I Canceled the New York Times

This morning I came to the conclusion that I needed something better to do than spend a significant part of every morning hate-reading the New York Times. As if last week’s condescending coverage of the Sanders campaign’s Climate Crisis Summit wasn’t enough reason to cancel our subscription, the Gray Lady followed up last Friday with an opinion piece disguised as “objective” campaign coverage telling us unrealistic hippies that we should just give up on doing anything about climate change, “moderate” ourselves and keep shopping for Hermès bags.

Let’s take a closer look at the article starting with the headline. Newspapers have to make money on the internet and to do so they often change the paper copy headline to make it sexier online. In the paper copy, the story is headlined, “Sander’s Climate Goals Thrill Young Voters, but Experts Have Doubts.” Online the article is headlined, “Sanders’s Climate Ambitions Thrill Supporters. Experts Aren’t Impressed.” I suspect the changes in the headline were meant, in the online version, to be ever so slightly less off-putting to younger and, presumably, more left-leaning readers. The stodgy headline in the paper version more accurately reflects the, “You kids get off my lawn” tone of the article.

The headline change demonstrates that climate coverage is a tough sell in terms of selling online ads which partly explains why the most important story of our time gets so little coverage in the mainstream media. Climate change is a complex problem that eludes simple technical answers on top of being just plain depressing. If you want ad click-throughs you’re better off covering the daily WWF reality show provided by our Twitterer-in-chief.

Speaking of said Twitterer, the lede begins with a false equivalence between Bernie Sanders and President Trump,

Senator Bernie Sanders’s $16 trillion vision for arresting global warming would put the government in charge of the power sector and promise that, by 2030, the country’s electricity and transportation systems would run entirely on wind, solar, hydropower or geothermal energy, with the fossil fuel industry footing much of the bill much as Mexico was to pay for the border wall.

Keep in mind that this astonishingly biased article was written by one of the Times’s primary climate change reporters, Lisa Friedman. The article continues,

Climate scientists and energy economists say the plan is technically impractical, politically unfeasible, and possibly ineffective.

What climate scientists and energy economists? The ones quoted later on in the article? We never find out.

The first named “expert” we hear from is David Victor, an advisor to Pete Buttigieg, who centristsplains us naive kids,

“The progressive wing wants radical change, and climate change is one of those areas where this has really been the most palpable,” he said. “The Sanders plan claims to deliver radical change, but it can’t work in the real world.”

If Victor were to have advised Martin Luther King, his most famous speech might have gone something like this, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character . . . buuuuuut we just have to be realistic. It’s a nice dream but it can’t work in the real world. Just be thankful for what you’ve got.”

This, in the end, is the gist of the rest of this article and typical of the New York Times, which hides its wealthy center-right biases behind a veneer of alleged objectivity and “facts.” Look at the luxury goods advertised in the Style and Food sections and you’ll see the real constituency of this paper and why the reality of climate change is just too scary to report. If anything, Sanders’s plan doesn’t go far enough. Heaven forbid that we might actually all have to start a conversation about relinquishing the keys of our SUVs and our airline tickets so our children don’t drown in rising tides or burn up in apocalyptic fires.

I find myself longing for 19th century newspapers that were honest about their biases. Remember that Karl Marx used to write a column for the New York Times’s chief competitor the New-York Daily Tribune. That these old papers used to also cover Mars canals and underground lizard people points to a playfulness and a greater respect for readers who knew these stories were made up and who had no illusions about the objectivity of newspaper writing. Of course many things can be known through the tools of science and specialized expertise, but most aspects of what it means to be human, such as political speech, can’t be reduced to fact-checkable nuggets. As a writer I think one can make an attempt at being fair (to “corral the truth” as Mark Twain put it) but true objectivity is impossible and to pretend otherwise is to exclude the possibility of revolutionary change of the sort we’ll have to take in this climate crisis.

We know many objective facts about climate change: that it’s real, that’s it’s caused by human activity and that if we don’t do something radical now we’re looking at an even more dystopian world for future generations. But we’re also going to have to set lofty, seemingly impossible goals and dream of a different future. As King put, speaking of the hard fight for civil rights, we’re going to have, “to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” We’re not going to make any progress on climate change being sensible, practical and “realistic.” Goodbye New York Times. I canceled our subscription and donated the money I would have spent on a campaign contribution to Bernie Sanders.

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11 Comments

  1. It’s good that you are realizing how fascist the media is (supporting their corporate advertisers). The irony here is that the “hippies” in this world have more in common with trumps agenda of trying to limit wars, etc in a true search for freedom. But I know you wouldn’t go so far as to admit that. Lol!

  2. Re: the Green New Deal : “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” Good for you giving up the NYT. I read some online, but don’t subscribe for the same reasons you mentioned.

  3. I like The Guardian (theguardian.com) from Britain. You can read their International, UK, US, and Australia editions online, and they have a clear commitment to reporting on the climate emergency/crisis/breakdown.

  4. I gave up on the Times a few years ago when they were putting out weekly pro-vaccine stories, never coming near the fact that the government has actually paid out millions to people harmed by vaccines (see nvic.org). Have not expected unbiased reporting since then; and they have proved me correct. I also recommend the Guardian.

  5. Since you’re based in LA, the Los Angeles Times has improved a lot since it regained it’s independence. Also, if we want to keep an eye on local officials, who could be doing WAY MORE on climate, it’s great to support local journalism.

  6. Unrelated to this post, I wondered if you’d heard of the passing of Larry Korn yesterday. You’re interview with him was a life-changing experience for me.

  7. I also cancelled the New York Times recently following an op-ed where the author claimed that we should not be punishing President Trump for his actions in office because he was elected as an “agent of change.”

    What publication with half of a moral compass would willingly publish such a an editorial? It was beyond the pale.

    I guess I will just have to spend my days reading Mother Jones and High Country News.

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