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I have a friend who emigrated from the US decades ago and took up citizenship in Israel. He is a political scientist and has written extensively over the years about American politics. From time to time, he dispatches a letter to his children, who are now all grown up. And, once in a while, he sends a copy to me. My friend is a liberal, but he comes from a different age when liberals regularly had at their own — as conservatives still do today — when they thought their fellow partisans incompetent, obtuse, or wrong-headed. He remembers, as do I, a time when it would have been unjust to call New York’s old gray lady Pravda-on-the-Hudson; a time when that venerable paper would hammer Democrats, as well as Republicans, for their failings. Here is what he wrote his children in late August about the conduct of that newspaper today. I reprint it here with his permission.
Increasingly, American scholars and social critics are discussing mental “silos,” where people chose a discourse and live within it, hearing only from media sources that agree with them, and talking only to friends and neighbors in the same silo. From one silo to another, there is little communication, as if no one aims to combine facts, views, and theories to create a composite of data approaching the truth. Instead, they all pursue only contentions, hypotheses, and partisan revelations that make them happy (or angry) together.
This general trend, relentlessly encouraged by commercial television and social media, especially annoys someone like me, who grew up in an era during which many people at least claimed that they admired objectivity, or standards at all. Professors in the 19th and 20th centuries, for instance, were challenged in the hard and soft sciences with seeking out and promoting the truth (although we did not always succeed), and many universities incorporated that notion into their mottoes, such as when Johns Hopkins proclaimed its ideal (from John, 8:32) of “Veritas Vos Liberabit” (the truth will make you free).
It is not surprising, then, that Fox News supports the Republicans while MSNBC has evolved, this year, into a branch office of the Hillary Clinton campaign, offering the same spins that she and her “surrogates” attach to every twist and turn of this electoral season. It was less expected, however, at least to me, that the New York Times would so thoroughly join the Clinton chorus. That it did so is perhaps a symptom of how the American Establishment has closed ranks against Donald Trump.
Of course, I’m not enthusiastic about Trump. But coming from a country ruled by bigoted and brutal politicians like Bibi Netanyahu, Gilad Erdan, Tzachi Hanegbi, Avigdor Lieberman, Ze’ev Elkin, Miri Regev, Ayelet Shaked, Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel, Danny Danon, Tsip Hatovley, Yehuda Glick, Moshe Feiglin, and more, I am not hysterical about him, either, as many American journalists and politicians are.
The problem with the Times, then, is that if it has joined a silo, what’s left to read if you want to understand what’s going on in the world? Certainly not The Huffington Post or The Drudge Report.
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So let me tell you about what the New York Times has been doing in its silo recently. In its editorials it has — repeatedly — thoroughly condemned Trump and passionately endorsed Clinton. I would expect no less on the editorial page of a liberal New York newspaper and, as a private business, the Times certainly has a right to express its opinion. But — ?מה לעשות — the Times still claims on its masthead that it will print “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” in which case it still claims to print what is true, yes? But that principle has gone out the window, and with it, in my opinion, the journalistic excellence that used to characterize much of political reporting in the Times.
Here are recent headlines from the International New York Times, where the original articles (not editorials) come from the New York paper. “Trump Losing Support of G.O.P Women” (August 11); “One Backer Stands Firmly With Trump: The N.R.A.” (August 12); “Trump’s Lapses Hamper Him in Key States” (August 13-14); “Inside the Operation to Save Trump From Himself” (August 15); “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Trump Aide” (August 16); “Psychiatrists Are Torn Over Weighing in on U.S. Race” (August 17); “Big Break: Trump Casinos’ Tax Debt Cut Under Christie” (August 18).
Every one of these articles started on the front page, except for “Inside the Operation…” which appeared on p. 6. Every one of them projected a negative image of Trump, either for his odious character, his perverse remarks, his deranged supporters, or his incompetent staff. And this happens every day, some of it fed by what Clinton says about her opponent while she offers little beyond opaque platitudes about where she stands. I am still wondering, for example, exactly what she “got done” (encouraging Bill to support NAFTA? advising Obama to bomb Libya?) in order to justify saying that “I am a progressive who gets things done” (as opposed to Bernie Sanders, who was naïve and unrealistic, right?)
Posting articles which blast Trump is a form of editorial promotion on the page where news rather than opinion is supposed to appear. But beyond that, the truth is that — substance-wise — many of these same articles flow from rumors, innuendoes, gossip, libelous accusations, malicious put-downs, partisan contentions, and anonymous sources. Such articles are less like top-notch journalism than they are like character assassinations.
For example, The “Secret Ledger…” claims that Trump’s campaign chief, Paul Manafort, is “linked to illegal payments” of millions of dollars from businessmen and politicians in the Ukraine. The article reports on talk in Kiev and what is being said there by “government investigators,” “criminal prosecutors,” “anticorruption officials, “prosecutors,” “detectives,” and Ukrainian politicians, past and present.
It sounds impressive (and who knows what really happened?), but in truth such articles are analogous to the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland announcing “First the verdict, then the trial.” Nothing has been demonstrated by any of these “sources” (there have been no trials) but their suspicions (or their self-interests), therefore what the Times is actually doing is to say that where there is smoke, there must be fire. This is the same technique used by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his fans like William Buckley, Jr., when the Senator claimed that there were more than 200 Communists in the State Department. Upon examination, it turned out that McCarthy based his estimate on the voluminous raw data (smoke) in State Department files which had already been judged as insufficiently probative to support charges even in administrative courts. Thus the famous Herblock cartoon of a length of white picket fence, with a scrawled inscription on it (next to “Post No Bills”) saying that “Joe Zilch is a Red,” being carried into a meeting room as evidence for McCarthy’s investigatory committee.
