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May 20, 2011

"Without Fear or Favor. NOT!"

This is one of the most interesting things I've ever heard about politics and the media—both in itself and because I'd never heard of it until right now. And considering how much media criticism I've plowed through in my life, that suggests almost no one else has heard of it either. It really goes to show how all the most important history just evaporates, leaving nothing behind but a sticky residue of self-congratulatory goo.

As you know if you're the right class in the U.S., the glorious reign of the New York Times began in 1896 when Adolph Ochs bought it and published a manifesto about the standards the Times would henceforth uphold: they would now "give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved." Ever since then, the paper's thankfully been in the hands of a family with the highest ethical standards. (The current publisher is Ochs' great-grandson.) The phrase "without fear or favor" is so much a part of media culture that it gets used as the title for books, documentaries, essays, articles and more.

Here's the whole paragraph:

It will be my earnest aim that The New-York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as early, if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved; to make of the columns of The New-York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.


But here's what they don't tell you at Stutts or anywhere else in America: that wasn't the end of Och's proclamation.

Here's the next paragraph:

There will be no radical changes in the personnel of the present efficient staff. Mr. Charles R. Miller, who has so ably for many years presided over the editorial pages, will continue to be the editor; nor will there be a departure from the general tone and character and policies pursued with relation to public questions that have distinguished The New-York Times as a non-partisan newspaper — unless it be, if possible, to intensify its devotion to the cause of sound money and tariff reform, opposition to wastefulness and peculation in administering public affairs, and in its advocacy of the lowest tax consistent with good government, and no more government than is absolutely necessary to protect society, maintain individual and vested rights, and assure the free exercise of a sound conscience.

So it's funny that Ochs stated so bluntly that "We will be completely impartial, except for our intense devotion to this long list of issues." But what's significant is that these issues are all right-wing economic obsessions—in 1896 and today. Then and now, rich creditors ferociously guard against inflation that will cause their assets to lose value (while moderate inflation is generally good for the economy overall and for debtors, who are the majority). Then and now, the right ferociously opposes taxes and any sign that the majority is going to use the government as a tool to improve their lives.

Ochs just announced straight up that the New York Times was going to be a standard-issue upper class conservative newspaper. And "history" has not just forgotten it completely, but used the exact same proclamation to congratulate the New York Times for being completely impartial. Thanks, liberal media!

If you want to read Ochs' words in their original form, see below or get it directly from the New York Times website here.

(Thanks to Brooke Gladstone of On the Media for pointing this out in her new book The Influencing Machine.)

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at May 20, 2011 03:26 PM

Very interesting. I wondered where Fox got its "Fair and Balanced' slogan from. Learn something new every day. This is why I come to this site so often. It has all the news that's fit to print.

Posted by: Paul Avery at May 20, 2011 04:29 PM

Interesting. I work in the NYTimes building in Times Square, and there is a bust of Ochs in the lobby, with some of the first graf inscribed on a plaque at its base.

I think I will now see if I can get them to add the rest of the quote to the plaque. I won't be holding my breath while I wait for that to happen.

Posted by: David in NYC at May 20, 2011 05:33 PM

There are an awful lot of liberals who will tell you the NYT is liberal and the right seems to agree that the NYT is liberal as well. But both are entirely wrong, the NYT is so bad in my opinion I cannot bear to read it any longer. The NYT isn't about being right or left it's about making a profit as your friend Mike of Angle pointed out some time ago. And I guess they feel they won't make a profit unless they repeat whatever they are told by Obama, the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, or any other "legitimate" source.

Posted by: rob payne at May 20, 2011 07:22 PM

"There are an awful lot of liberals who will tell you the NYT is liberal "

That's because a lot of liberals are awful liberals.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 20, 2011 08:43 PM

AND, I might add, its a great source for cooking fuel or insulation while camping under the bridge.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 20, 2011 08:54 PM

Donald Johnson,

I'm not sure what liberal means any longer.

Mike Meyer,

Also good for a cat box liner!

Posted by: rob payne at May 20, 2011 09:00 PM


DOES this mean you endorse Brooke Gladstone's book as being worth reading?

