Jay Rosen gets it right (boldface mine):
Recently the publisher of the New York Times, Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, said something that I believe touched on this anxiety.
We won’t be baited into becoming ‘the opposition.’ And we won’t be applauded into becoming ‘the opposition.’
By “baited” he clearly meant the taunts of people like Steve Bannon and President Trump. By “applauded” he meant, I think, the pressure coming from Times loyalists [loyal subscribers]. For the most part these are people appalled by Trump who want to see him further exposed. They want the Times to be tougher on his supporters and more relentless in calling out his lies. They want Times journalists to see what they see — an assault on democratic institutions, the corruption of the American Republic — and to act accordingly.
But these people are perceived as a threat by the Times newsroom. The fear is that they want to turn the Times into an opposition newspaper. This is not how the Times sees itself. The fear is that they want the Times to help save American democracy. This too is not how the Times sees itself…
The Times debuted a new marketing program around the same time, but the message was different. It went something like this: People on all sides are shouting at each other, full of zeal and certainty. Amid the claims and counter-claims of a polarized nation the truth is hard to find, hard to know. But the truth is more important than ever, and that is why you need the New York Times. Not for its defense of democracy, but for its careful distance from the cacophony, in which Times loyalists are themselves participants.
I think the tension really does arise from the ‘Timesman’ notion that they are somehow above the fray, and not realizing how much they enable the breakdown of the very institutional norms they purport to defend. On top of that, there are probably a significant number of Times personnel who do realize how awful things are, and are experiencing significant cognitive dissonance as a result.
All that said, Democrats and the left, construed very broadly, don’t have to view the NY Times as the ‘enemy.’ But they are not allies either. Remember that.