A Heartbreaking Endorsement of Staggering Pretense

Outside the New York Times building in Manhattan (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)
The New York Times’ philosopher kings put on a show for the little people.  

The New York Times turned their endorsement into a reality-TV show. The Times’ editorial board — a group of opinion-havers — hijacked The Weekly (the paper’s FX news show, based on the work of Times reporters) to show you their process of interviewing Democratic candidates and to give the paper’s institutional endorsement to one of the candidates ahead of the Iowa caucuses. A deputy editor explained that the news division gathers facts but that the editorial board is composed of people who take those facts and “describe the world as it should be.” Literally, philosopher kings.

I had no doubt whatsoever that Elizabeth Warren would get the New York Times’ endorsement. An endorsement, I should add, that may have no worth whatsoever. Hillary Clinton received it in 2008 just as Barack Obama was about to beat her in Iowa. But, through the human power of stereotyping, I knew that Elizabeth Warren would get it. Elizabeth Warren and the Times simply belong together. The age of social media is an age that teaches us to become great at rough-and-ready categorization. And Elizabeth Warren is the candidate of elite college professors and the highest wage earners in the liberal professional classes — the clerisy of our age. Of course she is the candidate of Times readers and workers.

But apparently, even though they have the job of describing “the world as it should be,” the editorial board couldn’t manage to tell you which Democrat should be the party’s nominee. At the end of their rose ceremony, they cut the flower in half. The bud goes to Elizabeth Warren, the fighter who could take on Trump, said the opinion-havers. The thorny stem goes as a co-endorsement to Amy Klobuchar, who was showered with half-compliments about her practicality. Is this like the Golden Globes, where some years they have one man as a host and in other years they hire two women for the same job?

But the drama of the hour told us a lot as well. Ahead of the interviews with candidates, we were told by the deputy editor that the Times editorial board was posting questions to the candidates that they were “not being asked.”

But the first question shown, one posed to Senator Bernie Sanders, amounted to asking how he would force through his political revolution in a Senate controlled by Mitch McConnell. I’ve heard that one before. As usual, Bernie invoked the power of the people, though it was strangely compelling when uttered before a slice of the mandarin class. In this he reminded me of another confounding Jewish man who announced mysteries before an uncomprehending court of power and immense pretense. And like the man from Galilee, Bernie’s case in front of these judges was futile before it began.

Even the staged moments felt like reruns. In a moment that was borderline exploitative, Joe Biden was practically invited to talk about his dead family members. This was presented by people who knew that the results would probably make the cut of an FX reality-TV show.

One must give the Times its due. I must admit that reporter Michelle Cottle did pose questions about the feasibility of Elizabeth Warren’s plans in an aggressive way that was somewhat inspiring for those who think that the Fourth Estate has a role in challenging the powerful.

But overall, the image of the editorial board was unflattering in the extreme. Long gone from newspapers are the fast-talking, gin-smelling cynics. Here we have a set of people my Irish father might dismissively call “men of quality.” The men wear silk scarves and tortoise-shell glasses. The women are oddly glamorous. They sit in glass box in the sky at a long corporate table flanked by skyscrapers, pronouncing on how the world ought to be. Save for the politics and the fact that they take their income by W-2, it looks like a scene out of an Ayn Rand novel. The hauteur was astonishing. Binyamin Applebaum responded to Andrew Yang — a truly accomplished American who has captured something in the American psyche in his improbable run — by wondering why he was running for president and suggesting that perhaps he run for a councilman’s office instead.

I also have to give credit to the makers of The Weekly for taking the mickey out of the panel of philosopher kings. By the end, the editorial board had talked about how, though they were reassured by Joe Biden’s apparent vigor and health, they found that the case for him was essentially that he’s “a warm body” that can beat Trump. But the camera people caught a glimpse of Joe Biden on the elevator with a black woman who works as security guard in the building. She smiled at Joe and said she loves him, adding, “He’s awesome.” It was the most genuine and least calculated moment of the show. The Times can pronounce on how the world ought to be. But that security guard showed the stubborn way in which the world remains as it is.

Lucky for the Times and Elizabeth Warren, most people were watching football this Sunday, not this reality show. Because this is an era when even the Left seems exhausted by the self-importance of the meritocratic clerisy that tells us how the world ought to be. How funny that the Times editorial board would make its TV debut after 160 years, at the precise moment when this clerisy is preaching a faith with no authority or power in it. If more people saw this endorsement process, which spat out Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren at its end, more voters would opt for Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

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