Because I used to listen to On the Media, before I stopped listening to NPR, and I used to consider On the Media a good show, until I felt I noticed it losing substance and doing more catchy, Web 2.0, media-insider, look-at-this-trend, etc. material--with the greater influence, I wildly supposed, of the other, not-Brooke Gladstone host, Bob Garfield (writer for Advertising Age... ?).

Posted by: lazy salamander at May 21, 2011 12:53 AM

ah, the low standards of the world's most revered piece of fishwrap

Posted by: almostinfamous at May 21, 2011 04:09 AM

well, to be fair, when read in context, that paragraph seems to be about the editorial pages. it's not very surprising they have a political slant on those, is it?

Posted by: aron at May 21, 2011 11:56 AM

Political slant is one thing, obtuse propaganda is another. Nobody should be surprised by this.

Posted by: Rob Payne at May 21, 2011 07:22 PM

I go back and forth on whether understanding media bias and history and politics and even ideas is really important, but I'm certainly unconvinced that it's at the top of the list. I spent about four years starting over, learning-wise, and not only did all the crap I crammed into my head have little or no effect on anyone else, it had little or no useful effect on me that I can identify. So the media sucks, we know, so what?

Since a tiger like me can't change it's stripes so easily, I'll add for irony that this reminds me of an observation Jane Austin made in Twenty Years at Hull House, her autobiography. She recalled in the book the precise moment when she decided that she had had enough booklearning and foreign travel. While watching a bullfight, she recalled a passage from a book written by some French intellectual who described running over a pedestrian in his coach. The French aristocrat in question had paused to recall a famous Latin cry of warning, and while trying to remember the phrase, his coach squashed the pedestrian he wanted to warn, though with style. This experience left the aristocrat feeling a bit guilty and determined to try to be a little more practical in the future. Likewise, Jane Austin resolved to quit partaking of exotic experiences like bullfights, which she concluded was disgusting, and instead she set about to just do some damn work to make the world better. She turned out to be pretty good at that.

Yes, the media sucks, and I love this little blog, but whatever people disagree about or find interesting or like and don't like, they understand enough already, with or without the media's help or hindrance. Everybody just needs to get to work.

Posted by: N E at May 21, 2011 09:25 PM

The good stuff is buried at the end of the piece as is pervasively the case in the NYT. And, of course, quibbles about whether ringing manifestos have been rescinded in their second breath get washed out of collective memory. That is the function of the Times. And who could survive socially without the Style section?

The subsequent success of the Times as an institution has demonstrated the shrewdness of Ochs' spots-in-the-eyes- inducing declaration.

Posted by: Parmenides Wheelspin at May 22, 2011 02:05 AM

Off topic, but a comment of mine appears in a recent NY Times blog - #2 in order of posting.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 23, 2011 08:21 AM
but whatever people disagree about or find interesting or like and don't like, they understand enough already, with or without the media's help or hindrance.

I couldn't disagree more. If by "the media" we mean the corporate monopolization of public discourse, then, of course, it is a huge hindrance towards people "getting to work". Unfortunately our imaginations and intelligences are not magical, or perfect, and it helps to be exposed to the thoughts of others. If the only voices being heard are those that consistently favor the ruling class, that is an obvious hindrance towards people doing good work - it means they're that much less likely to do good work.

Now, if you mean to imply that public discourse has no bearing on people's political actions, because everyone already has some kind of native politics, then we have even more to disagree on.

Posted by: saurabh at May 23, 2011 07:35 PM

err, that should read "that much less likely to know what good work needs to be done." I gotta start proof-reading before I hit post...

Posted by: saurabh at May 23, 2011 07:36 PM


You missed my point in your eagerness to get to yours, which I confess I do more than probably anyone, so don't feel bad. I didn't mean to suggest that how the corporate media works isn't significant, but I'm thinking lately that the wisdom of the old story about the Tower of Babel was deeper than I ever understood. (All those patriarchal old codgers a few thousand years ago weren't as universally primitive as we might suppose.) As to my murky point, just think about what Jane Addams concluded (not Austin, my bad, speaking of proofing), because her realization wasn't about society, or how the world can be changed, or even about the value or role of learning, let alone somethign as arcane as corporate media's effects. What Addams concluded was personal, and in a way existential, and directly relates to the fundamental issue we all face: What are we going to do? Like Tolstoy, I used to approach that question more in the passive voice--"What is to be done?" And I think there is a mistake in that.

mistah charley phd

You are one smart cookie, but I've never met or even read anyone smart enough to answer questions as broad as the one you posed in your other comment with genuine, honest confidence. Who knows what is coming in a century? Two centuries? Nobody. Probably only a few people have a reasonably good idea what will happen a few years from now, and even they aren't sure.

