By Peter RoffSenior Fellow, Institute for Liberty and former Senior Political Writer, United Press International
The mighty New York Times has seen better days. Journalism's "Great Grey Lady," the grand dowager of the printed page, has experienced a steady decline in its reputation since admitting that one of the paper's most celebrated up-and-comers had something of a problem keeping the facts in and the fiction out of his news copy.
The decline in the paper's reputation has been accompanied by a turn for the worse in its economic health. It has been slow to adapt to competition from "new media" that we are told is giving fits to newspapers all across America.
The Times can no longer be taken seriously.
As the paper itself admitted on February 8, the cash flow squeeze has The Times' parent company "looking to raise money by trying to sell its stake in the Boston Red Sox and arranging a sale-leaseback of its new headquarters building." The financial picture has become so bleak that the Times accepted a $250 million cash infusion from Mexico's wealthiest man, billionaire Carlos Slim Helu (profiled in the paper's February 16, 2009 business pages), and at a rate of interest most would consider "usury."
A large part of the problem is that The Times can no longer be taken seriously. Consider the "Domestic Disturbances" penned by every Friday for the Times Web site by Judith Warner, heretofore best known as the author of "Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety."
In one recent column Warner mused openly about her apparent sexual attraction to President Barack Obama: "The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower right when I needed to get into the bathroom to shave my legs," it begins -- and then only gets worse as Warner explains she launched an email survey of women to see if she was the only one having such dreams. Apparently not, she reports.
"Many women -- not too surprisingly -- were dreaming about sex with the president," she writes about the responses she received to her informal survey, adding helpfully that "In these dreams, the women replaced Michelle with greater or lesser guilt."
There's more, but you get the idea.
In any event, columns such as this, full of liberal fawning and self-love, are inappropriate when appearing under the auspicious of what purports to be the nation's most important broadsheet. It contains "too much information" and cannot be considered serious journalism.
Warner, while doing nothing to restore the Times reputation, may have inadvertently shown the ruling Sulzburgers a way out of the paper's financial woes. It suggests the start of a new section, one in which each piece begins, "Dear New York Times: I never thought any of the things I read here were true ... until one day something just like it happened to me." Call it the "Letters to the Times," charge $25 a month for on line access and the paper would be back in the black in no time.
A larger problem is that the shrill invective coming from the likes of former theater critic Frank Rich, who now holds forth on global issues on the Times op-ed page, and others like him has reached the point of ridiculousness. Those who take the paper on a regular basis are, I suspect, increasingly tired of being told, with increasing vehemence, that they are stupid, greedy, racist, uncaring, unfeeling and wrong about almost everything they believe.
The New York Times, unlike the other daily newspapers in this nation's largest city (two of which are owned by the parent company of FOX News) is not written for "Joe Beergut from Bensonhurst." The Times, which still imagines itself to be America's newspaper of record, is written for "Larry and Lois Leisure of Larchmont" and the Upper West Sides' "Walter and Wendy Welloff." Times readers are highly educated, well off, have opinions about local and national affairs and believe they are generally good, community-minded people who may or may not enjoy complicated crossword puzzles.
To The Times, every social problem America faces is the fault of its readers in one fashion or another. They are rich, upper and upper-middle class Americans who are responsible for all that is wrong with the world. They don't pay enough in taxes -- although you would have a hard time getting most of them to believe that. But to The Times, that makes them all Mephistopheles.
So while the paper's senior management is trying to figure out how best to restore its flagging financial fortunes, it would do well to read the famous column penned for the National Review some years ago, about how the author's outlook on life got brighter and more cheerful the day after he decided to stop taking the paper.
Peter Roff, a former senior writer at United Press International, is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom, an organization that advocates for educational freedom and reform.