How the New York Times Tries to Marginalize the Left

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The Providence Journal

How the New York Times Tries to Marginalize the Left

Whatever the motivation, the assertion by the New York Times that Hillary Clinton has a clear path to either the nomination or the White House was pulled out of the air. (Photo: file)

Among the several depressing outcomes of the midterm elections, perhaps the saddest has been the media establishment’s refusal to draw conclusions that run counter to the ones promoted by self-interested politicians.

A typical media “analysis” was provided by The New York Times, which almost immediately started promoting the inevitability of Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the next Democratic candidate for president. “Midterms, for Clinton Team, Aren’t All Gloom” declared its front-page headline on Nov. 7. According to the paper’s reporter, Amy Chozick, the misfortune of President Obama and Senate Majority (soon-to-to-be-Minority) Leader Harry Reid equaled good news for Mrs. Clinton and her “advisers,” among whom “a consensus formed … that it is time to accelerate her schedule.” This move toward a more rapid coronation was due to “pressure” on the former First Lady “to resurrect the Democratic Party,” since Mrs. Clinton is “already being scrutinized as the party’s presumptive nominee.”

Some, if not all, of the assumptions underlying the Times story can easily be challenged. With a Democrat still in the White House and only a narrow Republican majority in the Senate, the word “resurrect” seems a bit hyperbolic. And couldn’t one reasonably conclude that the abysmally low voter turnout was a sign of bipartisan dissatisfaction? Up to this point, Chozick and her editors were basing their thesis on the statements of “several advisers” who “insisted on anonymity,” and quoting even anonymous advisers at least suggests an effort by the journalist to do some interviews.

Two paragraphs later, however, the Times dropped any pretense of fair and balanced reporting by presenting the institutional voice of people who have very little interest in journalism, or for that matter, democracy: “In many ways,” quoth the Times, “Tuesday’s election results clear a path for Mrs. Clinton. The lopsided outcome and conservative tilt makes it less likely she would face an insurgent challenger from the left.”

On what information was this opinion based? We might conclude that Chozick is just lazy. Or we can speculate that it reflects the preference of Chozick’s editors for a Clinton candidacy. But whatever the motivation, the assertion that Hillary’s path is clear was pulled out of the air.

Chozick evidently couldn’t be bothered to call anyone identified with “the left.” She did mention an additional “silver lining” for the Clinton campaign: the “diminished … likelihood that former Gov. Martin O’Malley, another Democrat, would emerge as a serious primary challenge to Mrs. Clinton.” But, again, it doesn’t appear that Chozick tried to call O’Malley or his “advisers.” Nor, apparently, did she attempt to contact former Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., or Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., both of whom are contemplating challenges to Clinton from this mysterious region that sits to the west when one is facing north. Mysterious because nowhere did the Times define “the left” or what might excite its opposition to Clinton. Our imaginations are allowed to run wild: is “the left” a terrorist organization? A part of the outfield? Or is it just not worth mentioning?

I favor the latter explanation, since the Times so often exhibits contempt for leftists and their insistence on alternative narratives to the one the paper likes to pedal. Given that the voice of the left in America is rarely heard in the corridors of power, the Times doesn’t feel it’s important to report on it.

The Times only pays lip service to the left, mostly through its star columnist Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist who often sounds like a leftist compared with the other Times editorial and op-ed writers. But Krugman appears to be a highly reluctant leftist — so reluctant that before the midterm elections he wrote a cover story for Rolling Stone defending Barack Obama against leftist critics who think the President’s agenda has favored the rich and the powerful: “They’re outraged that Wall Street hasn’t been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that ‘neoliberal’ economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It’s hard to take such claims seriously.”

Is Krugman serious? Obama’s efforts were so modest that he failed to propose even a small increase in the minimum wage during his first term, the initial two years of which were presided over by big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. Nor did he back restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act (a relatively tame New Deal law whose reinstitution now has the bipartisan support of senators John McCain, Angus King, Elizabeth Warren and Maria Cantwell), or price controls on prescription drugs, or a reform of job-killing, Clinton-sponsored North American Free Trade Agreement (as he pledged during the 2008 campaign). He did manage to push through Obamacare, the Romneycare knockoff that has reinforced the power of rapacious health-insurance companies and caused many employers to cut full-time workers to part-time.

Had a couple of modestly popular “left” initiatives passed the 111th Congress, the House might not have changed hands in 2010, or the Senate in 2014. Tens of millions of financially beleaguered people — right, center and left — could have expressed their gratitude by voting Democrat. As with Roosevelt in 1940, they might even be clamoring for an Obama third term. And we wouldn’t have to swallow The New York Times/Paul Krugman claptrap take on politics.

John R. MacArthur

John R. MacArthur

John R. MacArthur is the president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine. An award-winning journalist, he has previously written for the New York Times, United Press International, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Under his stewardship Harper's has received eighteen National Magazine Awards, the industry's highest recognition. He is also the author of the acclaimed books The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America: Or, Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, The Selling of Free Trade: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy, and Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. He lives in New York City.

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