We've been asking that question for years: At least in theory, the New York Times editorial board is an important part of American upper-end journalism.
That said, who actually sits on the board? Over the years, we've periodically wasted time trying to figure that out.
How strange! It's easy to find a list of the Times' opinion columnists. Just go to the web site and scroll to the bottom. FRom there, you can learn in one click.
Similarly, it's easy to find a list of the paper's "op-ed contributors." But who sits on the editorial board? Even today, as we speak, we can't say we're totally sure.
Sunday night, the board endorsed two different people in a campaign only one person can win. They did so at the end of an hour-long TV show which seemed like a cross between Fox & Friends and (possibly) Cupcake Wars, a program we've never seen.
Whatever! We decided to use the Google machine in yet another attempt to see sits on the board.
We entered "New York Times Editorial Board." Up popped a link to this page—and the page is plainly quite recent.
The page carries the New York Times logo. Below that, it carries this title:
The New York Times Editorial BoardWe seemed to be at the right place! After one paragraph of boilerplate, the page features head shots of seventeen people, along with their seventeen bios. You'd almost think they were the members of the Times Editorial Board!
To all the world, it looks like these are the (17) members of the Times Editorial Board! But at this very peculiar newspaper, few things are ever that simple.
Uh-oh! James Dao is the third person featured on the page—and his bio says this:
James DaoUh-oh! Dao is deputy editorial page editor, but he isn't a member of the editorial board. Or at least, he isn't an "official" member. The actual members merely asked Dao to join the endorsement process.
Deputy Editorial Page Editor
James Dao has been a deputy editorial page editor for The Times since 2016. He oversees the Op-Ed section, which produces opinion pieces for the daily Op-Ed page, the Sunday Review and the international Op-Ed section. In the past, Mr. Dao has been Albany bureau chief, a Washington correspondent, national correspondent and military affairs writer. He has also been the deputy metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. In 2010 and 2011, he reported an eight-part series about the yearlong deployment of an Army battalion in Afghanistan, “A Year at War.” The series won numerous awards for multimedia journalism, including an Emmy. Because of his areas of expertise, the editorial board asked Mr. Dao to join its endorsement process, though he is not an official member.
Question! If Dao isn't a member of the board, why do his photo and his bio appear on an official page which rather plainly seems to list the members of the board?
At the Times, such questions can rarely be easily answered. Meanwhile, bios of two other people on that page—Aisha Harris and Charlie Warzel—explicitly say that they aren't members of the board either. The bio of Serge Schmemann leaves his status undeclared.
Seventeen people appear on that page. At least three of those people, and maybe four, aren't members of the board.
This would suggest that the board contains as many as thirteen or fourteen members. But who on earth, except the Times. has so much trouble creating a simple record?
One more confusing point:
At one of the three million sites the Times created in connection with the endorsement(s) process, the saga is described as shown:
OPINIONIt's true! Though seventeen names appear on that list, only fifteen people seem to have taken part in the interviews with the Democratic candidates.
THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Nine candidates. Fifteen journalists. On the record. Let us help you decide who should be the Democratic nominee.
As best we can tell, Carol Giacomo, an apparent board member, didn't take part in the interviews. But apparently, neither did James Bennet, and he's the Times' editorial page editor! He's also described as the person who "oversees the board."
Bennet seems to be in charge of the board. Why didn't he take part in the deliberations? Similarly, why was the final decision left to Kathleen Kingsbury? Also, how did she reach her final decision?
The Times created a heap of buzz around the idea that this year's process would be hugely "transparent." That said, we can't answer the most basic questions about this highly transparent affair.
One final speculation, followed by one last question. First, our speculation:
Why did the Times add Harris, Dao and Warzel to the mix? Forgive us for our speculation, but the Times board isn't especially diverse on a racial and ethnic basis.
This fact will sometimes seem especially striking at a paper which is frequently telling everyone else on the face of the earth that they need to be more diverse.
The additions may have made the board look a bit more diverse. Since a TV show was being shot, this may have been part of this very strange's newspaper's thinking.
Now for our question, and our question has won awards:
How hard can it possibly be to create a reliable list of board members? Also, does anyone except the New York Times have trouble with such basic tasks?
Among other things, the New York Times is a giant, sprawling bureaucracy. Routinely, it produces ridiculous copy which seems to come from the maws of such a machine.
On a daily basis, the New York Times is much more interesting than the Washington Post. Unfortunately, that's because it almost always includes some article or analysis which is just comically awful.
So it went with its deeply underwhelming TV show. Maybe it's best when we the rubes can't see the sausage get made.