It has literally been decades since I relied on The New York Times as a consistent source of news and information. My “moment” with the paper came around the time William Safire opined in his Jan. 8, 1996, Times column titled “Blizzard of Lies,” that Hillary Clinton was a “congenital liar.”
In that column, Safire took Clinton to task for not just her discomfort with telling the truth, but the self-serving nature of her past actions about which she lied, including “10,000% investment returns,” the “Travelgate” firing of the entire, apolitical White House travel office in favor of Clinton loyalists, and of course the Whitewater scandal.
By today’s standards, such transgressions on the part of “A-list” politicians and their operatives seem downright pedestrian, but Safire’s opinion drew a stark contrast to the rest of the newspaper’s growing fondness for left wing (not classically liberal) perspective masquerading as hard news over thoughtful, full bodied, fully contextual reporting – with a classically liberal bent, for which it was historically known.
Safire’s column even drew the mocking response of Clinton herself, who challenged his understanding of the definition of “congenital.” She said, “My mother took some offense, because being called a congenital liar seems to reflect badly on her and my late father,” implying “congenital” as being synonymous with “inherited.” It is not.
Safire, never one to back down from a challenge, on Feb. 4 of that year satirically feigned objectivity in providing the term’s definitional history. “From this neutral corner of scholarly tranquility in the arena of hot controversy,” he wrote, “we ask ourselves today: what does congenital mean?”
He continued: “…a doctor formed it in 1796 from the Latin congentius, ‘born with,’ and the term was defined in the 1893 Oxford English Dictionary as ‘existing or dating from one’s birth.’”
In other words, no Hillary, it is not your parents, it is you.
By the time former opinion editor Bari Weiss joined The New York Times two decades later in 2016, the classically liberal bent was long gone from the papers’ newswriting gestalt, and while some of its product remains exceptional to this day, I had by then long since determined it was not a news source that could consistently deliver “All the news that’s fit to print.”
Weiss’ role was, as she put it in her publicly shared July 14 resignation letter to Publisher A.G. Sulzberger, was to “…bring in voices that would not otherwise appear in your pages: first time writers, centrists, conservatives, and others who would not naturally think of The Times as their home.”
The broad latitude given decades ago to opinion writers like Safire, a conservative whose professional home was The New York Times, and who would never be permitted to contribute regularly to the Times opinion page today, had long been replaced by forces that likely doomed Weiss’s efforts from the start.
Weiss’ excoriating resignation letter describes the Times as a narrow minded workplace, hostile to those who demonstrate “intellectual curiosity,” a place that reinforces adherence to a preordained orthodoxy masquerading as truth, and uses informal, but tacitly endorsed enforcement mechanisms including “…company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in” to keep rogue operators in line.
If her letter is to be believed, and I only believe every word, The New York Times has fallen from America’s newspaper of record to, as James O’Keefe coined with the title of his 2018 book, a driving force behind a new American Pravda.
Pravda means “truth” in Russian, and Pravda was also the information and new media arm of the Soviet Communist party from 1912 to 1991, inventing and perfecting the modern form of strong-armed propaganda masquerading as the free expression of news. In such propagandistic systems, genuine truth comporting to the preordained narrative remains acceptable. It is only where the narrative departs from the truth that the truth must be sacrificed.
Rather than a place where its writers and investigators are encouraged and supported in pushing back against the majority narrative, and offer an alternative viewpoint, the Times today, if you believe Weiss, defaults to a narrative of Democratic Party orthodoxy and left wing (again not to be confused with classically liberal) political ideology.
So, what does that mean for Bari Weiss? Well, after making what might be the best decision of her still young life to leave The New York Times, I think it means she should be encouraged to relocate to Aspen. I remember watching her deftly manage her Ideas Festival interview with Dr. Jordan Peterson of “12 Roles for Life” fame last summer, so she knows where we are, and I can only presume that she was left with a favorable impression (as most do).
Aspen, and more broadly, the Roaring Fork Valley, is a liberal place where alternative voices are still (usually) not silenced. What better place for a courageous, thoughtful writer and thinker to ply her wares than here?
Perhaps there is a spot for her at one of Aspen’s two newspapers. Or maybe one of the many well-heeled nonprofits in the upper valley could find a spot for her. She could open her own podcast studio and join forces with other independent voices of the growing “Intellectual Dark Web.”
The more smart, thoughtful and courageous people we have here, the better for us. So, Bari, if you are reading, and if you are thinking of relocating, think about coming here. I for one would love to have you as a neighbor!