What makes the story so enjoyable, on the most superficial level, is its lurid combination of identity politics—Abramson was the first female editor of the Times, and Baquet is its first African-American editor—and liberal hypocrisy. Equal pay has been one of the rallying cries of the American left, a category that very much includes the New York Times, and the possibility of sexism at the paper is rich indeed. But I have to say I am less interested in equal wages, in comparable worth, and in what the New Yorker calls the “inescapably gendered aspect” of the Times’ latest scandal than I am in how that scandal confirms one of my pet theories. The theory is this: The men and women who own and operate and produce every day the world’s most important newspaper are basically children.
This is the same New York Times that in 2003 admitted, in a multi-thousand-word correction, that it had been harboring, for reasons of political correctness, a serial fabulist who created tales and characters out of imaginative reverie and had seen these fictions published on the front page. This is the same New York Times that in 2005 fired its former Baghdad bureau chief after the paper’s management discovered that she had been emailing the wives of two foreign correspondents to say that they were having affairs. This is the same New York Times whose staffers are engaged in a “semi-open revolt” against op-ed and editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal, a “semi-open” rebellion in which propaganda by the deed consists of not sitting at Rosenthal’s lunch table. And yet this is the same New York Times that day after day, in article after article, instructs its readers, and the country, in how to think, how to vote, what to eat, what to wear, who is in, who is out, what is doubleplus, and what is crimethink. The gall.
Gossipy, catty, insular, cliquey, stressful, immature, cowardly, moody, underhanded, spiteful—the New York Times gives new meaning to the term “hostile workplace.” What has been said of the press—that it wields power without any sense of responsibility—is also a fair enough description of the young adult. And it is to high school, I think, that the New York Times is most aptly compared. The coverage of the Abramson firing reads at times like the plot of an episode of Saved By the Bell minus the sex: Someone always has a crazy idea, everyone’s feelings are always hurt, apologies and reconciliations are made and quickly sundered, confrontations are the subject of intense planning and preparation, and authority figures are youth-oriented, well-intentioned, bumbling, and inept.