Okay, okay. It’s no secret: I am obsessed with the saga of Judy Miller and the Decline of a Great American Newspaper. Those of you who share this obsession will enjoy the New Criterion’s dissection of what’s happened to cultural coverage at the Times:
“The truth is, deterioration at the Times is a rich subject, full of cautionary tales about how a great liberal institution can go rancid by making a caricature of its principles and adulterating its work. When a great newspaper’s front page is indistinguishable from its editorial page, and its editorial page is indistinguishable from a transcript of a Democratic Party rally, journalistic decay is a certainty. But if what’s happened to the Times’s news reporting and opinion pages is an outrage–think only of the repulsive way in which the paper attempted to generate anti-Bush capital from the Katrina disaster–its coverage of culture is somehow more depressing than infuriating. Here, too, one finds the triumph of ideology over principle and an unseemly race to the lowest common denominator. Yet in matters of culture and the arts, the Times adds another dimension of depredation–we mean the element, half preposterous, half nauseating–of unthinking modishness.
“An entire dissertation might be written about what has happened to The New York Times Book Review. In many respects, it is Exhibit ‘A’ in the metaphysical sweepstakes under discussion. It was already as bad as it could get when a new editor came along and–treating readers to, inter alia, full-length reviews of tell-all books by famous porn stars, a garish redesign, and a steady diet of politically correct sermons about the world of ideas–somehow made it worse. Our favorite recent example was the preposterous essay by Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in political science at Yale, which attempted to rehabilitate Allan Bloom and The Closing of the American Mind for the Left. The basic argument was that Bloom’s book was not the simple-minded prescriptive book it has often been taken to be (taken to be by the Left, that is, though Mr. Sleeper left out that bit). Ergo (note the logic), it cannot be something that would give aid and comfort to conservatives who, as everyone knows, are simple-minded, prescriptive ideologues. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been in earnest. But of course it was in earnest. Everything about the Times is oh-so-earnest–which is not at all the same thing as serious. (Indeed, the divagations of the Times form a revealing object lesson in the extent to which the earnest, fueled by the emotion of virtue, is often the enemy of the genuinely serious.)”