If you’ve been half paying attention in the past week, you know that at an in-house town hall last Monday, Executive Editor Dean Baquet of the New York Times laid out a battle plan to attack Donald Trump with a “racism” theme for the 2020 election.
This update came after NYT offended staffers and readers with a headline about Trump that was too accurate. The headline merely reported what Trump did, without framing Trump as despicable and his actions as implicitly nefarious. The headline was actually changed.
So that’s where the New York Times is on the topic of “news.” (It’s here on the topic of punditry, which is equally disquieting.) It bodes ill for the selection of a coverage theme for 2020, especially when the theme is “racism.” I put “racism” in scare quotes because there’s no telling what “racism” will mean from one day to the next. We have ample evidence of that from the last 15-20 years of public discourse on the topic. The concept of racism used to have a common meaning, but today it usually just means the person slinging it as an accusation wants to disparage someone else, as often as not for reasons having nothing to do with human racial distinctions.
And that’s the crux of the matter. Baquet outlined a plan to “teach” Americans by reframing our whole history as being about “racism.” I use these words advisedly; they are the ones Baquet used in the NYT town hall.
Reportedly, NYT has built this into a large-scale effort called the “1619 Project,” which seeks to reset our idea of America’s founding. The purpose of the 1619 Project — named for the year the first Africans were brought to North America to be sold as slaves — is to sow a narrative that the founding of America was all about racism and slavery.
This comment from an NYT staffer, which has been widely quoted, sets the stage:
Hello, I have another question about racism. I’m wondering to what extent you think that the fact of racism and white supremacy being sort of the foundation of this country should play into our reporting. Just because it feels to me like it should be a starting point, you know? Like these conversations about what is racist, what isn’t racist. I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting. And so, to me, it’s less about the individual instances of racism, and sort of how we’re thinking about racism and white supremacy as the foundation of all of the systems in the country.
Baquet’s response is worth quoting at length:
I do think that race and understanding of race should be a part of how we cover the American story. Sometimes news organizations sort of forget that in the moment. But of course it should be. I mean, one reason we all signed off on the 1619 Project and made it so ambitious and expansive was to teach our readers to think a little bit more like that. Race in the next year—and I think this is, to be frank, what I would hope you come away from this discussion with—race in the next year is going to be a huge part of the American story. And I mean, race in terms of not only African Americans and their relationship with Donald Trump, but Latinos and immigration. And I think that one of the things I would love to come out of this with is for people to feel very comfortable coming to me and saying, here’s how I would like you to consider telling that story. Because the reason you have a diverse newsroom, to be frank, is so that you can have people pull together to try to tell that story. I think that’s the closest answer I can come.
Note what he said at the end. People — presumably including interested parties in the story, and outside advocates of political themery — should feel comfortable telling NYT how they’d like the story told. There’s more than a whiff in that wording that NYT will do as such people ask; i.e., in this case, focus on a “racism” theme.
There are a lot of things we could say about that, but the chief thing is that it’s not journalism.
That said, let’s not get bogged down. Those quoted passages are to clarify the reality and magnitude of what NYT is talking about. It really is about selling a slanted ideological narrative by pretending that it’s “news.”
Here’s why Americans need to just remain unteachable by the NYT. First, because there is great merit in the narrative of America’s founding as an intended bastion of religious freedom. Turning our founding into a theme of racism and slavery is a lie: no escape from Europe or settlement of a remote wilderness was required to spread slavery or make it viable. Slavery has been a human institution for thousands of years, far more prevalent in the Eastern hemisphere than the Western — although present in the Americas before Europeans arrived — and indeed still in operation in the Eastern hemisphere in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
It was religious freedom that required space and time to cultivate. The early, independent settlement of northern North America, by English, French, and Dutch settlers, was about religious freedom. There was also, mostly concurrently, colonization proactively sponsored by monarchs (adding Spain, the first explorer power, to the other three), at a time when their charters brought a level of religious repression. But the unique and enduring value of the religious-freedom legacy is that it was what triumphed in North America. And it is what made the United States of America different. For two centuries after American independence, that was the organizing narrative of our founding. It underlay the concepts in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of moral equality among men and the obligations of government regarding natural rights.
The purpose of the 1619 Project is to wipe that narrative out and replace it with a narrative about racism and slavery. That latter narrative is a lie. Slavery was institutionalized in colonial America (by the projects of crown-sponsored colonization, remember; not by the seekers of religious freedom), and that is a source of great sorrow, not to mention an important chapter in the study of human nature. We mustn’t paper over its reality in our history.
But it is not what America’s founding was about, nor what the course of our history, our political ideas, or our successes in the world were based on. (Consider: if slavery could inspire people to recognize that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights, those words would have been written 5,000 years ago instead of 243.)
The other reason we should just remain unteachable is that the NYT project is explicitly touted as a way to frame coverage of Trump in 2020. It’s the successor to the “Russia collusion” narrative, which Baquet named as the paper’s meta-narrative for all things Trump — right up until the great hope of the Mueller operation was dashed. (Quotes culled by Washington Examiner.)
Chapter 1 of the story of Donald Trump, not only for our newsroom but, frankly, for our readers, was: Did Donald Trump have untoward relationships with the Russians, and was there obstruction of justice? That was a really hard story, by the way, let’s not forget that. We set ourselves up to cover that story. …
Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, “Holy sh**, Bob Mueller is not going to do it.” And Donald Trump got a little emboldened politically, I think. Because, you know, for obvious reasons. And I think that the story changed. A lot of the stuff we’re talking about started to emerge like six or seven weeks ago. We’re a little tiny bit flat-footed.
The “racism” narrative is the next big thing to go after Trump with. Literally; that’s what they’re doing this for.
We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well. Now we have to regroup, and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story.
So, in order to associate Trump with a theme of racism for 2020, NYT plans to hammer away at a Big Lie that would — if we gave it any respect or oxygen — rob generations of Americans of the truth about where our country came from and what our ancestors, to a degree unique in all history, thought it was for.
We don’t owe NYT that respect. In fact, by doing something like this, NYT demonstrates how little respect it merits as a source of news or standard of journalism.
It will probably be wearisome to encounter the daily onslaught of the “racism” theme in the coming months. It will permeate the mainstream media by default, with Fox News becoming infected too. Fox does allow opposing voices (even showcases them in the talking-head programs), but it still frames every topic as if it must be discussed in the terms dictated by the MSM standard-setters: NYT, AP, Reuters, the Washington Post.
Some people in punditry and blogging will do a great job of debunking the narrative. I wish them success with their homework; I may do some myself. But I’m not promising anything. The NYT plan is so transparently a move in bad faith that it negates all obligation to do homework to counter it. Just ignore it. Be unteachable. Keep your congressman and your senators up to date on your unteachability. Trump is right: the New York Times won’t survive the end of his presidency. The rest of us will.