The New York Times Didn't Learn Its Lesson

The 'paper of record' commits the same mistakes it apologized for four years ago

New York Times
Getty Images

We know now that the New York Times's letter to its readers in the wake of President Donald Trump's surprise 2016 victory was a non-apology apology.

Blindsided by Trump's surprise victory, the Times pledged to examine whether it had underestimated the depth and breadth of his support, and to rededicate itself to understanding and reflecting "all political perspectives and life experiences."

As the kids say, LOL. The paper's coverage of the 2020 presidential election was not only as misleading as it was four years ago, it was misleading in the same way, overstating the odds of Democrats everywhere thanks, at least in part, to a belief in race and gender as the defining features of American politics. Identity politics has come to define the New York Times, but the country isn't so monolithic.

Four years ago, the paper wrote not one but two pieces arguing Hillary Clinton and the Democrats were making major inroads in Texas thanks to the state's growing minority population. Clinton, reporters Matt Flegenheimer and Jonathan Martin wrote, was leading "a new offensive aimed at extending her growing advantage over Donald J. Trump while bolstering down-ballot candidates in what party leaders increasingly suggest could be a sweeping victory for Democrats at every level." Trump went on to trounce Clinton by nine points.

Fast forward to last month, when Martin promised that this time, Texas was "a true presidential battleground, and either candidate could prevail." The result: Trump by six.

The fake news wasn't limited to one state. The Times covered Susan Collins's impending demise: Susan Collins Hasn't Changed Much, but Maine Has. Collins won by nine. They claimed Republicans were botching the Senate race in deep red South Carolina, where Democratic challenger Jaime Harrison was alleged to have a real shot at unseating Republican senator Lindsey Graham thanks to the state's growing diversity—"surprisingly competitive," a "remarkable feat." That kind of credulous reporting helped Harrison raise nearly $100 million for his campaign. The result: Graham won by 14 points, just 3 points weaker than the pummeling he gave his last challenger in 2014.

The paper's doomsday predictions for Trump were the flip side of the false hope it offered Democrats. Hidden Trump voters could never carry the president to victory, they told us last time. This year, reporter Jeremy Peters snidely mocked those arguing that a shy Trump vote could help the president outperform expectations: For Trump loyalists, the idea that they should discount the news media's pessimistic reporting was "merely an appealing story" and there are "few confirmed examples" where that shy vote made a difference. The president's efforts to woo women, whose support for Trump increased over 2016 margins, were similarly futile.

At the heart of these errors was the core tenet of modern progressivism: A majority-minority America and the alleged systematic racism and misogyny of the GOP guarantees the inevitable realignment of the electorate and the death of the GOP. Victories in the party's heartland of South Carolina and Texas would be delivered by black and Hispanic and female voters who, the Times's writers had learned in college, could never vote for a Republican.

The results of the 2020 election gave the lie to all that, but the Times has an explanation that you will be surprised to learn shifts the blame entirely from their shoddy and misleading reporting: "Whiteness," star Times magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote on Wednesday, "is expandable when necessary. A lot of folks we don't think of as white think of themselves as white because the lines have never been entirely clear. That's the beauty of white supremacy—it is extremely adaptable."

As Joe Biden might say: If you don't vote Democrat, you ain't black.

Published under: New York Times