish their book sales, nor discount the calculated political advantages. The fact pattern of this particular story adds up to a strategic political campaign designed to raise money, excite a progressive base, and get out the vote in 2020 on the back of journalism “intended to persuade without regard for truth.”
The most remarkable thing of all, however, is that absolutely everyone knows this about The New York Times. Readers certainly know it. The progressives who make reading it part of their secular catechism, as well as conservatives who love to hate it, each seem perfectly aware that the paper serves as a validating instrument for political ends. Politicians know how to use it, as do the reporters and editors who work there. Justice Kavanaugh will not be impeached because he has not been credibly accused. The New York Times will not cease to be read, however, precisely because everyone knows all of this, and accepts it. And that suggests a far greater problem for the nation than 2020.