The Paper of Non-Record
Since 1913, US librarians have considered The New York Times “the newspaper of record,” a distinction accorded by the larger public since. And it has rightly deserved this honor because, despite its leaning left on some issues, it succeeds at reporting accurately and fairly. Unfortunately, it has just stubbed its toe, or maybe broken a leg.
The paper devoted the entire issue of The New York Times Magazine, as well as a separate standalone section of the Sunday paper, to the 1619 Project: “[a] breathtakingly ambitious and ideologically radical undertaking—nothing less than the telling of the story of American history,” in the words of left-center columnist Damon Linker. The theme? The real beginning of America happened in 1619, when the first ship carrying African slaves arrived on American shores. In essay after essay, we are told that slavery is the cause of every conceivable problem in American life, from lack of universal health care to high sugar consumption to traffic jams in Atlanta.
Linker’s summary graph at The Week: The Times “treat[s] history in a highly sensationalistic, reductionistic, and tendentious way, with the cumulative result resembling agitprop more than responsible journalism or scholarship. Putting aside any pretense toward nuance or complexity, the paper has surrendered to the sensibility of left-wing political activists. The result is unpersuasive—and a sad comment on the state of our country’s public life.”
I happen to like reading historical theses that push the envelope and force us to reimagine our past, like Charles Beard’s 1913 book that argued that the Founding Fathers were more interested in preserving their wealth than human rights. Such one-sided views bring new things to light and help nuance our historical understanding, even when they fail to convince overall.
But it strikes me that the newspaper of record has a bigger job—in this case, yes, showcasing the new school of history but, as the newspaper of record, also showcasing those who take a different view. And certainly not acting as if this one interpretation is THE way to understand US history. In that, they’ve done a disservice to their legacy and to the nation.
I’ve just spent five days on a Holocaust tour, looking back to a time when German papers spread half-truths to shape a nation, so the news of The Times fiasco hit me harder than it might have otherwise. So did an article by David French in The National Review. He recounts the courage of two young women who stood up to blatantly unconstitutional and anti-Christian measures at Georgia Tech—while most of their fellow conservatives and Christians not only did not give encouragement but harassed them to back off. They eventually won their suit, but not before years of suffering. He has seen conservatives cower time and again like this in his law career. French’s point:
Needless to say, I couldn’t help flash back to 1930s Germany and the failure of German Christians to speak up.
Enough venting pieces. Here’s a book review that looks at some behind-the-scenes heroes of World War II and how they served as US spies. They did a lot of good—and their actions, of course, raise a lot of questions.
10 Cowboy Commandments
On a lighter note that, in the end, is pretty serious: Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code, recited by Bob Dylan, who says he’s tried to live his life by it.
Grace and peace,
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today