When New York Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. wrote a letter to the newspaper’s subscribers that suggested the newspaper needed to do better, without actually admitting that its coverage of the 2016 presidential election was biased against Donald Trump, he also promised the Times would try harder.
“(W)e aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism,” Sulzberger wrote. “That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you. It is also to hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly. We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign. You can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.”
Whatever else the 2016 presidential campaign may have accomplished, it appears to have provided the backdrop for the self-destruction of the American press. The Fourth Estate, the “watchdog on government,” that pillar of First Amendment integrity, now promises readers it “can rely on The New York Times to bring the same fairness, the same level of scrutiny, the same independence to our coverage of the new president and his team.”
If only this were true, and if only Sulzberger would order his newsroom troops to do the same when it comes to reporting about the Second Amendment, gun owners and gun rights organizations. The newspaper’s track record for supporting every type of gun control that comes along makes that an impossible expectation.
It is as though everyone in the Times newsroom thinks there are only nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. The newspaper treats guns as though they should be the subject of a government-regulated privilege.
Sulzberger admitted that his troops were caught by surprise. Trump wasn’t supposed to win. That honor was pre-determined to belong only to Hillary Rodham Clinton. As Michael Goodwin, writing for the New York Post put it, “Had the paper actually been fair to both candidates, it wouldn’t need to rededicate itself to honest reporting. And it wouldn’t have been totally blindsided by Trump’s victory.
“Instead,” Goodwin wrote, “because it demonized Trump from start to finish, it failed to realize he was onto something. And because the paper decided that Trump’s supporters were a rabble of racist rednecks and homophobes, it didn’t have a clue about what was happening in the lives of the Americans who elected the new president.”
It’s not just the NY Times, but most of the mainstream press, that blew it. They were, as critics have suggested, “in the bag” for Clinton.
But gun owners weren’t, and their turnout, according to the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre, made all the difference at the polls.
“In the wake of this historic event,” LaPierre said in a statement, “the same disgraced group of so-called experts, talking heads, pundits and pollsters that got everything wrong before the election are trying to deceive you once again. So let me remove all doubt: gun owners made this election happen. Hillary Clinton made her hatred for the Second Amendment a central issue of this campaign and as a result of that fatal mistake, she’s on permanent political vacation.”
Whether the mainstream press cares to acknowledge it, the gun issue may have been central to Clinton’s loss. Gun owners needed to keep her away from making Supreme Court appointments, and they did. They needed to make sure Republicans kept the Senate, as well as the House, and they did.
At some point, newspapers – and particularly, their editorial boards – must understand that most gun owners simply wish to be left alone. They were compelled to turn out in 1994 and Democrats lost control of Congress for the next 12 years. They were energized in 2000, and Al Gore lost in his home state of Tennessee against George Bush. Last week, Clinton’s year-long effort to disenfranchise gun owners blew up in her face.
There’s a lesson in this for Sulzberger and his staff.