Media Criticism Ralph Nader

To the New York Times – “We Thought We Knew Ye”

"This paper is pointing toward a journalistic monoculture, keeping out of its pages knowledgeable, experienced writers on many important, ignored subjects and positions."
From SCV History.

By Ralph Nader

In 1980 we produced a report titled How to Appraise and Improve Your Daily Newspaper: A Manual for Readers, authored by David Bollier, one of our precocious interns, who had just graduated from Amherst and went on to become an expert on the Commons (See, bollier.org). I thought about this past initiative to empower readers/consumers while contemplating what is happening in recent months to the print edition of the New York Times.

The editors call it an historic revamping in the digital age that is absorbing a growing, aliterate younger generation. I call it a frantic overreach replacing serious content with excessive photography and graphics slouching toward stupefaction. (The digital Times is doing very well).

I spend serious time reading the New York Times in print – marking up at least 30 selections daily and sending them to a variety of advocates, scholars and groups. I started reading this august newspaper at the age of ten.

Until the Internet Age of verbal incommunicados, I extended my reading experience by speaking frequently with New York Times editors, reporters and opinion-writers. Many a story idea flowed from these conversations.

Many a change for a better country resulted. What, why and how the New York Times has moved so heavily into a vast visual mix of magazine styles and supplemental entertainment for its various sections. There is a daily Arts Section, but not a single weekly section devoted to Civic activities, which should invite an extensive assessment by journalism critics and serious journalists.

Also useful would be an evaluation of the many other New York Times’ commercial ventures – launched by the desperate management to make up for the loss of print advertising – (space and classified) revenues.

However, here I wish to register an objection to the very recent unseemly, inexplicable collapse of the Times’ historic editorial and op-ed pages that are arguably the most significant two pages in all of our country’s mainstream journalism.

The implosion of these pages started some months ago when I noticed that op-eds were displacing the previously sacrosanct space for the Times’ daily editorials. From the usual three editorials taking up the left half of the page (the rest of the page was reserved for letters-to-the-editor), emerged op-eds such as the tepid exchanges between professed “liberal” Gail Collins and “conservative” hawk Bret Stephens (whose earlier Wall Street Journal writings argued for illegal wars and imperial armed violence overseas). Now in addition to each having a weekly column, they engage in strained exchanges in the weekly opinion feature “The Conversation.” What is the point of using precious space in the New York Times to showcase Bret seeking agreement on current news topics with the more moderate Gail, especially compared to featuring vibrant, fresh columns the editors could be seeking from more freelance contributors? (See some little covered subjects listed on Reporters Alert: reportersalert.org).

The pages are getting more exclusive. Preference for the remaining space not occupied by regular columnists now goes to writers who have been signed up for Times podcasts and Times newsletters. This paper is pointing toward a journalistic monoculture, keeping out of its pages knowledgeable, experienced writers on many important, ignored subjects and positions.

It keeps getting worse. In the last week or so the former editorial space was taken up with a long demand for New York City to teach children how to swim. (Important, but belonging to another section). The entire editorial page was recently an artistic portrayal of the headline “The Choices My Mother Could, and Couldn’t, Make.” (Good for another section). And just this August 3, 2022, another full-page article titled “Liz Cheney is Prepared to Lose Power, and It Shows” replaced editorials with a gigantic picture of the legislator’s face.

Is it not enough that photographs and graphics have taken up huge spaces (in the Business Section, and in the various Sunday sections) where paying readers used to receive content? The editorial and opinion pages that used to be a haven of print, with no photographs taking up space for precious content, are now also losing space to gratuitous graphics – art over function.

To be sure this is a visual age. But there is such a thing as much too much. Visuals have replaced the incisive Sunday Business Section articles by Gretchen Morgenson, consumer features by Joe Sharkey and others. Now there are photographic/print articles that have some serious readers shaking their heads and asking what are they doing in the Times Business Section.

Page two of the daily Times often has reporters explaining how they got their break-through stories, including glimpses up front and personal. I may have missed it, but no such explanations were printed giving the real reasons for thinning down the editorial and op-ed pages.

