The Ethics Of A New York Times Subscription

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Bret Stephens’ next column on the overstated dangers of smoking

With the first column by Bret Stephens, the shiny new conservative op-ed hire at the New York Times, being nothing more than a high-end global warming Gish Gallop, there has been a move by some subscribers to cancel their subscriptions. Among the chattering class, including those who disagree with Stephens, there has been some wailing and gnashing of teeth over this: what about supporting all of the good journalism the NYT (and by extension, other outlets) does?

Some thoughts from this NYT deadwood-edition subscriber:

  1. If I wanted to read a paper with columnists who don’t acknowledge their own news reporting, I would subscribe to the Wall Street Journal.
  2. Related to point #1, this isn’t about Stephens’ opinions, but his misrepresentation of facts. The NYT has lots of idiots, but they (usually) don’t misrepresent fact.
  3. One more thing about Stephens’: he’s boring. It’s stereotypical ‘genteel denialism.’ He couldn’t even come up with novel arguments.
  4. There are things in life one is obligated to financially support, such as assisting the needy, or non-profits that provide services (news reporting or otherwise). A for-profit news organization isn’t one of them. This isn’t a religious obligation, to say the least.
  5. The NYT is important, and as such, needs to be held accountable.
  6. Like it or not, the op-ed page typically has a much farther reach than news stories–that is, the ‘quality reporting’ we’re supposed obligated to save.
  7. This is hardly the NYT’s first, recent failure. Going berserk over the emails comes to mind.
  8. There is no other way to hold the NYT accountable, other than by hitting them in the pocketbook. Unlike failures of governance in our political system, where we can vote the bastards out, this–or an advertiser boycott campaign–are the only recourse we have.
  9. If we’re looking at political diversity, it is unclear how a populist, leftward shift translates into ‘hire far right anti-Trumpers.’ Do they really think, even in an era where ‘content is disaggregated’, that this will bring in a surge of conservative readers? I have a better understanding of the thought processes of a deranged cuttlefish, than I do the thought processes of the NYT editorial staff.
  10. Related to the previous point, the poles of acceptable opinion at the NYT range from anti-Trump far right conservative to guilty New Democrat. Would it kill the NYT to have a single columnist who is even just ‘Bernie-curious’ (a full-on Sanders supporter, never mind an actual socialist, would be too much for the delicate constitution of the Grey Lady).
  11. To return to point #3, the issue isn’t whether to support the NYT, but could the money spent on a subscription to the NYT be better spent elsewhere? (Answer: yes)
  12. So, this NYT deadwood reader is scaling back his subscription as a first step–and letting them know why. Given that I’m a seven-days-a-week deadwood subscriber, this will actually hit them harder than cancelling an entire online subscription. I’m tired of rewarding bad governance, especially as a resident of the mainland colony (who lacks Congressional representation), so this is one (admittedly small) thing I can do. For me, going from deadwood to online will cost the NYT about $740.

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11 Responses to The Ethics Of A New York Times Subscription

  1. julie wolf says:

    i cancelled my digital subscription and let them know why. it’s only 15 bucks a month but fuck that shit.

  2. We cancelled our deadwood sunday only edition and likewise, made our concerns known.

  3. A. U. Contraire says:

    This whole country needs an outrage enema on both sides of the aisle. A pox on both your houses. I’m not sure what facts he misrepresents in that particular piece. The general impression that I got from it is that he acknowledges that the science indicates that the planet is warming due to human activity but that the cost-benefits of aggressive actions are unsettled. That’s basically true. There are no facts at this point about the net consequences of global warming or about the wisdom or viability of different responses. Rational people can disagree. And he’s right, not to acknowledge that is deny the limits of current science.

    The primary criticism I’ve seen of the piece is that he cherry picks quotes without full context, not that they are misrepresented. One, in a short opinion piece I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a comprehensive explanation of context for every point. Two, cherry-picking in the climate debate is pretty much de rigeur. I saw a talk by economist Jeffrey Sachs advocating aggressive action on climate change. He showed an image from a scientific paper of areas in Africa that were experiencing drought, most likely due to climate change. I happened to have read that paper. He failed to mention that the conclusion of that paper was that on balance, however, Africa was greening due to climate change.

