(AP/Richard Drew)

New York Times op-ed page punches down at college kids: But why?

With all the problems the Times' opinion writers could address, why do they spend so much time trolling the left?


Jeremy Binckes
March 9, 2018 7:55PM (UTC)

In 2018 America, college kids seem to have gotten too big for their britches. They need to be taken down a peg or two. At least that's what the New York Times' editorial lineup seems to be focused on.

On Friday morning, Times columnist David Brooks weighed in on the debate over students being students, complaining that college kids were protesting speakers. His points were laughable and extremely played out (in my opinion, his article works best if you play "What's the Matter With Kids Today" from "Bye Bye Birdie" while you're reading). But he inadvertently raises a valid question that speaks to the overall theme of the Times' op-ed page: What is going on over there?

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Brooks' column came one day after opinion editor and columnist Bari Weiss also took a swing at college kids, by, of course, comparing them to fascists. (The op-ed page had to eat crow Thursday, pushing out a correction because Weiss took a satirical Twitter post at face value.)

It's not a great look. While the Times newsroom has been at the forefront of producing good journalism — truth-to-power scoops led by Maggie Haberman, for starters — the op-ed page has been a reactionary mess:

Times reporters have grown increasingly frustrated with the paper's op-ed section and fear it may be undermining their work. As one anonymous senior staffer put it, “Until yesterday, people felt like [Opinion] was a shakeup. Now people are worried. The newsroom feels embarrassed.”

At the center of the controversy is editorial-page editor James Bennet, who earlier this month sent a 1,500-word memo to staff outlining how he interprets former Times publisher Adolph Ochs' original mission for the section. The memo was a response to an earlier HuffPost story containing internal chat transcripts of Times employees expressing their disgust with the op-ed section, specifically the contributions of recent addition Bari Weiss.

Discerning readers might disagree. Over the past year, the Times has not only published a Bret Stephens column questioning widely established climate science but found itself the subject of a defamation suit from Sarah Palin after suggesting that inflammatory remarks made by the former Alaska governor helped incite the shooting that nearly killed Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed after a judge determined the Times had not acted with malice.) Several weeks ago, the paper ran a column titled "Background Checks Are Not the Answer" from John Lott, a gun rights advocate whose research has been repeatedly debunked. Days after its publication, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17.

It's honestly baffling why the Times' op-ed page is punching downward so hard and so consistently, and why going after college students has (it seems) been a successful strategy for the Gray Lady. The paper is doing well these days after a number of notably iffy years; it's attracting more and more digital subscribers, and the Times podcast "The Daily" has become a can't-miss ingredient.

It looks from here as if the Times' recent success is happening in spite of the opinion page, not because of it.


Jeremy Binckes

Jeremy Binckes is the senior news editor at Salon.com.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bari Weiss Bret Stephens David Brooks John Lott Media Media Criticism New York Times

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