In recent years, it's become painfully apparent that the Opinion section of The New York Times is staffed exclusively by what's known in the publishing industry as "assholes." This is best demonstrated by the triple threat of Bari "Intellectual Dork Web" Weiss, Ross "Stephen Miller is Good, Actually" Douthat, and Bret "Bedbug" Stephens. Why is that? What gives? Well, we have an idea.
As Donald Trump began his slow, hateful ascent to the presidency, The Times experienced a massive bump in subscribers. And the paper responded to this by doubling down on all its coverage. We could give examples and reel off figures, but we have something better: a pretty graph produced by Musa al-Gharbi of The Columbia Journalism Review, which compares the number of times the NYT has ever mentioned the name "Trump" against how many times it's mentioned "Carter," "Reagan," "Bush," "Clinton," and "Obama."
This isn't a bad business model. In an industry as tumultuous (especially these days) as publishing, you have to give the people what they want. After all, if you don't, your audience may go elsewhere. Except this left the NYT with a dilemma. Unless they could find a way to "balance" their coverage, conservatives would see them as piling on Trump and the paper would lose those subscriptions. So they hired a bunch of conservatives and "left-leaning centrists" (basically conservatives who'll feel bad about it later) to fill out the op-ed page and give the vague illusion of even-handedness.
The only problem is that these writers responded by treating this call to "balance" as a call to write whatever deranged, trigger-the-libs, contrarian word-diarrhea they could muster.
That's how we got a column by Ross Douthat advocating that Stephen Miller -- the Nosferatu-faced white nationalist who masterminded the travel ban, the immigrant family separation policy, and our go-home-we're-full approach to refugees -- deserves his seat at the policy table because his explicit hatred of brown people makes him the shot in the arm that the system needs.
It's also how we got a column by Bari Weiss which popularized the term "Intellectual Dark Web" for an obnoxious group of commentators (such as Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and Joe Rogan) who according to her are hated for speaking truth to power and have been "locked out" of the conservation. This despite the fact that they cumulatively have millions of dollars, countless fans and subscribers, and of course, newspaper columnists writing glossy op-eds about how they're persecuted.
As for Bret Stephens, where you even begin? We could mention how one of his first columns for the NYT was a high-spirited attack on the science of climate change. At his previous job at The Wall Street Journal, he referred to climate change as everything from a "mass hysteria phenomenon" for which "much of the science has been discredited" to an "imaginary enemy" conjured by the left's "totalitarian impulse." (Which was actually an improvement on his other WSJ subjects, like "the disease of the Arab mind.") Then there's his eugenics-adjacent column from a few weeks back in which he wrote about how Ashkenazi Jews have superior intelligence compared to the rest of the human race -- a piece which was edited post-publication to remove all references to a study by a racist whose research was notably discredited by, um, The New York Times. (We should note that The Times still has actual journalists, who appear to be kept safely away from the porta-potty that is the Opinion section.)
Or that time a Jewish professor joked on Twitter about him being a "bedbug," and be responded not only by trying to get the guy fired, but also with an entire trash piece about how the incident was reminiscent of the Holocaust.
Stephens then backed out of an agreed-upon debate with the professor, because he's a chickenshit in addition to being a dipshit. And this is where the problem lies.
In an age in which our conservative-led government does heinous garbage on the daily, the president decries every news outlet that even goes slightly against him as "fake news," and honest-to-god concentration camps are back (and booming), there largely isn't a way to counterbalance the narrative that "orange man bad." That only leaves room for these weird imbecilic hot takes that fail to balance out the left while somehow also failing to represent modern conservatism.
It isn't that centrists and liberals are untouchable. (Joe Biden has been giving out more creepy hugs than a banned mall Santa.) If Stephens and Weiss stopped framing discussions about "cancel culture" in reference to their latest social media dustup, they might find a worthwhile angle. Same with Douthat. In place of his column about Stephen Miller, we could have got a real discussion or viewpoint on past/current immigration policy. It'd be boring as fuck, but it'd be more befitting of an ivy league alum than surfing white nationalist waves for several hundred words.
These are rich, white, privileged bozos whose engagement with these ideas only extends as far as they'll allow their social media feeds to go. They don't know how to approach or discuss real problems, because they refuse to allow themselves to be exposed to anything other than the caricature of "leftism" as an ideology for/by whiny snowflakes who hate the truth. And truthfully, you can't count on these shitty people to suddenly decide to stop being shitty. But you can stop reading them.
For more, check out What If Donald Trump Is Just An Elaborate Prank?:
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