The Ongoing Decline of The New York Times

I have been reading the New York Times for over five decades. By the time I was ten, I came home from school to immerse myself in its pages, enthralled as the outside world enveloped me each evening at my parents’ kitchen table. I even played the game Stratego on the porch of our country home against an older boy who would become its publisher.

It is thus painful for me to watch the fall of a once-worthy institution. At one time, it had some claim to be the United States’ paper of record because of its objective reporting and the absence of a persistent agenda in determining what news was fit to print. A sensible center-left perspective generally drove its editorials. These were not my views then or now, but the paper offered a useful challenge to my enduringly classical liberal perspective.

In the last decade, however, editorials have moved sharply to the left to the point of abandoning economic rationality. For example, while the Times has consistently favored higher taxes, it once recognized that interference with the market could be counterproductive and thus did not support expanded rent control in New York. But now it is a vocal cheerleader for the policy, one that economists, right and left, believe undermines cities’ housing stock. Its editorial page inveighs against climate change denialists while becoming a denialist of fundamental economic laws.

The op-ed page began as something of a counterpoint to the editorial board. Now, the op-eds are almost uniformly left leaning and the op-ed editors appear to be interested in further slanting the submissions they receive. One recent op-ed, for instance, summarizing two reporters’ finding about the Kavanaugh nomination controversy,  was edited to omit the important fact that another woman who Kavanaugh was said to have exposed himself to at Yale did not remember the incident.  Their new motto seems to be: “don’t print the exculpatory facts about disfavored public figures.”

More troubling is the bias on the news pages. To be sure, our democracy has survived periods where one could only find highly partisan sources of news. Lest we embrace nostalgia, we should remember that papers in the early republic were almost uniformly cheerleaders for one party or the other. But in an era where public policy is more complex because the government does so many more things, a common set of facts promotes good policy and tamps down on polarization.

While as a long-time reader I can only offer my general impression of increased bias, others have tried to catalog it. In Reason, John Stossel considered flagrant bias in headlines, like the ridiculous assertion that terminating net neutrality will kill the internet. Even a former managing editor, Jill Abramson, herself recognized that news pages have become biased where Trump is concerned. A recent example is the almost comical attempt to prevent the President from bolstering his standing after the elimination of the terrorist Baghdadi by suggesting that he almost prevented the raid from happening.

The editors further display their bias not only in what they do publish, but also in what they choose not to publish. The Sunday Business section, for instance, features very few stories on the innovations of important businesses in America. Instead, the section, which appears to be shrinking, looks more at how social issues that the editors deem important interact with business and thus provides an opportunity to criticize corporations for being insufficiently socially responsive. It is a business roundup for people who emphatically do not think that the business of America is central to America’s greatness.

Beyond specific instances of reporting bias, the Times recently decided to promote an entire counter-narrative about American history—the 1619 Project, an attempt to see all of American history through the prism of slavery. It thus has left news reporting—something its editors are equipped to judge—and decided to usurp the function of professional historians. The results are absurdly presentist, skewing history to undergird the editors’ political imperatives. For instance, the introduction to that series makes the extraordinary claim that a prime motivation for the American Revolution was the colonists’ fear that Britain would abolish slavery. As one distinguished historian of the revolution told me, the problem with this proposition is that there is no evidence for it.

The Times has also taken to interspersing its obituaries with historical accounts of women and minorities who died in the long past but that its editors believe should have had obituaries. It may be that some of them would have been memorialized under current standards, but the editors are journalists, not historians, and surely significant people who did not get obituaries are not limited to those of particular races or a gender. This series is an exercise in virtue signaling, not reporting. And, like the 1619 Project, it shows that even outside its editorial pages the Times is interested in pursuing claims about what it regards as justice and will not simply stick to the difficult enterprise of finding the facts of our contemporary world.

There are three explanations for the Times‘ decline, not mutually exclusive.