Then there is “Psychiatrists Are Torn…,” which explains that, against their own disciplinary ethic which forbids them from expressing a collective political opinion, “more than 2,200… mental health specialists” have signed a manifesto which, presumably reflecting their scientific expertise, explains that “Trumpism” is a mindset which promotes false history and incites violence. In short, they are saying that the proponent of that mindset, Donald Trump, is psychologically unfit for public office. This even though they have never spoken to him and therefore cannot, by the standards of their profession, make a reputable, in-depth diagnosis of the man’s personality and character.
To say nothing of the latest, entitled “Big Break….” This article explains that while Chris Christie was governor of New Jersey, a state tax claim against Trump (announced in 2004 and resolved in 2011) — contested continually by Trump lawyers — for “almost $30 million” was settled out of court for $5 million. The clear implication of the article is that Christie as governor pulled strings (“tax debt cut under Christie”) to assure that Trump would be granted an enormous discount on his debt. You have to look in this article’s fine print to notice that the original claim against Trump in 2004 was for $8.8 million, which means that it was settled in 2011 for about 65% of the original debt minus automatic interest charges piled on by the state automatically, which is not unusual in contested tax cases. But readers of the article probably won’t pay much attention to such exact figures when they discover in the same article conclusive evidence of wrongdoing revealed by Joseph Rival, who was the husband of New Jersey’s attorney general in some of those years, and who declared, very persuasively “in a Twitter post,” that Trump was a “tax cheat.” So there!
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I could go on, but you get the point. It is not that Trump is admirable; it is that he is so unconventional as to terrify the establishment (most of whom don’t shop at Christian bookstores or attend NASCAR races). Accordingly, even the New York Times joined the vigilantes and stopped looking for complex elements of truth. This instead of occasionally noting that, for all his shocking demeanor and verbal insults, Trump sometimes puts on the table for discussion real problems that Clinton won’t address — for example the fact that Moslem immigrants, as a group, are really something of a challenge to America because virtually every suicide bomber against Western countries has been a Moslem. Or the fact that conventional politicians, including Democrats and Republicans, have ruled the country for several decades, during which time African American incarceration and unemployment rates shot up and many black neighborhoods — think Ferguson and Milwaukee — have become more impoverished and violent than before.
In fact, if you are in the New York Times silo, in this season of democratically choosing the next President of the United States, there is, so far, actually no election campaign to speak of, no back and forth between Trump’s proposals and those of Clinton. Instead, there is just a face-off between “the most qualified presidential candidate ever” and a nincompoop, if not a lunatic.
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All that may end on September 26 when the first televised presidential debate takes place. On that day, for an hour and a half, the two candidates will appear on the same stage and screen to answer, more or less, the same questions. It will be an exchange of views that no media outlet is presenting today, while the red media people bash Hillary personally and the blue media people maul Trump.
No one knows how either of the candidates will perform. But I suspect that Trump will, implicitly at least, admit that he doesn’t know as much as Clinton does about issues ranging from what to do about Zika mosquitoes to the chaotic fighting in Syria. On the other hand, he might argue that his relative inexperience doesn’t matter, that his heart is in the right place, and that her knowledge has mainly to do with producing more of the same, in which case she is part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
P.S. I should note here this morning’s front page article (August 19),
“An Advisor to Trump Who ‘Loves the Fight.’” The advisor is identified as Stephen Bannon, the “Executive Chairman” of Breitbart News, who was named Trump’s “campaign chief” on August 17. This news article (not on the editorial page, right?) describes him as “a purveyor of scorched-earth right-wing media who dwells [Bannon, not Breitbart News] in the darker corners of American politics,” and “someone who is prone to profanity-laced tirades at all hours of the night.”
 In literary terms, it is as if alternative descriptions of reality coming from silos are turning the world into one, big Rashamon play.
 See William Buckley, Jr., and Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies (1954).
 As the article says, “the total, with interest, had grown to almost $30 million.” In other words, while Trump’s lawyers were contending in court after court that Trump owed nothing, the state was automatically adding to its claim for payment, so that “the debt” grew from $8.8 million to “almost $30 million.” Then the article, using the “almost $30 million” figure, reports that the state (now ruled by Governor Christie), “agreed to accept just $5 million, roughly 17 cents on the dollar of what auditors said the casinos owed.”
 Maybe some of them like country music, which is featured repeatedly on Fox News. But in a recent White House press release describing President Obama’s favorite music, country music is conspicuously (to me) absent.
The problem that my friend has identified is not limited to The New York Times. He could have been writing about The Washington Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN… the list is long. Ask yourself this, how many liberal outlets blasted Hillary Clinton for vilifying one-quarter of the electorate and her running mate for following suit? Conservatives have let Donald Trump have it for his over-the-top claims. How many Democrats said that Clinton was out of bounds?
Nor is unprofessionalism limited to journalism. The academy is now unashamedly partisan, and the same can be said for many in the learned professions. I am not an admirer of Donald Trump. I think that much of the criticism directed at him by liberals (and conservatives) is on the mark. But today’s liberals are up to something that is ugly. They do not treat those who beg to differ with their views as mistaken and in need of persuasion. They demonize them. They vilify them, and there is no one in their number who has the courage to break ranks, to acknowledge when Trump says something worth listening to, and to subject the Democratic Party’s nominee to close scrutiny.
The logic of the position that today’s liberals take — that their opponents are wicked — leads inexorably to the conclusion that their opponents must be silenced and cowed. Last Friday, when Hillary Clinton denounced those who think her political orientation unwise as “a basket of deplorables,” she made it clear that, if she wins, something will have to be done about such people. And let’s face it. Nearly everyone who strongly backs her agrees.