The Corner

Yesterday’s G-File

Opinions were split. About half the emailers didn’t like it for one reason or another. The other half liked it.

But one criticism I knew I would get was over my assertion that the New York Times is a great and influential newspaper. I don’t want to spend all day on this issue — and I won’t. But two forms of argumentation I don’t find persuasive go something like this: “The Times isn’t influential because I don’t read it.” And: “The Times isn’t great because it’s so dishonest and liberal.”

Let’s take the first one first. Simply because you are not directly influenced by something doesn’t make it uninfluential in general or even uninfluential on you. I don’t read the New Yorker very much anymore (I let my subscription lapse and events conspired against renewal) that hardly means it’s not influential. The Public Interest never had more than 10,000 subscribers in its life, but it has been hugely influential. Almost no one but inside-the-beltway types read the Hotline, but it too sets the agenda in ways few people appreciate.

Which brings us to the fact that you don’t have to read something yourself for it to influence you. The New York Times sets the national media agenda more than any other newspaper. As Brit Hume noted during the explosives brouhaha at the end of the presidential campaign, it is the only newspaper which can, through sheer will, force an issue onto the public debate simply by giving it sufficient play on the frontpage. You may not read the Times, but the writers, editors and producers of countless outlets you do read and watch do pay rapt attention to what it does. This may be good or bad (almost certainly bad) but it is a fact. Which brings us to argument number two. Saying it’s not great and influential because you don’t want it to be is like saying Napoleon wasn’t great and influential because you don’t like the guy.

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