But I doubt I'm teaching you anything with that observation, and you're probably ahead of me on the Tower of Babel, and I'd bet on Jane Addams' insight too. So carry on.

Posted by: N E at May 24, 2011 07:04 AM

I agree with saurabh on the importance of the media - "we live and move and have our being,"(0) psychosocially speaking, within the universe of discourse we are exposed to, including the opinions and attitudes of our closest associates, but increasingly the "facts" and "sentiments" conveyed by the mass media we are subjected to(1) and those we seek out(2).

(0)A phrase, quoted from Epimenides, used by St. Paul to appeal to the panentheistic philosophical orientation of his Athenian listeners.

(1)The ubiquity of TVs blaring Fox News in public waiting rooms - medical offices, car dealerships and JiffyLubes, etc. - is due to Fox supplying the TVs for them on the condition that their channel is shown.

(2) ATR, e.g.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at May 24, 2011 07:13 AM

Um, N E, that's Jane Addams who spent twenty years at Hull House. (And I suspect you meant Jane Austen, not Jane Austin or her nephew J R R Tolkein and his good friends Ghandi and Bhudda. Not to mention their favorite writers, Alan Ginsburg and Samuel Delaney.)

Oh, I see you noticed it. As for "What are we to do?" There is nothing we can do, because the MicFic has brainwashed us and only new synapses and the power of the Holy Spirit can get our brains dirty again.

There's no such thing as unbiased media. Recognizing that the corporate media will have a corporate bias goes a long way. But there's no one who's going to bring us the Truth on a silver platter.

Posted by: Duncan at May 24, 2011 09:38 AM

Duncan Good to see you're out there. I never could spell worth a damn, and since Word started fixing things for me I have become dependent on my mistakes fixing themselves, which is bad but oh so modern.

I'm glad you've still got your well-honed mocking skills. I actually think you're kind of funny by my own low standards, and in a good way, but I'm doing battle with some real turds now, so I don't have the energy to get mad at people who basically mean well, which I gather you do in your own cuddly way. You're okay with me, compadre.

But I do disagree with one thing you said. I think there is someone who can bring us the Truth on a silver platter, and I keep trying to get mistah charley to tell us who it is, but he's holding out and leaving tantalizingly obscure clues all the time, as if we're supposed to figure shit out for ourselves. Ridiculous.

May the Force be with you, and the Holy Spirit too, and the Creative Forces of the Universe and all such things, and I hope your Obama dart board is riddled with bulls eyes that he sure deserves since he either has been replaced by a brain-washed cloned sheep in human form, or was 50 years ago when he was spawned in a foreign test tube. Beats me.

Over and out.

Posted by: N E at May 24, 2011 10:27 AM

I give Obama an A++ on "GETTING BIN LADEN" and an F on JUSTICE which brings his overall average to C++, just sayin'

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 24, 2011 01:43 PM

Come on Mike, giving anyone a grade on "getting bin laden" even without all caps is just depressing.

Posted by: N E at May 24, 2011 01:49 PM

The so-called liberal media for so-called liberals.

Posted by: DavidByron at May 24, 2011 02:46 PM

NE: Hell, WE're killing for a living while helping out Afghanis at 3++ bilion a week, and yer worried about 1 man?

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 24, 2011 07:05 PM

Got nothin to do with a man mike.

Posted by: N E at May 24, 2011 07:51 PM
You missed my point in your eagerness to get to yours, which I confess I do more than probably anyone, so don't feel bad.

