Is the New York Times too bleak?

A fair amount has been written about the negative tone of most news coverage, especially at the New York Times. Yet the series of opinion headlines that appeared in the January 7 Times, one right after the other, struck me as almost a caricature. Look at these. If you were engineering a series of headlines to make the Times’ largely Democratic readers reach for a bottle of Xanax, could you do any better?

Today, just over a week later, the headline-writers are at it again. This headline isn’t even in the Opinion section.

The phrase “in shambles” strikes me as a little strong. With the barest of Democratic majorities, this Congress has actually passed two major laws since President Biden took office: the American Rescue Plan of March 2021 ($1.9 trillion) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill of November 2021 ($1.2 trillion, passed the Senate 69-30). At least in terms of dollars spent, these are two of the biggest laws ever passed.

Now at the time of the American Rescue Plan, some friendly critics, such as Larry Summers, raised concerns that the funds were poorly targeted and would cause inflation. They also raised concerns that during the honeymoon period, the President should spend his limited political capital on other priorities, such as voting rights and more permanent changes to social policy, since it might be hard to get things done later when the President might be less popular. Although Paul Krugman and others dismissed these concerns, in hindsight they look spot-on.

Since the infrastructure bill, yes, it’s been a bit of a struggle. So far Democratic leadership has been unable to assemble a majority for any version of voting rights legislation, or for the social policy and climate change items assembled under the umbrella called Build Back Better. Of course, the President’s honeymoon period is over, and these bills represent more partisan priorities than the bills that passed earlier

But is the legislative agenda “in shambles?” Under the circumstances, how much better could you expect the Democratic leadership’s priorities to do? After the way January 2021 went, my prior was that absolutely nothing would get done.

NBC News offered a more balanced summary of the last year.

What does the NYT accomplish by writing headlines so much bleaker than that?

A friend who reads the Times regularly says that it fills him with a sense of urgency, but doesn’t give him a clear idea what he can do — except vote for Democrats. Which frankly he was going to do anyway.

What is the Times accomplishing with its bleak tone? Would it kill the Times to more often acknowledge progress?

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2 Responses to Is the New York Times too bleak?

  1. Dear Paul von Hippel,

    Yes, the NYT and the rest are bleak, and they could say things that might be more helpful, or at least more cheerful. I wish there was a list of action items that could be more helpful than just voting.

    Maybe the news organizations don’t see their role as being helpful. Maybe they are just trying to tell it like it is.

    Even so, I want to be optimistic. I want to see a place where people can share news about: inspirational acts of generosity; examples of people from both sides reaching out to build understanding and compassion, rather than demonizing each other. That would be better than just voting.

    I fear Steven Pinker is mistaken about where we are going. Maybe we are headed to civil war. See this podcast episode:
    [The Realignment] 189 | Stephen Marche: Is the U.S. on the Path to Dissolution?

    C. H.


  2. ptvonhippel says:

    Or maybe news outlets write negative headlines because readers are more likely to click on them.

    Not this reader, though. (I think.)

    Liked by 1 person

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