  1. Trump Derangement Syndrome: Furious with Trump’s election, the Times’s reporters and editors responded by making their paper the voice of the opposition. There is some evidence for this hypothesis. At a recent town hall for staff, the executive editor Dean Baquet suggested that when Bob Mueller failed to deliver the goods to get rid of Trump, reporters felt they needed to move on to another focus, like accusations that the administration was racist. However, the decline in editorial sensibility started before Trump and has appeared in sections, like Sunday Business, that bear little direct relationship to Trump.
  2. The Decline of Advertising Revenue: The Times now depends more on income from subscribers than it generates from advertisers. As a result, it panders to its subscribers’ views, which are predominantly on the left. And as it becomes more left-wing in its reporting, it attracts more left-wing readers and loses conservative ones, setting off a vicious spiral. It also has lost pressure from advertisers to keep to objectivity. The organization need no longer maintain a kind of reputation that comports with the makers of quality products that tended to advertise in the Times.
  3. The Postmodern Generation: The new generation of reporters have been educated in the postmodern university. They have a greater commitment to leftist causes than to the truth. The newsroom town hall provides some evidence for this: older editors tried to defend the need for objectivity against younger reporters, who were having none of it.

While Trump will not be President forever, the latter two factors are likely to continue to push the Times to become an ever-less-objective paper. Advertising is likely to continue to dry up. And students appear ever more woke. Indeed, at Harvard many students recently denounced the Crimson, its student newspaper, even for seeking comment from Immigration and Custom Enforcement on a story that disputed its practices. A future generation of reporters may even drop the pretense of objectivity.

As a result, today the Wall Street Journal has the better claim to be the paper of record. Its readers seek more objective news, because they are business people who lose money if they make mistakes about the world. And ownership of the paper by Rupert Murdoch probably deters many left-wing journalists from working there. In any event, I have recently broken the habits of a lifetime and only skim the New York Times to see where the left is going. The news pages of the Wall Street Journal are what make my breakfast table a window on the wider world.

Reader Discussion

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on November 14, 2019 at 08:28:30 am

I fully concur. Growing up in NJ, from around 7th grade through graduation from college, I read the NYT daily. After graduation in '68, I moved to the CA and the Times was not easily/readily/affordably available, and I drifted away from it. But whenever in the last 20 years or so I revisited it I found many or most of the traits that this article identifies, and now, I wouldn't touch a NYT even as a gift, or free on-line, and if I did, only to identify and marvel at how far from honest, balanced, forthright reporting and towards "propaganda" it has become. How sad for what formerly was an institution known and celebrated for fair, honest, even-handed, balanced reporting and even handed editorials.

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Harvey Chao
on November 14, 2019 at 09:07:40 am

The Wall Street Journal is slowly losing its objective purview just as the Times has. Rupert is no longer at the helm, and his two sons have an entirely different perspective on what they want to achieve. The reporting, along with other operational elements of the paper make it quite evident that Lauchlin and James would much rather be part of the cool club than extend objective journalism.

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on November 14, 2019 at 09:10:20 am

Another example is the postmodern English usage that has become prevalent in the Times, such as the use of “Mx.” and the recent, unforgettable headline on an editorial: “Why’s Eric Garner’s killer still have a gun?”

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Paul Miller
on November 14, 2019 at 09:19:24 am

I gave up the NYT a couple of decades ago, when I realized that every article on anything that I knew something about was not only wrong but deliberately twisted. Apparently, there was no bottom to this descent. It is indeed a wokeness feedback loop that spirals down into total madness.

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JV DeLong
on November 14, 2019 at 09:43:11 am

"It is thus painful for me to watch the fall of a once-worthy institution. At one time, it had some claim to be the United States’ paper of record because of its objective reporting and the absence of a persistent agenda in determining what news was fit to print."

You're kidding, right? This is the same New York Times that still can't fully come to grips with Walter Duranty's (mis)reporting of the 1930's Ukrainian Holodomor.


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Image of MarkJ
on November 14, 2019 at 09:46:43 am

Yes, indeed. Why is it the 'sons" must make their own mark and undo the work of the father.
What is (or may become) true for Fox Corp was certainly true for the NYTimes when the son ascended to the helm of the times.

McGinnis misses this when he claims that the NYTimes has declined over the past ten years. As I see it - it has been near three decades of constant decline.

One may as well study a Ouija Board as read the Times.

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on November 14, 2019 at 09:53:33 am

I would only add that the sacred trinity of race, class, and gender dominates everything: entertainment, sports, fashion, art, as well as, of course, news. Rarely is a reader surprised by the contents of an article.

