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Times a-Wastin’

There once was a paper of record.

Dec 27, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 15 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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McGowan clearly believes that things were better, once upon a time, which creates the most significant problem in the book: its author’s conviction that things could be better once again. Gray Lady Down opens with an account of the funeral of A. M. Rosenthal, the longtime editor whose death (in 2006) marked the end of an era. And throughout, McGowan uses Rosenthal as a symbol and a shining light, the figure who teaches how things ought to be.

The trouble is that the Rosenthal Era was over long before A. M. Rosenthal’s death. First joining the Times in 1946, he stopped editing it in 1986 and ceased writing his column in 1999. For that matter, even Rosenthal’s golden age wasn’t all that golden. In the 1970s and ’80s, Rosenthal himself created the “sectional revolution” at the newspaper, the addition of topical section after topical section—fashion, science, technology, etc.—that brought in an enormous amount of advertising revenue. But as Gray Lady Down repeatedly points out, the soft-news features of these sections created what became standard practice in American journalism, allowing the leftist political opinion and shared liberal culture of the Times newsroom first to infiltrate and then to take over the reporting that was supposed to be objective reporting.

In other words, maybe it was always thus at the nation’s newspapers. Golden ages only look golden when something even worse follows them. Besides, interesting as it all may be, it doesn’t really matter anymore. The New York Times is just another local newspaper, in the same financial and circulation trouble as them all. Why, exactly, are we supposed to care?

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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