Me and The New York Times

The New York Times asked me for my opinion about their news coverage, so I gave it to them with both barrels.

As a subscriber to the digital edition of The Times, I became one of the “lucky” candidates to spend more than an hour answering dozens of questions about the newspaper and myriad other issues.

Although the survey is not intended to serve as a scientifically based poll, the bias oozed from the questions.

For example, here’s one question: What three words best describe your initial reaction to Donald Trump winning the election? I doubt that elated sprung to others’ minds like it did for me!

Another one: Which of the following best describes Donald Trump when it comes to “sticking to the facts?”

–Sticks to the facts better than most politicians
–Sticks to the facts about as well as any politician
–Plays it more “fast and loose” when it comes to facts
–There has never been a major politician as devoid (or empty) of facts as him

When the survey asked for my opinion about The New York Times, I was asked to compare it with Fox News, the Drudge Report and Bloomberg News. That seemed like an extremely odd combination. I understand that the news organization thinks it competes with the world, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post seem like better comparable news organizations.

But then I got some red meat!

Question: How often do you come across news stories about politics and government online that you think are not fully accurate?

–Hardly ever
–Often [My obvious choice].

Question: And how often do you come across news stories about politics and government online that you think are almost completely made up? Check. Often.

Question: What three words best describes your feelings about the news media and news organizations right now?

My answer: unreliable, biased, partisan

Question: In general, what is your overall impression of the news media and news organizations?

Very unfavorable [check].
–Somewhat unfavorable
–Neither unfavorable nor favorable
–Somewhat favorable
–Very favorable impression of the news media and news organizations

In general, how satisfied are you with the news coverage you are currently getting about President-Elect Donald Trump?

Not at all satisfied
–Not very satisfied
–Somewhat satisfied
–Very satisfied
–Extremely satisfied

Um, not at all satisfied seemed appropriate.

Here are some weird choices—many of which lean toward a favorable review of the media. I was supposed to pick the ones I agreed with.

–There are not enough positive/uplifting stories in the news
–Most news stories are generally accurate
— Most news stories get the facts straight
— In presenting news about social issues, most news deals fairly with all sides
— I’m taking a break from news for awhile
— It is easy for me to tell the difference between hard news and opinion
— I’m seeking more “soft news” these days
— I find sensational news headlines irresistible
— In presenting news about political issues, most news deals fairly with all sides
— News is no longer relevant to me
— I think the freedom of the press is part of a healthy democracy
–Most news is generally trustworthy
— These days it seems like news cannot be objectively reported
–All news is pretty much the same regardless of where you get it
–Most news is reported without bias

I really needed a selection here for “other.”

Here is an example of confirmation bias: Now thinking about news organizations in general, which of the following applies?

–Practice high journalistic standards [Seriously?].
–Objectively report the news [You betcha].
–Provide a service to the public [C’mon!]
–Has reporters with strong expertise in the topics they cover [Paul Krugman and Charles Blow?]
–Are trustworthy [About the same as car salesmen, with no offense meant to auto dealerships].
–Lie or mislead [Finally, I can agree with something!]

Here was one in my wheelhouse: Now, thinking about The New York Times, which of the following applies?

Practice high journalistic standards [Nope].
–Objectively report the news [Nope]
–Provide a service to the public [Ditto]
–Has reporters with strong expertise in the topics they cover [Are you kidding?]
–Are trustworthy [Sorry, car salesmen].
–Lie or mislead [YES, YES and YES!]

Which, if any, of the following applies to The New York Times? I dispatched the complimentary ones and chose the following:

–Does not deal fairly with all sides on political issues
–Too focused on New York
–Makes it difficult for me to tell the difference between hard news and opinion
–It’s politically biased
–Does not get the facts straight
–Unreliable; I don’t trust their reporting
–Too liberal
–Does not deal fairly with all sides on social issues

I will allow that I was a bit disingenuous on some questions. I said I voted for Hillary Clinton. I wanted to see what happened. Later, I was asked again if I really voted for her.

I said I was a moderate who supported equal rights for everyone. I was tempted to choose one of the many religious options, including Shinto, Muslim, Taoist, Hindu or Buddhist. I settled for Christian since Catholic was not an option.

I accurately described myself as an educator who lived in a large metropolitan area and had a good income. Alas, deplorable was not an option here.

I doubt that my answers will affect the way The Times operates, but it sure was fun to take the survey. In fact, it’s the most fun I’ve had since the day after the election!

Here is a podcast about this column:

Christopher Harper teaches media law.