By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
I grew up in the Cold War, and one of the things about which American journalists and journalism felt some concerted compunction was the demand to be truthful and unbiased in reporting the news. Whether it was newspaper, radio, or the recently invented television, everyone and their brother knew that the hallmark of a true journalist was neutrality, and opinion pieces and columns were clearly marked as such. By contrast, the Soviets had what was a straight up propaganda rag called Pravda, (which ironically means “truth” in Russian) that began in 1912 during the beginning of the Bolshevik movement, which then became a revolution and lasted until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Pravda was mocked by Americans irrespective of their political leanings, unless they were communists. It was everything a newspaper was not supposed to be. After all, we had the New York Times, affectionately known as the Gray Lady, the most decorated newspaper in the world. Winner of 127 Pulitzer prizes, it was the gold standard for all others, and its Gothic header was often imitated by lesser publications. Imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, and that’s about where the competition stopped. The NYT Bestseller List was where authors wanted to land, and staying there for weeks meant your work would become a classic. As the Weekly Standard so eloquently stated in 2010, “The sobriquet (the Gray Lady nickname) implied a certain stateliness, a sense of responsibility, the possession of high virtue.”
I think it’s safe to say that the journalistic equivalent of hospice has been called in to the Lady’s bedside. The President of the United States tweeted, “They’ve taken the Old Grey Lady and broken her down, destroyed her virtue and ruined her reputation… She can never recover, and will never return to Greatness, under current Management.” And while the president’s tweets could never pass for journalism, and they don’t have to, he underscores the fact that a blatant disregard for the once honorable art of communicating current events has taken a hold of her by the throat, and the death rattle is deafening.
Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh came under attack again courtesy of the NYT, and the piece is so thin and bizarre that even the Times had to walk it back by admitting that the supposed victim had no memory of the alleged incident. Stated another way, the piece is so bad that even people who still secretly believe that Justice Kavanaugh is morally bankrupt, truly perverse, and shouldn’t be on the bench, are crying foul when it comes to what the Lady is allowing to pass for journalism.
Joe Scarborough, who in no way could be considered a journalist by classic standards, excoriated the NYT for its ineptitude. “How did the @nytimes editors fail to include the below info in their article re: Kavanuagh [sic]? Would they have done so had @MSHemingway not noted the glaring omission yesterday? It was a stunning decision to leave that central fact out of an article filled with damning accusations.” (The omitted info was the fact that the supposed victim had no memory of the incident.)
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted that “it’s almost as if the reporters, editors, publishers have a political agenda.” (ALMOST???) Me thinks the senator speaketh somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Sadly, it appears that on her deathbed the Gray Lady decided to hyphenate her surname and add, Pravda. Rest in peace, old girl, if you can. We will do our best to remember you how you once were.