Media

The New York Times Editorial Board’s Creepy Avengers Fantasy

A brief note on a strange byline

 

Over the weekend I wrote a short piece about the leaden New York Times response to Donald Trump’s campaign announcement, “America Deserves Better Than Donald Trump.” I was far from the only person in the business to chuckle about this essay, written not by staff, but the paper’s illustrious Editorial Board.

Others noted the dramatic design, which featured a photo of Donald Trump in front of a bright red background, as a painting of a similarly posed Trump in Richie Rich tennis gear looked on from the side. It’s a unique effect: funeral home meets Bob Geldof-in-The Wall meets the Biden-in-Philly speech, with a dash of the iconic shot-within-a-shot joke featuring Lloyd Bridges leaning on his desk in Airplane:

Others noted a byline-preamble that puts the reader on notice that The Editorial Board authoring the text is a separate group of individuals, with distinct “expertise” and “longstanding values,” whose ageless wisdom places it above the common run of staff.

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

The paper has been using this “informed by expertise and longstanding values” tag for years, but there’s a story behind the practice that speaks to the increasingly bizarre fantasy gripping its editors.

In the second week of 2020, since-liquidated Opinion Page editor James Bennet announced that in an effort to “shed more light on how we work,” the Times would henceforth explain more about some of its processes. A new section would answer questions ranging from “How does the Times cover mass shootings?” to “How does the Times avoid conflicts of interest in book reviews?” to “What is an Editorial Board?”

The Understanding The Times series was meant to address a trust problem. An idea, to which Bennet alluded, was to convince readers that journalists do not take political direction from senior editors. Bennet noted, for instance, that “the first anyone in the newsroom learned of the board’s editorial about the impeachment inquiry into President Trump, for instance, was when we posted it to The Times’s website.”

Of course, that’s not the issue. Journalists in big organizations don’t take blunt cues from political hall monitors, but get clear messages about what bosses want by watching who is and is not promoted, what stories get top billing and which ones get sent back for endless rewrites, and, especially, who gets fired. Bennet himself could testify to this, as he’d be axed later that year for running an editorial by Tom Cotton.

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