I don't feel bad. You still haven't made your point very clearly, or else it's still something I disagree with. Understanding media bias, politics, and ideas is absolutely indispensable. If you don't understand the world, how the hell are you going to answer the question "What are we going to do?" Faith? Darts?

Posted by: saurabh at May 25, 2011 12:13 PM

NE: Getting Bin Laden MEANS kiling the ONLY popular, viable reason for being in Afghanistan. His death may well end that conflict early, saving MANY lives from OUR hands, thus A++.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 25, 2011 01:02 PM


I probably wasn't clear. But I meant that learning gets superfluous after a certain point, which Jane Addams concluded and I remembered because I'm sometimes prone to learning instead of doing. Yes, the NY Times is really biased to a certain viewpoint having a lot to do with money and capital markets and the interests of those groups. Obviously. I know that, you know that, anybody who can know it does know it, the rest don't. And they won't despite that we do. As it is and was and ever shall be, world without end, amen.

I like ideas A LOT, but does that do much for anyone else. I'm not even sure understanding does much. Let me ironically point to Vico's Scienza Nuova, pompous shit that I am, for the following:

"As rational metaphysics teaches that man becomes all things by understanding them (homo intelligendo fit omnia), this imaginative metaphysics shows that man becomes all things by not understanding them (homo non intelligendo fit omnia); and perhaps the latter proposition is truer than the former, for when man understands he extends his mind and takes in the things, but when he does not understand he makes the things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them." (§405)

I really love that quote, maybe because I always feel I'm on the verge of getting it and yet am never quite sure what it means. But one thing I'm sure--nobody else cares or needs to. So I try to do something productive, thereby transforming myself into something a little more useful than a sophisticated Turing machine.

But I get your point, which was more on topic than mine. I'm evil that way.

Posted by: N E at May 25, 2011 01:47 PM

Mike Meyer

I expect you're right that Obama and some others will try to use the great death of Osama at the hands of our valiant Seals and the end of the era of videos of OBL hiding in the mountains as a reason to end or curtail our South Asian wars, but I doubt it will work out that way. Once you let someone make up a boogeyman to justify wars, you can't end the wars by killing off the boogeyman, because if you can conjure one, you can conjure another to replace him. See Goldstein.

Ergo, it's not about a man, and finding someone else to supply a "popular, viable" reason will be easy IF it is decided that it's important to continue the wars.

Posted by: N E at May 25, 2011 02:01 PM

NE: Its probably just chronic bloodlust acting up again, after all, the man was shot without benefit of trial. NO pretense of JUSTICE there, especially when WTC7 sticks out like a sore thumb. But still, its my A++.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at May 25, 2011 03:06 PM

re OBL - Mike Meyer said the man was shot without benefit of trial. NO pretense of JUSTICE there

True dat.

Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express has been filmed several times. Over the weekend missus charley, m.d. and I watched the most recent iteration over our local PBS station, filmed last year and starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. I hope it will not be too much of a spoiler, for those who have not yet had the pleasure of reading or seeing it, if I reveal that the murder victim in this case is someone who clearly deserves the death penalty - and yet it pains Poirot a great deal that the killing is carried out extra-judicially. We see, as the drama unfolds, how the temptation to go further in the instrumental use of violence without civilized constraints presents itself. Four stars (out of four).

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 26, 2011 07:01 AM

N E - as a Vico enthusiast, you are probably acquainted with Mazzotta's The New Map of the World: The Poetic Philosophy of Giambattista Vico, but I wonder if you might find something to interest you in Kenneth Boulding's The Image: Knowledge in Life and Society. John Alberts has asserted, "This is a book that integrates many disparate themes into a surprisingly coherent whole. It is, first and foremost, a systems approach to social science. But it is more than that. It is also a unifying evolutionary framework and a plausible world view. It provides an intuitively satisfying integration of biological, mental and social processes. It is also well written. And I would have to agree with the reviewer who called it one of the best books he had ever read. It is truly a little jewel."

Published in 1956, it's still in print, and you can get inexpensive used copies. (Mazzotta is out of print in English, and copies cost as much as a new book, were one to be available - I checked.)