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Tom Halper
on November 14, 2019 at 10:14:43 am

On those rare occasions when I read something in the Times, I never feel like I’m learning or being informed—I feel like I’m being indoctrinated.

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Irwin Chusid
on November 14, 2019 at 12:04:16 pm

I never thought highly of the NYT, and I never read it regularly. However, I realize that it has gone from a liberal-leaning paper to full left-wing propaganda, as has much of the mainstream media.

But I was an avid reader of, and long-time subscriber to, the WSJ, for about 40 years. I took my first subscription as a junior in high school, when newspapers offered substantial discounts to students. But I let my subscription lapse about five years ago.

Dennis Prager said on his program a few days ago what I've been saying for over a decade: the WSJ is a liberal newspaper with a conservative editorial page. In the last years of my reading the WSJ , I was routinely finding newsworthy facts in the editorials and op-eds that were not being reported in the news section. The WSJ was, by the way, one of those scurrilous newspapers that wrote sentences like this in its news articles: "There have been 1,206 American deaths in Iraq since George W. Bush declared "Mission accomplished."

Even worse, the WSJ isn't even a good business paper anymore. Lots of uninteresting photographs fill the space once occupied by substantive articles about companies and industries and financial markets. Today, the WSJ (and Barron's, another long-time source that I no longer read) is obsessed with stories about cryptocurrencies, cannabis stocks, fake meat, films based on comic books, female or black or gay athletes and celebrities who are deemed "entrepreneurs," or "socially-responsible"(read: liberal virtue-signaling) investing. I have no use for any of it.

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James Naso
on November 14, 2019 at 12:35:03 pm

Exactly - you've saved me the time and effort to say that the new emperor is as naked as the old one...

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OH Anarcho-Capitalist
on November 14, 2019 at 17:10:42 pm

...if not as fat and wrinkled!

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on November 14, 2019 at 17:22:02 pm

We've come a long way since the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, unfortunately.
Here's the latest quasi-propaganda form the NYT: https://www.aier.org/article/the-timess-editorial-page-lies-with-statistics/

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anony mous
on November 15, 2019 at 08:27:38 am

“...the WSJ is a liberal newspaper with a conservative editorial page.

It would be more accurate to state the WSJ journal is becoming a liberal newspaper while maintaining a conservative editorial page, because they, like so many in the news media today, appear to be developing a desire to spin the news, rather than report it.

Certainly there is a market for a business journal that is capable of reporting the news in the light of our Founding Christian principles and certainly there are enough talented writers and reporters who could contribute to this endeavor. At this hour it is late, but not too late, to overthrow the Socialist Indoctrination that permeates multi-media to the point it has become a monopoly, interestingly enough, due to the absence of any “restrictions or restraints”.

No doubt unrestricted capitalism, can lead to atheistic materialism, which we can know through both Faith and reason, was not what our Founding Fathers had in mind, when they invoked The Treaty Of Paris, in The Name Of The Most Holy And Undivided (Blessed) Trinity.

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on November 15, 2019 at 08:44:46 am

Curious to know the author's opinion of Fox "news," a far more flagrant violator of journalistic neutrality than any other widely disseminated source of information.

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on November 15, 2019 at 10:12:45 am

Especially since the Trump election it's become very obvious how biased the American media is politically. In other words less trustworthy, something like reading the old communist paper "Pravda", Russians had to read between the lines to figure out what was really going on.
I don't live in the States.

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on November 15, 2019 at 16:09:17 pm

Its been years now that I've used the NY Times as mulch for my garden. But, mind you, I never bought it; I just scoured the recycling bin at my local dump to procure it. It yielded great dahlias, however.

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Ed Peitler
on November 15, 2019 at 17:47:52 pm

They're neither "far more fragrant" than any of thee others, and certainly no worse "than any other widely disseminated source of information." They're identical to the others, difference being there's only one right-leaning on TV. If their right of center propaganda didn't exist, we'd be in a complete bubble.

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anony mous
on November 16, 2019 at 10:18:33 am

An even better use of the paper is as bird cage liner. It (the paper) certainly feels at home amidst the droppings.