I never thought that the Washington Post – owned by Jeff Bezos – would ever overtake the Times in presenting serious content. They now have, especially comparing its Sunday Outlook Section with its remodeled counterpart the Times Sunday Opinion Section. The Post readers still receive three editorials a day. The Post also devotes a full page on Saturday to letters-to-the-editor, unlike the Times.

As for editorials, I noticed one, just one, in a recent six-day period, demurely tucked in the lower quarter of the opinion page. Whatever happened to the dozen or more full-time editorial writers who robustly championed serious issues? Have they been laid off, reassigned or what?

The Times still produces remarkable, pioneering features such as its spectacular series on the illegal predations and burning of the critical Brazilian Amazon Forest. It publishes other domestic muckraking stories so good that they beg the formation of a citizen group just to extend this newspaper’s exposure of wrongdoing and to push for reforms.

But there are also bizarre forays, such as the eleven full biographical pages on Fox’s Tucker Carlson (which he used as a promotion).

There are many other regular strange journalistic misadventures, filled with over-visualizations surrounding puzzling choices of subject matter. For instance, the Times is hung up on narrative features about little-known, extreme right-wing groups and ventures. The subjects love it. They raise money off this coverage, becoming a big act for their followers. Readers are left wondering whether anything is happening on the progressive side of the political ledger in this election year.

What should be done? Open a couple of pages for long-time readers, who have a comparative perspective, to express their opinion of these changes. Have the editors give us the reasons for these changes, beyond self-reinforcing surveys.

Of course, the Times needs to react to what the new generations of readers want to read (hopefully uplifting the quality of its many such pages). Nonetheless, its most basic mission is to offer the readers what they need to know about this tormented world of ours in the far fewer print pages they are allocating for that purpose.

Years ago, it used to be said “You can always tell a Times man, but you can’t tell him much.” Please reverse your slide toward mediocrity and recover a sense of your own special significance in an unceasingly deteriorating journalistic culture of print, radio and television and social media.

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

26 comments

  1. I cancelled my sub to NYT a year ago. Over the 5 years of my sub all comments I made to articles were published. Except when a man pretending to be a woman was appointed United States Assistant Secretary for Health was lauded as the first female to hold that office. When I wrote pointing out the person calling himself Rachel Levine is a man my comment wasn’t published. I was advised it was unacceptable. I cancelled my subscription.

    I found out there are some things which cannot be talked about in the NYT, specifically, no one can say men are not women. If they cannot acknowledge that basic reality I don’t trust them to have credibility about anything.

  2. In my lifetime I’ve watched the once august NYT devolve into a sad joke. Wake up corporate asscrack lickers! I stopped reading the Times when Chris Hedges left. Scheerpost and Substack are the go-to viable media platforms for today. The NYT, Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse and all the rest of the corrupt corporate media pablum manufactured by the Ruling Class is being relegated to the compost bin as aware Americans take to the barricades and begin to make serious arrangements for for the Apocalypse.

  3. This article was far, far too kind! The fact that $54 B was spent on arms sales to a Nazi infested military that will, and surely deserves to be destroyed IS NEVER MENTIONED ALONG WITH THE TORTURE AND PROSECUTION OF JOURNALIST JULIAN ASSANGE, and that’s just for openers. Where is the condemnation for the EGOMANIACAL, drool speaking biddy Pelosi’s WARMONGERING visit to Taiwan?
    Even Pulitzer Prize winner Lois Lane Dowd has been reduced to a stenographer for the industrial military defense contractors and
    “SOARING” Superman, Clark Kent Zelensky?
    Did she at least get a signed photo from him for his VOGUE PHOTO SHOOT?

  4. Thank you , Ralph Nader.
    Yesterday I cancelled my subscription to the NYTimes, out of sheer frustration. The telephone operator asked if I would like to say why I was cancelling: I thought for a second and said, “there’s nothing much to read any more.”

    You have detailed the reasons why quite thoroughly.