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at May 26, 2011 07:47 AM

How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

The onetime Nixon operative has created the most profitable propaganda machine in history. Inside America's Unfair and Imbalanced Network

by Tim Dickinson

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at May 26, 2011 09:16 AM

mistah charley

Of course I agree with you and Mike whole-heartedly about extra-judicial killings, whether of the worst evildoers, or boogeymen, patsies, lone nuts, ordinary criminals, terrorist masterminds, terrorist chauffeurs, Pashtuns in the wrong place at the wrong time, or anyone else even if they aren't Muslim. There was a time when even Dirty Harry agreed with our point of view, but we've been pumped full of loco now and are so filled with subliminal sieg heils that it's surprising to me that jackboots haven't come back.

As for the books you have graciously recommended, I put an interlibrary loan request in for Mazzotta (whom I've never heard of) and a more local request for Boulding (by whom I might have read something, though maybe that was the other Boulding). Sometime after they come I'll look those over with your thoughts in mind to relax after a cursing jag prompted by some of the sneaky greedy bastards with good manners whom I have euphemistically referred to as 'turds'. But I still agree with Jane Austin Addams that I'm more useful forgetting all that and putting my meager talents, unusual tenacity, and oceanic reservoir of pissed off to productive use. (Besides, I have to admit that sort of lawful mayhem is sort of fun for me--maybe it's a leftover Viking thing.)

May the Creative Forces of the Universe, if any, brighten your day.

Posted by: N E at May 26, 2011 09:34 AM

Did anybody see the Frontline about Wikileaks? I haven't been following the topic that closely, but it really seemed like a hatchet job on Manning and Assange.

Posted by: godoggo at May 26, 2011 10:51 AM

I probably won't watch it, because I can't believe it would be anything other than a hatchet job, because in the media taking sides against the military on issues like that is strictly verboten. The excerpt from a review below made me laugh, and I think I'm going to have to use a 'tone of sober neutrality' more often.

"The A.V. Club's Rowan Kaiser says WikiLeaks overstates its case in attacking the documentary saying Frontline's 'tone of sober neutrality... defends itself against the most extreme aspects of WikiLeaks' rebuttal.'"

Posted by: N E at May 26, 2011 11:03 AM
How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory

The onetime Nixon operative has created the most profitable propaganda machine in history. Inside America's Unfair and Imbalanced Network

by Tim Dickinson

Yay! Tim Dickinson is my office suite-mate (we both rent some studio space).

Posted by: saurabh at May 26, 2011 01:47 PM

Boulding (by whom I might have read something, though maybe that was the other Boulding)

If by "the other" you mean Elise

Elise Boulding’s ideas on feminism and peace are rooted in the nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas on social reform, heralded by such women as Jane Addams, who founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Fannie Fern Andrews.

they were spouses.

Posted by: mistah 'MICFiC' charley, ph.d. at May 26, 2011 04:02 PM

The reds fear to diss the butter now.

Posted by: Dredd at May 26, 2011 04:23 PM

mistah charley

I actualy thought the economist Kenneth Boulding was a different Boulding from him whom you quoted, but I see now that what I had read was indeed probably by your Kenneth Boulding, and he was just even more of a brilliant guy than I remembered, though frankly I can't even remember what I read by him just now. Probably something back in the 80s about resource depletion or growth or the like. I have never even heard of his spouse Elise, but seeing that she was influenced by Jane Addams, it is a small little blurgworld indeed.

Posted by: N E at May 26, 2011 05:21 PM

I didn't see the Frontline episode and also assumed it was going to be a hatchet job (did anyone see it and was it?). I concluded this on general principles, but also because for stupid reasons I've been watching "Morning Joe" for a few minutes at a time lately (it's all I can stand) and the guy who made the documentary was there. All they talked about was Manning's personal life, except that what's his name (the documentary director) said that the leaked documents showed American diplomats in a good light. So right there it confirmed my suspicions of what the show would be like.

I could be wrong.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at May 26, 2011 11:20 PM

Donald Johnson

For a cat-loving physicist, you're a pretty smart guy.

Posted by: N E at May 26, 2011 11:32 PM

I just book marked your blog on Digg and StumbleUpon.I enjoy reading your commentaries.

Posted by: TiceZockife at May 27, 2011 06:29 AM