Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The New York Times has a self-congratulations problem.

This isn't exactly a new complaint (you can find similar charges going back to the 19th century), but the frequency seems to be on the rise while the gap between self-image and reality grows more notable. Today's example comes from Farhad Manjoo, who has belatedly decided to join the techno-anxiety craze.
A lot of these worries aren’t new. Though Silicon Valley runs on heedless optimism, much of The Times’s coverage has long been properly skeptical and critical of the implications of new tech. Consider the evil of “revenge porn,” or the rise in accidents caused by drivers looking at their phones. I’ve shared other fears: In 2008, I wrote a book predicting that the internet would lead us into a “post-fact” world.

For starters, lots of people were making similar points in 2008. If you're going to drop a self-reference that implies prescience, you'd better be able to show you were well ahead of the curve.

More importantly, there is absolutely no reason to single out the New York Times for its skepticism and critical attitude toward 21st Century tech. I've been writing about this for years now and here are just some of the news organizations that I've cited for doing more notable work along these lines:

The New Yorker, Vox, the LA Times, Gawker, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and Cracked

This is not to say that the NYT is horrible on this – – if anything, they are probably a bit above average – – but they certainly haven't done anything worth this kind of reflexive self-congratulation, and that tendency toward patting themselves on the back represents a much greater (and previously mentioned) problem.

The NYT has fully internalized the idea that, in all things, it is the world's best paper. This can make for an intolerably smug editorial voice, but, more to the point, it can undermine journalistic judgment, encourage childish behavior and make it almost impossible for the institution to face and correct its own problems.

The NYT's cozy relationship with Thiel and thinly veiled schadenfreude at the fate of Gawker may or may not have had something to do with the gadfly site's habit of pointing out the grey lady's lapses. The paper's decision to force an incredibly unsupportable framework of “balance” on the last election was certainly a major factor in and possibly a necessary condition for Trump's victory.

The New York Times has become HAL in 2001. It can't admit its own fallibility, and the evidence of its mistakes is driving it to make increasingly bad and dangerous choices.

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