The Liberal New York Times

SYNOPSIS: Does the NY Times really deserve the liberal label?

For my sins, I now read four newspapers every morning. And I find myself with a puzzle.

You see, we hear constantly about the liberal bias of the Times. Yet questions of factual accuracy aside, is the Times notably liberal, or notably anti-Bush, compared with other papers?

Of the papers I read, I'd say that the tone of reporting is most hostile to the Bush administration in the Financial Times. Well, OK, that's a British paper, and even conservative British papers like the Times are far more critical of Bush than any major US paper. (Though what does that tell us?)

But the second most critical is USA Today - its coverage of the administration is a lot tougher than the New York Times.

Even the Wall Street Journal is not very different in what it covers and what it says, editorial page aside, from the NYT.

So why does the Times attract so much fire?

The answer, I think, is that it makes such a good symbol. Ann Coulter's book Slander concludes with a flat lie designed to play into cultural stereotypes: she claims that the Times didn't have a front-page story on the death of Dale Earnhardt, when every other paper did. This supposedly symbolizes the way liberals are contemptuous of ordinary Americans. In fact, the Times had a highly respectful story, on the front page, on the same day as other papers - check it out at The Daily Howler. (Why, exactly, has this devastating piece of fact-checking received no notice from major media? Paging Howard Kurtz ...)

Now the thing is that nobody would believe in this particular lie if it was told about USA Today. It works when told about the Times because the Times is the paper everyone loves to hate.

I don't give advice to Howell Raines. I don't even communicate with him more than a couple of times a year - one important thing to realize is that Times op-ed columnists are really, truly autonomous. But my advice would be to just cover the news as he sees fit. Nothing will assuage the critics - they need the Times as a villain, and they'll find ways to attack it no matter what.

Originally published on the Official Paul Krugman Site, 8.6.02