the national interest

Conservative Alleges New York Times Covered Up Recession

Pedestrians pass in front of the New York Times Co. building in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. New York Times Co., publisher of the namesake newspaper, said more than 100,000 people signed up for new digital subscriptions, a sign online revenue may help offset a decline in print advertising and circulation. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The hilariously over-the-top partisan slant of conservative organs like Fox News is often a puzzle — just how does any sentient conservative justify this sort of thing as news? The usual response is that conservatives consider Fox News nothing more than an antidote to the equally biased liberal media. I don’t personally consider the charge of liberal bias to be purely fiction — on social issues, in particular, the news media pretty clearly lean left — but in the conservative imagination, the mainstream news media is a pure organ of partisan bias.

Consider a sample. Last week, the New York Times published a story suggesting that the economic recovery is faltering. Jonathan Tobin at Commentary gloats:

For the last several months, liberal journalists have been plugging the idea that the United States is enjoying an economic recovery after the slow down of the past few years and that President Obama deserved the credit for rescuing the nation from its troubles

But one of the leading exponents of this thesis may be about to give up on their crusade to persuade us that everything is just fine and getting better every day. The New York Times published a front-page story intended to let its readers down gently as they confront a worsening economic picture in 2012.

The piece, titled “Rising Fears That Recovery May Once More Be Faltering,” is something of a cold shower to Times readers who have been fed a steady diet of features this year intended to prove that the recession is over.

Tobin’s post helpfully evinces many of the pathologies of his ideological tribe. For one thing, he is unable to conceive of the prospect of an economic recovery as anything other than a partisan news event, as if there is no possible reason to want a recovery other than Democratic loyalty. (The headline sets the tone: “Obama’s Recovery About to Disappear.”) Now, I don’t blame Tobin for rooting against the recovery. For people who care a lot about politics, the outcome of an election justifiably matters far more than the state of the economy. Tobin surely thinks the harm caused by President Obama’s reelection would outweigh the harm of continued economic suffering. Still, it is striking that he cannot imagine that anybody else might care about the recovery for reasons other than boosting Obama’s reelection odds.

Second, Tobin blithely asserts that the Times (along with other liberal journalists) has been steadily pumping out a cheerful line about the economy. He seems genuinely unaware of the fact that vast swathes of the macroeconomic forecasting field have suggested in recent months that the economy seems to have bottomed out. He also seems unaware of the fact that the Times has published a huge volume of stories throwing cold water on the recovery — indeed, the Times has probably taken a far more bearish line than private or public forecasters. Here’s a small sample of bearish stories in the Times, and here are some more.

Finally, we have Tobin’s theory of how the Times’s bias is playing itself out here. His premise is that the Times has been relentlessly trying to fool its readers, or America, or somebody, into thinking the economy is on the mend. But now, the evidence of a continued recession has grown so overwhelming that even the Times can no longer ignore it. (“If even the Times is prepared to admit that the recovery is collapsing, that is a sure sign the country should brace itself for far worse during the course of the year.”) So apparently liberal bias dictates that the paper “let its readers down gently.” As opposed to, I don’t know, keeping up the charade through the election. Indeed, given that private forecasters seem to remain fairly bullish on the recovery, Tobin seems to think the Times has some secret evidence of the faltering recovery — maybe slipped to them by the Obama administration’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, working hand-in-glove — and has concluded that now is the time to get ahead of the story.

Conservative Alleges NYT Covered Up Recession