These are conflicting notions: warm feelings, no matter from which spiritual or emotional fount they emanate, must end in a bit of unfairness. The only human construct that firmly believes in and widely proclaims its ability to be exempted from this rule is, of course, the New York Times. For many years, the Times succeeded in convincing America, and—what’s worse—the world, of its impartial integrity—a journalistic quality far above distorting or obscuring political and ideological passions and desires. But it was enough to open one of the June issues of the New York Times Magazine to get an intimation of how much more complex is the truth about that venerated organ’s impartiality. There one could find a long item entitled “Voices from the Left” featuring a dialogue between Messrs. Michael Harrington and Irving Howe. The printed conversation is conducted in a playfully relaxed tone, with carefully crafted avoidance of any political shrillness, rabid sloganeering, or intolerant tabooism, so characteristic of any Left anywhere.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with featuring Mr. Harrington and Prof. Howe, both prominent and respectable beacons of the slightly tempered sociopolitical radicalism—although Mr. Harrington is not always above some intellectual trickery, as Prof. Sowell, the noted scholar, has recently documented it in theNew Republic. What’s disturbing is the obvious corollary of that piece, especially as cast against the realities of the contemporary American sociocultural scene. Why does the Times permit only the voices of the left to sound so clearly and with such a benign, somehow approving accompaniment of supportive journalistic paraphernalia? Would the Times ever stage in its pages an equally spectacular exchange between Professors Robert Nisbet and Irving Kristol, who are the intellectual counterparts of Messrs. Harrington and Howe on the other side of the ideological barricade? Would it accord space to a conversation between Mr. Paul Weyrich and the Rev. Jerry Falwell who in the current political topography in America are politically as far to the right of the center (that the Times confidently proclaims itself to occupy) as Messrs. Howe and Harrington are to the left?
No easy answers to these questions except, perhaps, that more or less unwittingly, the Times seems still to subscribe to that old incantation, invented by Stalinist Comintern, that goes: “No enemy on the left!”-which constituted the dialectical base for all Popular Fronts of the 1930’s, and still lingers in the editorial offices of Le Monde, The Guardian, and the Times itself, like a melancholic song from Casablanca . The Times, maybe even in good conscience, calls “The Voices from the Left” information—that is its journalistic duty, or mission. It certainly would be if other people with other views received the same treatment in voicing their opinions. As they don’t, the Times’ practice is not information but promotion. And it’s still vaunted by the Times as impartiality.