Here’s a question for you: When it comes to defining the doctrines of blue-zip-America, which is more important — the news pages of The New York Times or the newspaper of record’s op-ed pages?
In the old days, I would have said the op-ed pages.
But that was back when most of the Times news desks were, to one degree or another, still part of (to one degree or another) the American Model of the Press (background in this .pdf file). That was certainly the case in the era of the late, great A.M. Rosenthal.
At this moment in time, there are signs of actual diversity — even tension — in the op-ed pages and maybe, just maybe, signs of a few glowing embers of editorial independence in the news papers.
But let’s still assume — as I argued in my Religion & Liberty essay, “The Evolving Religion of Journalism” — that the Times news operation is still operating as a niche-news, advocacy journalism publication anxious to please the new liberal, maybe illiberal, readers who pay cash for its content.
Let’s assume that the July, 2020, resignation letter posted by Bari “The Free Press” Weiss remains a must-read “think piece” for all news consumers. For those who need a refresh, as part of this “think piece” doubleheader, here are two key passages from that shot over the bow of the Gray Lady’s principalities and powers:
… [A] new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.
Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions. I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.
Here is another essential passage from this “read it all” classic. This comes after Weiss — a gay, Jewish, old-school First Amendment liberal — describes the in-house digital bullying that made her hit the exit door:
Part of me wishes I could say that my experience was unique. But the truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking — is now a liability at The Times. Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world? And so self-censorship has become the norm.
What rules that remain at The Times are applied with extreme selectivity. If a person’s ideology is in keeping with the new orthodoxy, they and their work remain unscrutinized. Everyone else lives in fear of the digital thunderdome. Online venom is excused so long as it is directed at the proper targets.
You get the idea. Remember that she is talking about editorial page issues AND hard news
Tbrings us to a rather short John Fea “think piece” essay that recently ran at Current: “The New York Times’ ‘Come to Jesus’ Moment.” Here is the overture, which is SURE to cause discussions to GetReligion readers who are up and running on the weekend:
For decades I have listened to evangelical Christians disparage the opinion page of The New York Times. They say it’s too liberal. It’s run by secular elites. It’s anti-Christian. Its writers don’t understand religion. But those who continue to make these claims may want to take another look. In the last decade the Times has become a bastion of American pluralism, and that means it has welcomed the opinions of Christians — yes, even evangelical Christians — to the mix.
A decade of diversity in religious and moral worldviews in the hallowed op-ed pages of the Times?
Uh, I’m not sure about that. However, it’s clear where his line of thinking is headed (#triggerwarning):
The most recent development on this front is the Times’ decision to publish a regular column by David French. French is an Army veteran, a former religious liberty lawyer, and the National Review writer whom neoconservative Bill Kristol tried to tap as a possible third-party candidate to run against Donald Trump in 2016. He is a member of the theologically conservative Presbyterian Church in America, is pro-life on abortion, and is opposed to same-sex marriage. He is married to Nancy French, a ghostwriter for Sarah Palin, Bristol Palin, Ben Sasse. It doesn’t get more evangelical than this.
French no doubt attracted the power brokers at the Times with his wildly popular newsletters at The Dispatch. The moral clarity of these pieces, especially his stinging criticisms of Trump, MAGA evangelicals, Christian nationalism, and Black Lives Matter opponents, infuriated many of his fellow evangelicals. French often ended these pieces with YouTube videos of his favorite evangelical worship songs.
This leads us to the expanded online world of the sort-of Times op-ed roster, which exists primarily in digital ink.
French joins two other evangelicals who appear regularly at the Times opinion page: Tish Harrison Warren and Esau McCaulley. Warren is a graduate of the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and was a former staff member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Vanderbilt University, where she fought for the campus ministry’s right to reserve student leadership roles for Christians. She is a priest in the evangelical-oriented Anglican Church of North America, a conservative fellowship of churches that left the Episcopal Church in the United States in response to the denomination’s liberal theology and views on sexual ethics. Last week Warren devoted her Times newsletter to an interview with Oxford University New Testament scholar N.T. Wright. The topic was Wright’s defense of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection.
And speaking of N.T. Wright, McCaulley was one of his doctoral students. He teaches New Testament at Wheaton College, the flagship liberal arts institution of American evangelicalism. Wheaton does not hire Roman Catholics and it requires faculty to sign a statement of faith affirming that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing.” Most of McCaulley’s columns deal with the African-American experience and he often brings his conservative evangelical theology to bear on these matters. Last week he too wrote about the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Wheaton College is, of course, a pretty complex place and has been for some time.
Two decades ago, a friend active in Republican circles in Washington, D.C., told me that — during her years studying at Wheaton — she never had a political-science professor that she would consider a religious or moral conservative. I am sure that there are other Wheaton grads who would disagree with that statement or, at the very least, want to debate it.
Anyway, the Current post does note the presence of Catholic Ross Douthat in Times op-ed land and then name-drops some links to the world of progressive evangelicalism.
This brings us to the thesis statement:
The New York Times commitment to Christian thinkers and commentators no longer seems like tokenism. These writers are helping to shape the discourse at the so-called “paper of record.”
Please discuss. And keep it clean, folks.
Is the Times becoming a more complex place that is open to the views of, well, half of America?
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