“Sophisticated readers” can take the day off!


The Times talks on second-grade level: Does the New York Times have “sophisticated readers,” as the fawning newspaper routinely implies and declares?

If so, those readers got to take the day off when Amy Chozick offered this account of Obama’s view of the press corps.

Chozick’s piece ran more than 1300 words—and it seemed to be aimed at second-graders. Our guess: Chozick wrote the piece for My Weekly Reader, which shut down just last month.

When her piece couldn’t run in the children’s newspaper, she offered it to the Times.

Chozick’s piece pretends to report Obama’s view of the press corps. Early on, Chozick promises more than she later delivers:
CHOZICK (8/8/12): While former President George W. Bush and his aides liked to say they ignored the Fourth Estate, Mr. Obama is an avid consumer of political news and commentary. But in his informal role as news media critic in chief, he developed a detailed critique of modern news coverage that he regularly expresses to those around him.
Wow! Obama has “developed a detailed critique of” the press corps! And he often expresses this detailed critique! (Obama “regularly gives aides detailed descriptions of articles that he liked,” Chozick later says.)

Our analysts leaned forward in their chairs, eager to ponder this detailed critique. But they emitted mordant chuckles when Chozick described the “overarching problems” the president has articulated in his detailed critique:
CHOZICK: Privately and publicly, Mr. Obama has articulated what he sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a ''false balance,'' in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts.

Mr. Obama's assessments overlap with common critiques from academics and journalism pundits, but when coming from a sitting president the appraisal is hardly objective, the experts say.
Chozick had sought reaction from “the experts.” They told her Obama was “hardly objective,” pretending that they themselves are.

But good God! How unsophisticated must a Times reader be to find this critique intriguing? The first “overarching problem” Obama has spotted is about as controversial as two plus two equalling four:

The press corps focuses on the horse race too much? For decades, that has been what the press corps says about itself when it pretends to engage in self-criticism! Far from being a stinging rebuke, the press employs this critique as a dodge.

Let's be clear: That first overarching problem is quite real—but absent specifics, it’s meaningless. And as Chozick herself quickly noted, Obama’s second "overarching problem" has been noted by everyone and his crazy uncle up in the attic by now. Before long, Chozick expanded on this second critique:
CHOZICK: While Mr. Obama frequently criticizes the heated speech of cable news, he sees what he views as deeper problems in news outlets that strive for objectivity. In private meetings with columnists, he has talked about the concept of ''false balance”—that reporters should not give equal weight to both sides of an argument when one side is factually incorrect. He frequently cites the coverage of health care and the stimulus package as examples, according to aides familiar with the meetings.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, was previously Time magazine's Washington bureau chief. He said the president thought that some journalists were more comfortable blaming both parties, regardless of the facts. ''To be saying 'they're both equally wrong' or 'they're both equally bad,' '' Mr. Carney said, ''then you look high-minded.''
Let’s see if we’re able to follow the logic: According to Obama’s second critique, reporters shouldn’t give equal weight to two claims if one is “factually incorrect?”

Surely, this report was prepared for My Weekly Reader. Although, when it finally came to the Times, the great newspaper produced the markers which help extremely clueless readers believe they’re sophisticates. Here’s the type of thing the Times commonly does to fawn to its subscribers:
CHOZICK (continuing directly): The term ''false balance,'' which has been embraced by many Democrats, emerged in academic papers in the 1990s to describe global-warming coverage.

''I believe this type of 'accuracy' and 'balance' are a huge thing afflicting contemporary media,'' said Josh Marshall, editor and publisher of the left-leaning Web site Talking Points Memo.
Is that where the term “false balance” emerged? Frankly, we have our doubts. Within the Times, the term was used only once in the 1990s, in a report about campaign finance. Within the Times, the term emerged in Paul Krugman’s column of the same name, in January 2006—though the term is still in very limited use, right to the present day.

That said, Chozick’s statement lets Times readers think that they’re reading a sophisticated report, one which touches on the views of our high academics. After that, the Times brought a former journalist in to make the statement it sought.

Please understand: “False balance” is a genuine problem in our news reporting. On the Times op-ed page, Krugman has discussed this problem at great length—although Chozick, writing for second-graders, shows no sign of knowing.

Please understand: It isn’t that Obama’s alleged critique of the press corps is wrong. The point we’re making is different: Chozick writes about this problem as if she’s talking to second-graders. How clueless must New York Times readers be to find her report instructive?

“False balance” is an actual problem; so is love of the horse race. But the low IQ of the New York Times is the real overarching problem in modern political journalism. “Sophisticated readers” would tear their hair reading this puddle of piddle from Chozick.

Comments threads suggest that few such sophisticates subscribe to the New York Times.


  1. Like it or not, by any fair standard people who read the Times are "sophisticated readers," however lowly the standards for such a phrase has become, and it's rather silly to beat this into the ground because the Times used the phrase once. Yet you would only know this, I suppose, if you took a look at the New York Post once in awhile, and I have a feeling TDH doesn't.

  2. Words. They used to mean something.

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