There’s no denying the influence various forms of media have on society. Sometimes the effect is benign, like the influence it has on what kind of toothpaste you buy, but sometimes it can have deleterious effects that alter the movement of history. Of course, in human things, pure objectivity may be a goal beyond our reach. Everything we write and read must have some element of bias. We come from particular intellectual traditions, after all, and we are informed by them.
But shouldn’t a newspaper ostensibly designed for the mere purpose of delivering the news remain as objective as possible? Shouldn’t we be left guessing about the ideology and political interests of reporters?
In an ideal world this would be the case, but reality—especially at the New York Times—is very different.
Lest anyone think that the New York Times has only recently been biased and paid to spout anti-American propaganda, it is time to reconsider. Ashley Rindberg’s The Gray Lady Winked: How The New York Times’s Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History exposes the New York Times and its longstanding ideological roots. Rindberg offers an illuminating historical study of how the Times repeatedly has engaged in spreading lies about National Socialism, Communism, and other authoritarian regimes and various political situations around the world. This has been a clear pattern for decades, claims Rindsberg, and it’s not difficult to see what he means.
During World War II, for example, the Times refused to acknowledge the gravity of Hitler’s regime, and the correspondents would often, quite literally and openly, use Nazi propaganda points in their articles.
Was it denial of the reality that Hitler’s regime brought about or actual antisemitic support for the regime? In 1935, Frederick Birchall, one of the Times’ journalists, wrote an article about the Olympics that were then taking place in Berlin. The anti-Jewish riots were happening during the athletic event yet Birchall decided to minimize them and focus on the glory of the Olympics. Rindsberg writes that Birchall chose to see the Nazis in a positive light: “. . . Birchall was so confident that the Nazis and their tyrant were more good than bad that he felt it appropriate to rationalize the anti-Jewish riots . . .”
We might find ourselves asking whether it really matters, all these years later, that the New York Times lavishly celebrated Hitler’s Olympics, but we should be assured that it does. A newspaper of that magnitude can influence actions like whether one country engages in war or not. So its impact on history is undeniable. Then, there is also the ethical question of what ought to have been the paper’s response to the destruction of one entire group of people.
As Rindsberg writes, “The high praise [of the Berlin Olympics] sung by the New York Times rang in the ears of Americans deepening their ambivalence, allowing the Nazi monster to lurch another inch forward toward its attempt at world conquest and genocide.” (Consider that, as I write, the Olympic Games are now happening in China, where Uyghur Muslims are subject to dehumanization and elimination, yet the mainstream media, in like manner, is ignoring this fact, and in some instances even denying it).
Just as the New York Times was once sympathetic to Nazis, their love of totaliarianism was even more revealed in the paper’s sympathetic treatment of communism, which continues to this day. (Recall the recent celebration by the New York Times of socialism, which among other things featured an article about women having better sex under socialism than their counterparts under capitalism.) In the early days of Marxist ideology, in fact, the paper’s journalists were fully committed to it. Rindsberg singles out Walter Duranty, a correspondent in Russia, who blatantly lied about the living conditions under Soviet Communism. In particular, he played down the Soviet-created great famine in Ukraine, which claimed the lives of millions of people.
Like so many media figures today, Duranty was a journalistic fraud, an opportunist who loved to wax eloquent without saying anything of substance, and thrived in the company of dictators. Duranty even interviewed Stalin with a strange glee, and was immensely flattered by Stalin’s compliments. As Rindsberg writes, “For most, but especially for a news organization, flattery from a political monster would not make for a proud moment. For the New York Times, Duranty’s interview with Stalin was a triumph.”
Duranty’s reports were mostly “official dispatches” which reflected an actual propaganda position of the Soviet leaders. In some ways, one could conclude that someone like Duranty was effectively acting like a Soviet spy, in whose actions the New York Times was entirely complicit. As he was reporting falsehoods to the American public, Duranty knew that “seven million deaths [occurred] due to starvation.” This estimate was made based on Duranty’s visit to the Soviet Union between 1932 and 1933.
Readers of Rindsberg’s fascinating and thorough research will also find it interesting to learn about other blatant lies from the paper about Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq, as well as the recent fiction perpetuated by Nikole Hannah-Jones in the so-called “1619 Project” and its ridiculous claims, such as “that Abraham Lincoln was an unrepentant racist . . . that American democracy and liberty on which the system is based was birthed by Black Americans alone.”
As much as Rindsberg’s book specifically exposes the constant lies the New York Times has engaged in, his extensive study also makes us stop and reconsider what kind of information we are consuming. “Few questions today,” writes Rindsberg, “are more salient or more vital than the ones we’re asking about truth. Who determines the truth? How do we know when it’s true? Does it even matter? Can my truth be different from your truth?”
Most importantly, what happens when a newspaper is fully committed to ideology, and thus has lost any objectivity it may have had? What happens when the news is actually created by the media, something we see on a regular basis and a global scale (consider the attempts at misreporting or not reporting at all on the truckers’ convoy in Canada)?
What gets lost in the myriad of lies is justice for the real victims who are being willfully ignored for monetary and ideological gain.
Lies always have consequences, and lies perpetuated by the media on a global scale affect the turn of events and impact the future of human encounter. Now, more than ever, this problem deserves our full attention and we have an ethical responsibility to dismantle the narrative machine.