In Ernest Hemingway’s novel “The Sun Also Rises,” one character asks, “How did you go bankrupt?” The other replies, “Two ways: gradually, and then suddenly.” According to Michael Goodwin, the decline of one of the world’s most famous newspapers could be described the same way.
Goodwin, chief political columnist at the New York Post, gave a lecture titled, “The Downfall of the New York Times” on Oct. 24. He shared his opinion about the decline of the once-trusted newspaper, using knowledge he gathered over the sixteen years he worked there. Goodwin was on campus for the last two weeks as the Eugene C. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Fellow in Journalism. He taught a one-credit course on opinion journalism.
“The collapse of the Times that we speak of is not about dollars and cents,” Goodwin said. “It is about the collapse of the traditional journalistic standards of fairness and restraint.”
Goodwin said that falling standards at the Times are largely responsible for the current state of American journalism because of the paper’s power and influence.
“The collapse of the Times’ standards is a virus infecting journalism everywhere, and the public has noticed,” Goodwin said. “A poll last year found that 72% of Americans believe ‘traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading.’”
Although many Americans do not trust major news sources, Goodwin said this wasn’t always the case. He revealed that the Times’ own style manual says “fairness and impartiality should be the hallmark of all news articles and news analysis that appear in the Times.”
Adolph Ochs, who bought the Times in 1896 when it was a struggling newspaper, was committed to fostering “civil discourse” in journalism.
“He wanted his paper to present the news ‘in language that is parliamentary in good society,’” Goodwin said. “Even advertisements had to meet his standards of taste.”
Goodwin said that the Times became known as the “gray lady” because of its prim approach to language and refusal to engage in personal attacks. In fact, Goodwin said that the Times was the first newspaper to start separating news from opinion.
“This separation was an ingrained part of the culture at the Times when I started there in the 1970s,” Goodwin said. “I knew I was not permitted to express my opinions on the subjects of my stories.”
According to Goodwin, its current rejection of the separation of fact and opinion led directly to the Times’ loss of public trust.
“Why the Times still employs an editorial page and an op-ed page escapes me,” Goodwin said. “Virtually every so-called news article has reflected a bias against Trump. These days, the paper’s front page is openly pushing for impeachment.”
“There is a national crisis of confidence in all forms of media, and the Times no longer offers the solution,” Goodwin said. “It is a major part of the problem.”
John Miller, director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, said that Goodwin has a great understanding of the problems and controversies that surround the entire field of journalism.
“It was really interesting to learn about the rise and fall of the Times, which is possibly the most influential newspaper in the country,” he said. “Maybe it doesn’t deserve to be.”
Paul Moreno, professor of history, said he witnessed the decline of the Times firsthand.
“I grew up in New York when the Times was a serious newspaper,” he said. “I saw its collapse day by day, and I still subscribe to the Times, but only for the crossword puzzle.”
Moreno said he first noticed newspapers abandoning all pretenses to impartiality during the Vietnam War.
“Vietnam and Watergate started the adversarial culture in American journalism and made newspapers think that they were a constitutional institution,” he said. “They thought that they were defending our ‘democracy,’ as they call it, and they had this sense of themselves as all-powerful arbiters.”
According to Moreno, the New York Times represented a certain kind of journalism that is now gone.
“The expectation that a newspaper would be objective and unbiased was part of a particular moment in American history,” he said. “The Times used to be the go-to place for domestic and foreign policy. I don’t get my news from them anymore.”