TCS Daily


New York Times v. Sullivan

By Nick Schulz - May 14, 2002 12:00 AM

There's almost no point anymore in bitching about bias in the news media. Everyone with half a brain knows that the biggest and most powerful media outlets in print and television (e.g. New York Times, CNN, ABC News) tilt sharply to the left.

Of course, different points of view can be found at places like Fox News or the Washington Times or on radio and the Internet (indeed, this website was started in part to get around the stranglehold that big media has on what are deemed acceptable points of view or newsworthy events and developments). But a pervasive lefty bias in the media persists and that's unlikely to end.

That said, news that the writer Andrew Sullivan -- editor and publisher of the influential blog AndrewSullivan.com -- has been prohibited from writing for the New York Times Magazine by its uber-editor Howell Raines is a shame. Sullivan had published some of his most interesting and provocative work in the Times Magazine and his voice and perspective will be missed. He likely won't have a problem finding other publishing outlets to feature his work, so let's not feel too sorry for him just yet. Instead, feel sorry for the Times readers who will be denied his silky prose and zest for argument.

There is already chatter among the chattering asses dissecting Sullivan's banishment. Slate's Mickey Kaus and John Ellis of Fast Company fame suggest it is because of Raines' need for control. Meanwhile the folks at The American Prospect -- the terrific lefty publication edited by Robert Kuttner -- say that explanation is way off base. Actually, they call it "paranoid." They say Sullivan was dropped because he has taken shots at the Times for its biased coverage and shoddy reporting.

Now, all these explanations are in part probably correct. Contrary to what The American Prospect editors think, however, it's hardly paranoia to believe that Raines is a control freak. By all accounts, he is. Folks I know who work under his regime have said that everyone within the paper "talks about the new 'Howell way'" (this is not meant in a good way, mind you). It's an editor's prerogative to do whatever he or she sees fit. That's fine. But everyone at the NYT Magazine liked Sullivan, liked his pieces, liked the buzz he generated. So it seems Raines has a thing for Sullivan and simply wanted him gone.

While Raines' problems with Sullivan reportedly go way back to a time before Raines was steering the mother ship, let's suppose that the gang at The American Prospect is correct that Sullivan's criticism of The New York Times may have had something to do with Raines' decision. Indeed, although he's been effusive with praise when it has been warranted, Sullivan has at times been tough on the Gray Lady (and its resident econo-sophist, Paul Krugman, in particular). While it may provide Raines a modicum of justification, it's still a poor decision and would have reflected better on him had he left well enough alone.

Technology - with its institution-rattling and revolutionary qualities - made this kind of conflict possible, if not inevitable. Sullivan wouldn't have been able to criticize the NYT from the pages of the Times itself. It is thanks in large measure to his independent blog that his trenchant criticism of the Times could reach as many people as it has. (Interestingly, his most scathing bit of media criticism ever to appear in a print publication was not of the left-leaning Times but of the right-leaning Economist magazine which Sullivan ripped apart in the pages of The New Republic.)

If the criticism of the Times on AndrewSullivan.com has resulted in our no longer being able to enjoy his work in the Times Magazine, so be it. It's a trade-off we should all be happy to make: A vibrant Sullivan blog published daily in exchange for a Sullivan-less (and thus far less interesting) Times Magazine. It's a sad mistake on Raines' part, but in the aggregate we're better off. And we can thank technology for making it possible.
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