Trouble for the Gray Lady

As a way of keeping up with what's happening around the world, I read the New York Times every day, sometimes through clenched teeth. I've often thought its legendary slogan should be "All the news that fits our bias we print." It is unashamedly liberal, but in my mind a great paper nonetheless. To its credit, the Times has exposed and acknowledged an incredible breach of trust. Reporter Jayson Blair repeatedly misled editors and readers with fraudulent dispatches and plagiarism. Grievous problems were found in thirty-six of the seventy-three columns he has written since last fall. The Times reported all of this in an agonizing page-one story in which it acknowledged its own failings and raised serious questions about the supervision of reporters and ethical standards followed by its reporters and editors. The Times said that it must trust its employees to "uphold central principles . . . " and that "Mr. Blair repeatedly violated the cardinal tenet of journalism which is simply truth." The Times statement is admirable. I agree with it 100 percent. The cardinal tenet of journalism is truth. The problem is that the Times doesn't believe there is such thing as truth -- that is, absolute reality. In fact, probably no newspaper in America has been harsher on evangelicals and conservative Catholics for making truth claims or, as it has disparagingly called them, "moral absolutes." Truth is, by its very nature, an exclusive claim -- that is, if what is being stated is true, something else cannot also be. And truth is true even if no one believes it, yet the Times and much of the academic establishment in America rejects this proposition. In fact, so wide-spread is the postmodern philosophy today that 64 percent of Americans believe that there is no such thing as moral truth. But now the Times finds itself caught in what has been called "the postmodern impasse." It may be fashionable to dismiss moral truth claims, but the absence of truth leads to chaos, and we find we can't live with it. The Times can't live with a reporter carrying its own philosophy to its logical conclusion. The editors want their people to report only truth, but they don't believe absolute truth exists. Should we then be surprised that a twenty-seven-year-old journalist steeped in postmodernism and multiculturalism -- points of view vigorously defended in the pages of the New York Times -- doesn't believe "the cardinal tenet of journalism which is simply truth"? If we say there is no truth, we shouldn't be surprised when people make up stories and pass them off as if they actually happened. And this is one of those issues that we can use with our secular friends to show that the position of the secular world today, its belief system, is philosophically untenable. You cannot live with the logical conclusion of what they say they believe. I respect the Times and its handling of this crisis. The problem is that the Times can't possibly solve its own problem. This is a crisis of truth that will be solved only when our elites, like the New York Times, reject postmodern relativism and once again commit themselves to the honest pursuit of the truth. For further reading and information: "Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception," New York Times, 11 May 2003 (free registration required). Jacques Steinberg, "Editor of Times Tells Staff He Accepts Blame for Fraud," New York Times, 15 May 2003 (free registration required). William Safire, "'Huge Black Eye,'New York Times, 12 May 2003 (free registration required). "The Sulzberger Standard," New York Sun, 12 May 2003, 6 (thanks to Jonah Goldberg for the link in NRO's "The Corner"). Howard Kurtz, "N.Y. Times Uncovers Dozens of Faked Stories by Reporter," Washington Post, 11 May 2003. Howard Kurtz, "Tension, Anger at NYT Staff Meeting Over Handling of Reporter Blair," Washington Post, 15 May 2003. Al Hunt, "The New York Times Scandal: About Values, More Than Race," Wall Street Journal, 15 May 2003 (available only to subscribers). Heather MacDonald, "L'affaire Blair," City Journal, 13 May 2003. Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, "Times and Again," National Review Online, 15 May 2003. John J. Miller, "Book Burner?", National Review Online, 15 May 2003. In Sources No. 11, Creating the Good Society: Building the Foundation for a Safe and Orderly Community, Charles Colson addresses how we can achieve the virtue necessary to maintain a good society and to preserve liberty. Also addressed are natural law; relativism; naturalism; personal and public morality; ethics; and personal responsibility. (See also Sources No. 5, The Crisis of Truth, and Sources No. 3, Christians and the Media Elite.) The Worldview Resource Directory and Worldview for Teens: A Resource Guide contain information on valuable resources that will help you strengthen your biblical worldview.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary