The New York Times Doing a “Both Sides” on their Democratic Endorsement Is a Poetic Sign of the Times

Politics Features New York Times Endorsement
The New York Times Doing a “Both Sides” on their Democratic Endorsement Is a Poetic Sign of the Times

Because this is 2020 America, the New York Times turned a traditional newspaper endorsement into a reality show and produced a controversial ending. Instead of following the singular logic of a candidate endorsement (please note the singular form), the Times went full galaxy brain and decided to deliver us a golden ticket out of Trumpville, led by both Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. The reason why this endorsement instantly became universally reviled is because it doesn’t make any sense ideologically, which then makes the whole thing look like one big production by the New York Times to generate publicity for the New York Times.

If you’re going to give us a reality show, we need a winner. This is America. Saying you endorse two people, let alone two people whose policy agendas are in direct conflict with one another, is a cop-out. The choice comes off as a half-baked political calculation borne from what is supposed to be a substantive process. Historically—especially in lower information races—people look to newspaper endorsements for guidance on who they can trust on the important minutiae of governance. Anyone can turn on their TV and see pundits talking out of their punditholes, but us opinion writers are supposed to be different. We literally must spell our ideas out on the page. That deafening groan the Times heard in response to this was the sound of a further breach of trust between an institution and its readers. This dual endorsement comes off as a Cillizza-esque bit of punditry that runs from the fact that there can only be one winner in this fight (or two losers, but that’s a whole different column for a much later day).

The fact that the Times earnestly went in the same direction that a few irony-poisoned shitposts did a couple hours before their big reveal is not a great sign for how this decision was made. If they style themselves to be the arbiters of the truth (which the NYT‘s “this is an apple” advertisements revolving around The Truth imply), then this decision runs contrary to the substantive brand they wish to project. There is no coherent way to stitch together Klobuchar and Warren’s platforms without repudiating what they both stand for.

The rationale behind this endorsement is that the NYT does not want to choose between the competing ideologies in the Democratic Party. They’re very clear about this.

Both the radical and the realist models warrant serious consideration. If there were ever a time to be open to new ideas, it is now. If there were ever a time to seek stability, now is it.

That’s why we’re endorsing the most effective advocates for each approach.

This entire endorsement wasn’t all bad, just the parts people paid the most attention to. The fact that they videotaped these interviews is an encouraging sign of openness from one of the nation’s most stubborn national newspapers (as demonstrated by the news side’s continued inability to cite other reporting, which implies to their readers that nothing is The Truth until the Times reports it), but the show placed almost as much focus on the people asking the questions as the ones answering them—which goes against the public service aspect of what a political endorsement implies. On the whole, this more open process was a good idea that advanced the cause of journalism—and while we can nitpick the various questions they asked, the totality of these candidate transcripts added real substance to this race and made all of us more informed—but the end result feels like galaxy-brained punditry which betrays the entire journalistic process they took to get to that point.

The board’s third choice was Cory Booker, but they barely debated him on the show and only broadcast one back-and-forth where they hammered him on his record and the “who has broken your heart?” question they have asked every candidate, which resulted in this powerful moment where Senator Booker spoke about how America has broken his heart.

I get that Booker was out of the race by the time this aired, but if this process was about explaining the Times’ decision, they didn’t do it for the guy who bubbled their two candidate ticket.

The derision around this decision is fueled by the larger breach of trust that Americans have with all of our major institutions. It is especially stinging when the betrayal comes from our journalistic titans, as their code binds their professional responsibilities to those underneath the heavy boot of power. In an era where bothsides mainstream journalism has aided the Republican Party in its unshakeable quest to bend reality to their will, the Times choosing both sides at the end of their reality show about the Democrats’ ideological war is a little too on-the-nose. Selecting neither and going with like, Vermin Supreme, would have been a more coherent direction than the NYT editorial board backing the revolutionary idea to ban fracking but to also not ban fracking.

Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.

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