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on November 18, 2019 at 14:43:50 pm

Many, many people sense and feel the same thing. My own feeling is that something once good and smart and informative and interesting has been wrongfully stolen from me, ruined, never to be repaired or returned. What has been done to the Times is a great loss to us all.

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on November 18, 2019 at 14:52:13 pm

I feel for the author. As a 43 year reader of the Washington Post I gave up my subscription 2 years ago. I considered the WP as superior to the NYT but Bezos turned the paper into a propaganda organ for business and political objectives. It really was a sad and tragic fate for such a wonderful venue of conservative, moderate and liberal viewpoints and a number of thought provoking and game changing discussions.

That is all gone now. As a lifelong independent it is very difficult, if not impossible, to find a news source that is actually what the WP and NYT used to be. I have recently become a subscriber the the US version of the Spectator and while I certainly don't agree with all of the opinions it reminds me of the good old days. Respectful, thoughtful and controversial discussion.

Hopefully, there will be a change but I believe it will be a long time coming.

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Mark Epperson
on November 18, 2019 at 15:07:36 pm

Fox actually allows people with progressive viewpoints to be included in discussions on a regular basis , unlike every other outlet which mostly ignore conservative opinions.

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on November 18, 2019 at 15:12:40 pm

Let's not forget that the democrat progressives maliciously slanderd Bush too. This is not about Trump. This is about progressives' self-righteously embracing slash-and-burn politics at the expense of, well, everything civilized.

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on November 18, 2019 at 15:12:51 pm

Race, class and gender? That pretty much sums up the NYT today. Either you subscribe to the various grievance industry tenets and its constant discovery 9f new outrages or there is nothing there for you.

I too used to read the NYT religiously whether in college, grad school, or later Harvard Law, now, just to see how the insular world of the Upper West Side views the rest of the world.

The unfortunate thing is that Trump will be gone relatively quickly in the scheme of things, either in 1 or 5 years but the effects of the self trashing of this once proud institution will probably never recover

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Carl Buzawa
on November 18, 2019 at 15:35:36 pm

Virtually all the mainstream media outlets are propaganda, and not a few of the out-of-the-mainstream sources. NYT is on payroll, as is WP, WSJ, everything with a Gannet flag, and every other media chain or conglomerate regardless of location. All the electronic media is on the payroll, including FOX, and even poor old CSPAN has been captured. More subtly than the commercials, perhaps, but captured and corrupted nonetheless.

They (our real governors, including people like Bloomberg but not Trump) can't even allow sports to be out of the reach of their propagandist, cultural vandal reach. Anyone who thinks there is anything less than badly slanted reporting in the US media is either naive, mistaken, or in favor of the propaganda. It is a pity that the author of this piece (seemingly a smart, experienced, well-read person) could be such a sucker for such a long time. Makes me wonder why he wrote it.

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Brian Reilly
on November 18, 2019 at 15:39:00 pm

still makes for good fish wrap, works well in the mud room on a snowy day and lines a nice birdcage floor

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on November 18, 2019 at 15:58:28 pm

Do not fret, do not worry. What has been happening to the Times and journalism in general has been happening for the last few decades. News doesn't come to your front door, a single channel on your TV screen or from a single website page, you have to seek it by exposing oneself to a wide variety of news sources of different opinions from all over the world. Lead thy self.

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on November 18, 2019 at 16:10:10 pm


The article of lying. half truth, and leaving out pertinent information that might be a contrast to the narrative.

This when I gave up on the Times. (Sorry I'm a lousy writer ... but I got my facts down

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John C Anderson
on November 18, 2019 at 16:11:10 pm

Yep, like Obama before him, this country will survive Trump. The repair or salvage of our public institutions (i.e. media, education, political, religion) is a greater threat to our continued freedom and prosperity.

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on November 18, 2019 at 16:38:28 pm

Every honest academic study of Fox News (generally done by left-leaning academics) has found it to be the least biased and most accurate of the major TV news outlets. Denizens of the lefty bubble all earnestly tell each other how terrible Fox News is (without ever actually watching it), but ask them to defend their claims by citing several significant cases of misreporting and you're greeted with silence.