    For news, opinion, serious consideration of the state of the nation, I’m afraid I have to rely on the Internet columns, of which there are quite a few now. The paper that published the Pentagon Papers has not even a thought about Julian Assange.

    I’m glad you are still writing, and increasingly appreciative of journalists with opinions that matter.

  5. Thanks Ralph — of course “these ‘Times’ they are a-changing” is now fully invested as a giant, and ‘opinion leading’ Disguised Global Crony Capitalist Propagandist Corporation.

    “if it walks like a duck …

  6. Alas, Mr. Nader, many readers of this site consider the NYTs and WAPO to be part of some elitist MSM cabal to push fake news.

    They would sooner get their news from Pravda or Izvestia of RN.

  7. Thank you ( always ) Ralph Nader!
    Today’s print edition of the NYT offers a particlarly egregious example of the trend you so aptly decry.
    p B1 – above the fold, 6-column wide , 14 column inches of a cartoonish drawing of yellow happy/ sad faces dominates the cover page of the business section . 8-6-22

  8. Ralph Nader always the man of substance. I so appreciate his call for excellence, respect and decency – whatever the particular topic. An enduring thank you Ralph Nader.

  9. Thank you, Ralph, we really needed this. But. Why not mention, in addition to the watering down, also the more direct damage that has come from the Times. See Frank Rich’s in NY Mag on how they soft-balled Trump for years because the managing editor (I think that’s right–someone at the very top) was tight with Roy Cohn. I think we can assume Frank would know. Then of course there’s Judy Miller. It would of course be too much to say that the Times gave us Iraq and Trump but one can imagine counterfactuals in which…maybe they did? In other words, maybe there’s a non-trivial chance. Then also there’s that Sidney woman, with I believe a finance or investment banking career…or was it marketing?…who somehow got hired to lead coverage of Bernie’s second run and did a pretty crude hit job and helped cost him the nomination. Of course, maybe the world wouldn’t be any different, maybe they don’t have that much influence. But, as you say rightly say, they have a job to do and standards to uphold, not least, you know, like…integrity?…and they’re very often not doing it.

    And if you’re reading this Ralph, God, thank you for everything. You’re the best.

  10. Isn’t that the same as saying, because a person opts to go by a certain given name, you cannot trust their academic expertise as United States Assistant Secretary for Health; simply because you are angry the ‘Times’ opted not to print your asininely callous comment!
    It may also be assumed you not believe in “equal pay for equal” work?

    It took an article about a person changing their name for you to cancel your NYT subscription???

    Guess there’s not much else of real alarming interest taking place in the world, as another’s private life, that bothers you as much!
    The democratic expression, “live and let live”: Run your own life the way you want to, and let others do the same; be tolerant of differences” has no meaning for you.

    Guess hypocrisy has become endemic in America, and without a vaccine is impossible to eradicate!

    NFOFTNYT yet a LT admirer of Ralph Nader

  11. H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956): “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents… the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

    The US is a CONSUMER CULTURE not a citizen culture. US consumers don’t want to be educated, challenged, or even better informed. They just wanna party. So it’s no surprise that the NYT is just a fashion prop.

    Alexis de Tocqueville: ”When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education… the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint…. It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold…. they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.”

    I let my subscription drop out of contempt after only one year, more than 20 years ago. Out of contempt for their obvious CIA planted lies concerning Venezuela. These lies were comprehensively refuted by Mark Weisbrot of CEPR.net. I also was disgusted by the CIA managed abuse of David Webb and his book, Dark Alliance. He revealed that the CIA was crucial to massive importation of cocaine and the beginnings of the crack explosion. All to fund right wing terrorists in Nicaragua and now admitted as the truth. I believe they did the same to Alfred McCoy when he published The Politics of Heroin.

    H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956): “The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.” This should be posted as the NYT masthead motto.

    Alexis de Tocqueville : “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.”

    H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956): “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

    William Casey (CIA Director 1981-1987): “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” This should be the Washington Post masthead motto.