    The outrage seems to be about his journalistic history, in which case his hiring should have triggered protests. This rather innocuous opinion piece is just a pretext. In fact, if this piece were written anonymously, I doubt anybody would have been terribly upset by it. As such, I’m not sure where the NYT was guilty of editorial malfeasance with regards to what was printed.

    • Net Denizen says:

      The NYT has already issued a retraction on “facts” presented in the article in question. Tell us again how he got his facts straight?

      • A. U. Contraire says:

        “Correction: May 1, 2017
        An earlier version of this article misstated the area that warmed by 0.85 degrees Celsius as noted in the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel report. It was the globally averaged combined land and ocean surface, not only the Northern Hemisphere.”

        That’s hardly a retraction. They issue corrections on many articles every day.
        http://www.nytimes.com/pages/corrections/index.html

        I don’t know what the original said, but here is the sentence in which it appears.

        “Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities. ”

        Is that really a sentence that should send climate activists into an uproar? “…the modest …warming of the earth since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming…”

        • Net Denizen says:

          Except it is NOT a “moderate trend” it is literally instant warming when compared with the history of Earth. Perhaps it makes more sense to you in comic form? https://xkcd.com/1732/

          • A. U. Contraire says:

            I’m well aware of the hockey stick. In fact, anybody who wants an understandable “just the facts” discussion of climate change I highly recommend listening to the excellent lectures of Yale climatologist Ronald Smith here:

            http://oyc.yale.edu/geology-and-geophysics/gg-140

            Nonetheless, in that cartoon it shows that farming developed about 10,000 years ago at a temperature of -1 C relative to the baseline temperature. It got as warm as it is today at about 0.75 C about 5000 years ago before dropping to -0.5 C during the little ice age before rapidly rising to about 0.75 C again today. Therefore, a change of 0.85 C since 1880 is well within the range of variation during human civilization. In absolute terms it is modest. The rate of change is not, and I have no doubt that is due to industrial activity. It is also true that historically humans have fared much better during warmer periods than colder periods. Population has increased with any warming. That’s also a fact.

            I’m also well aware of climate records that go back a lot further than the Holocene, which has been unusually stable. For instance, all this warming is occurring relative to the planet having gone into a deep freeze at the end of the Pliocene. The implications of graphs can change with the choice of origin. Bernie Sanders, I believe, carries a temperature record on a small card. It’s not a mistake that it ends with the Pliocene, another instance of cherry-picking. For most of the history of life on this planet the climate has been much warmer than it has been during the Holocene. However, shifting ecosystems will probably cause a lot of misery with 9 billion people on the planet.

            The people who are outwardly most alarmed by global warming don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions, though, by supporting the methods that lead to the highest rate of decarbonization in the economy like supporting natural gas and nuclear. James Hansen of all people has said that relying on renewables is too slow and too expensive. He advocates nuclear. Hence, being suspicious of the motives of the most alarmist voices isn’t the craziest notion out there. Hansen is consistent in his beliefs. Many others are trying to achieve contradictory goals.

  4. Joe T. says:

    That’s a smart and convincing #1, expressing the editorial inconsistency of having (and exposing its trusting readers to) “columnists who don’t acknowledge their own news reporting.” Thanks.

  5. I’ve been off the NYT for ages. I just don’t think any American paper does a very good job of reporting without getting either (a) captured, or (b) caught up in political drama. I’ve moved to the Guardian for the moment, which is still sub-optimal, and I fill in with international papers (especially Le Monde and the Economist, and independent journalists (e.g. The Intercept). I keep hoping a national paper will rise up out of the ashes of print that does a better job, but I’m not sure people are willing to support it, which probably means we’ll keep having papers as vanity projects.

  6. Dick Watson says:

    Oh the outrage when NYTimes doesn’t opine along the party line. Brett Stephens is great writer whose ideas we won’t always agree with. Can we leave it at that or is that too shallow?

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