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on November 18, 2019 at 16:46:31 pm

There's a mismatch in this article between a claim and a source. The author stated that the NYT failed to disclose that Christine Ford's friend did not recall the party and was intimidated by Ford's friends. The CNN link provided says nothing at all about this. It does discuss the new report of an incident at Yale in which the NYT failed to mention that the purported victim does not recall it. I was aware of the latter case; the former was news to me and hence I was eager to read about it, but it appears that it may be news to me because it isn't true. (If it IS true, I'd still like to get the proper link!)

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on November 18, 2019 at 17:31:39 pm

Many complaints here,....... and they all sound like Trump wrote them,......... the problem is that the NYT won't feature willfully ignorant RWNJ nonsense = BAD!

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Neil Harvey
on November 18, 2019 at 17:55:05 pm

I'm 88 years old and have been reading the times regularly for at least 75 years. Last week I gave up on the print edition and switched to the digital version. I can now scan it in about 4 minutes, to see what the loons are saying, with the near certainty that I'm not missing any objective news. I've thus gained at least 30 minutes a day! The correct word to describe what has happened to this once important paper is "TENDENTIOUS" journalism. Res Ipsa Loquitur.

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Joel Ash
on November 18, 2019 at 17:57:30 pm

Having written for the NYT for more than a decade, I agree that it is in decline and has problems - the death of good copy-editing, for one thing, and the turn to a more colorful, "interpretive" approach to reporting for another (the old rules of what, when, who, how having been discarded as dull formula). And I agree with the commenter below that the decline has been detectible more along a thirty-year span than localized in the past ten.

That said, Mr. McGinnis's assessment is almost comically shortsighted. He sees left-leaning editorial choices and discerns bias. He turns to the WSJ, just as distinctly characterized by right-leaning editorial choices, feels right at home, and discerns objectivity.

In defense of both papers: if you clear away the interpretive pieces and their chin-stroking, and discount the choices about what non-obligatory news to cover or ignore, there is still excellent straight reporting to be found in them on the major stories of the day. No, not as much as formerly in the Times (which used to run much longer than the Journal, and is now sadly slenderized for the post-print era) - but it is still there, at the same high level that the straight reporting in the WSJ maintains, and in equal quantity notwithstanding the undeniable fact that there used to be a lot more.

It's likely that the WSJ will pull ahead in the future, thanks to stronger support from more affluent readers. It's also likely that its coverage - as competition dwindles - will drift still farther towards the biases typically pleasing to such readers. Journalism does not face an appetizing future. This essay makes no contribution to its improvement.

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Former NYT reporter
on November 18, 2019 at 17:58:21 pm

Be specific and list as many false claims from Fox News as you can. How many major stories have they gotten entirely wrong in the past few years? I can list several from CNN and MSNBC. The entire Russiagate hoax, CNN claiming it is illegal to look at Wikileaks, the Scaramucci debacle, the Comey testimony debacle, the Kavanaugh story, the list goes on and on. There is a common claim among the left that Fox viewers are less informed than those who watch no news at all. They claim there was a study that confirmed this. Ironically, that is false. The study actually purported to show that those who rely on cable news exclusively are less informed than those who watch no cable news at all. Fox, CNN, and MSNBC viewers ALL scored lower than people who watched in cable news. Fox viewers scored just slightly lower than CNN viewers, but ALL scored significantly lower than people who relied on multiple sources or watched no cable news. That study was intentionally misrepresented by Media Matters, and spread virally over message boards. Personally I watch very little cable news. When I do, Fox is the only option to even consider. There is a reason they have the largest audience by far. They acknowledge their bias, and dont generally get the story completely wrong.

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on November 18, 2019 at 18:12:44 pm

And then there is this:


wherein The Times calls out FedEx for not paying taxes. Gee, The Times forgot to mention that it, too, DID NOT PAY ANY TAXES.

FedEx president then calls out the Times.

It is not simply the bias of the Times and the Proggies but the hypocrisy.
Not too different than Schwarzenegger having a photo-op with that sill young Swedish girl, (a modern day Joan-of-Arc as some would have it) Greta Thunberg and then observing The Terminator driving a German Military vehicle, somewhat larger than a Hummer (which he also owns) to the grocery store.