    1. “americans are the living refutation of the cartesian cogito ergo sum. americans are yet they do not think. the american mind peurile primitive lacks characteristic form and is therefore open to any standardization”. Julius Evola
      “nothing can thrive in america unless inflated by hyperbole and gilded with a fine coat of fraud. americans cannot think except by means of slogans—they identify garbage as quality. the stupidity and ignorance of americans has long been a topic of hilarity in Europe”. Paul Fussell

      1. Would you ever consider the notion that your brush is a bit broad?

        Is there not a single or perchance two Americans that you might think of as thoughtful?

  12. Newspapers are an instrument of the advertising/propaganda industry.
    That has always been the major source of their income.
    Marketeers don’t care what it is they’re selling – so long as consumers buy.
    These are the same folk who promoted the benefits of tobacco, the miracles of opioids, and the improvement of the climate thanks to the burning of fossil fuels.
    And many newspapers – even that very name is a conjurer’s delight – swallowed the crap and lies wholeheartedly and presented media releases as news for gullible readers who placed credence in “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

  13. I was disappointed to read this article. What strikes me most about Nader’s piece is what he leaves out. If this is a serious critique of the NYT, then with his omissions, Nader is himself making a political statement about acceptable journalistic integrity. If the Times has purged all genuine progressive voices by writers such as Chris Hedges, what does it matter that there are more graphics? And if it has turned itself into an uncritical mouthpiece for the State Department, who cares if it publishes more op-eds?

    For a critique with more rigor and intellectual honesty, I highly recommend these articles over at Consortium News by another NYT-banned writer, Robert Parry:

    How the NYT Plays with History
    New York Times: Apologist for Power.

  14. JustAMaverick, when you find that people are fixing things that “ain’t broke”, you should like Ralph Nader be asking why that is happening. Your comment about him being twenty years behind the curve appears a cheap shot when you consider the direction in which the curve of your metaphor is headed. And you ran over an apostrophe while going round the bend.

  15. I find the headlines in all mainstream media so preposterous that it makes me want to vomit. Are Americans really so stupid that they can’t see the ruse – or are they just too lazy to care? And, doesn’t anyone else find it interesting that we can’t comment about anything the mainstream writes or says? We’re just spoon fed all that tripe and expected to swallow it – lie, after lie, after lie. So much for freedom of speech.

  16. from an 1870s report on typhus
    ” . . The earth brings forth much more food than the people consume. The interests of the human race are not served when, by an absurd concentration of capital and landed property in the hands of single individuals, production is directed into channels that always guide back the flow of the profits into the same hands.

    Constitutionalism will never wipe out these abuses, since it is itself a lie . . . [which] can never truly draw the conclusions to be drawn from the principles of general equality before the law. Therefore, I abide by the doctrine which I have placed at the head of this discussion: Free and unlimited democracy. . . ”

    (progress, there will be no progress as long the 1% continue to seize power)

  17. The NYT, historically on the wrong side of everything progressive. Judith Miller was NOT an anomaly.
    I canceled my subscription in 2016 when every opinion columnist in the same week wrote negatively about Sanders using the same words like they were provided in a memo. Charles Blow was especially venomous, while Gail Collins was more tepid in her negativity but still on the negate Sanders bus. A couple days later I heard the same words verbatim in the rare NPR segment discussing Sanders. How dos that happen? Never donated to NPR again either.

  18. it has long been written amerikans are far more influenced by fake news media than europeans, South Americans….the best journalism is nearly worthless if you wish to comprehend culture, civilization, history, political economy—-such comprehension requires attention to thinkers—‘take paradox away from a thinker and you have a poor professor”. Kierkegaard
    dialectical understanding requires– connections, relations, interactions, cultural differences crude facts are meaningless–phenomenologists—Scheler Husserl, Shestov, Berdayaev, Freud Binswanger, Husserl, Marx, etc were most attentive to significance—meaning; neocon philosophers apologists of late stage capitalism—Foucault, Leotard, Deleauze—anglo philosophers only examine how a society “works”….:since the masses are eager to believe in something nothing is so easy as to arrange facts for their benefit”. Charles Talleyrand

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