I suppose it is OK for The Times to take advantage of the tax code but not FedEx - after all The Times IS Progressive.

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Image of gabe
on November 18, 2019 at 19:03:40 pm

NYTdotcom was once the first site I visited and revisited several times a day. Now I miserly use my free monthly allotment of articles for something I really want to see that can't be had elsewhere. WSJdotcom is not much better. The author does not mention WSJ spawned Fusion GPS. I have been reading newspapers daily as long as the author. There has not been such a degree of polarization in this country's mass media in my lifetime. The biggest legacy names are surviving on the fumes of good will that are switfly evaporating.

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David Whitney
on November 18, 2019 at 19:52:15 pm

The New York Times is the enemy of the American people. For three decades (at least), the New York Times has been delivering fake and fraudulent news that has destroyed affordable healthcare in the United States while criminally co-conspiring in the global fraud. As an example, this is my standard package on global warming: Global warming is pure fraud. If anyone is truly interested, simply go to YouTube and start
watching global warming videos. Those videos are overwhelmingly
negative towards climate change. Here are three videos to get you
started: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo7U_yfCyeU&t=146s ,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sbalx6UyAXY and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ke26J0N74YI&t=14s The global warming
fraud has cost the US Treasury on the order of $500 billion over
thirty years for unnecessary alternative energy subsidies. For
example, the Arctic is not melting, watch the second video. The
problem is the corruption of the data. Almost ALL of the warming is
adjusted data. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgk3xFHvWLE&t=59s
Also try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krrimqxDBMI and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YMttEhtgpk An early video to frame
the problem is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQPGU85cm4A One
other point: most of the pro-climate change articles are published in
publications that do not allow general comments. the result is climate
claims that have no basis in fact are allowed to stand unchallenged.
The definitive video of why we have this problem:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dj43O98HL5c I have many more videos like

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Tom Larkin
on November 18, 2019 at 20:26:48 pm

I too used to read the NYT religiously; now,because it is a propaganda sheet for left/socialist ideology, I no longer read the paper. Unfortunately, as was stated by one of your readers, the Wall Street Journal is going down the same 'woke' ideology, avenue; forsaking objective reporting. This pattern is also being followed by Fox News and it is and will continue to cost both news institutions subscribers/ viewers. As a subscriber, I ask one thing, provide me the facts; I am smart enough to analyze the facts and arrive at a conclusion. I do not need to be told how to think.

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John Gilsenan
on November 18, 2019 at 21:10:41 pm

The same can be said for the education system from K through graduate school and the effect is much more devastating.

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Max Dublin
on November 18, 2019 at 22:30:59 pm

It's likely that the WSJ will pull ahead in the future, because it has not completely jettisoned rationality in favor of some desperate and pathetic attempt to chase "wokeness." the people running the NYT are responsible; no one and no thing else.

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on November 18, 2019 at 23:25:43 pm

I apologize for conflating two matters. The skepticism expressed by the friend of Christine Blasey Ford who was supposedly present at the party where the alleged incident took place was indeed noted in their book by the two reporters who wrote the oped, see https://nypost.com/2019/09/17/christine-blasey-fords-friend-now-says-shes-skeptical-of-kavanaugh-accusation/ but the reporters themselves made the decision not to include that very newsworthy fact there. They buried their own lede. What the oped editors cut from oped was the full facts about an alleged incident at Yale, as was correctly noted in the link. I regret the conflation and have corrected it above.

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John O. McGinnis
on December 31, 2019 at 06:01:20 am

[…] The Ongoing Decline of the New York Times, by John […]

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Law & Liberty‘s Top 10 Essays of the Year
on December 31, 2019 at 06:06:06 am

[…] And it has extended by journalists eager to promote that version of history, most notoriously in the New York Times’ 1619 project. How will classical liberalism survive in the future if the left has control of the narrative of […]

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The Waning Fortunes of Classical Liberalism
on August 02, 2020 at 06:54:37 am

This is an outstanding essay that articulates many things that need to be said. It is sad when great institutions, whether in the realm of business, academia, entertainment, or journalism lose sight of their mission and allow themselves to be hijacked by those with misguided motives. That appears to have happened at the Times, and nobody seems to have the good sense to put on the brakes.

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John Streby

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.