The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The ‘New York Times of the right’ is … the New York Times

Then-President Donald Trump greets talk-show host Sean Hannity at a Make America Great Again rally in Cape Girardeau, Mo., on Nov. 5, 2018. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

CNN’s Brian Stelter touched off a bit of social media controversy on his show “Reliable Sources” Sunday. Citing low trust in the media among Americans, Stelter called on folks to draw a distinction between reporters, or those who dig for new information, and repeaters, those who aggregate it. Into the latter category, noted Stelter, falls a certain highly rated cable news network. “Fox [News] does a lot less reporting, and a lot more repeating,” he said.

So far, so incontrovertible. Yet Stelter veered off course with this attempted brainteaser: “Why aren’t there massive American newsrooms dedicated to journalism from a conservative point of view, a reality-based conservative point of view? Why isn’t there a New York Times of the right?” asked Stelter.

To answer that question, let’s jump back to the summer, when host Tucker Carlson talked about his media diet in an appearance on “The Five,” Fox News’s late-afternoon roundtable show. “I gave up my New York Times and Washington Post subscriptions because it’s just garbage,” Carlson said. “It’s like stupid and boring, except the obits, which I still like, and Dana [Perino] sends them to me.”

Yet somehow Carlson — a multimillionaire too cheap to pay for obits — has managed to cite this “garbage” reporting as an authoritative source many times since blasting it on “The Five.” Using just the Times, here are several examples:

On Aug. 13, Carlson favorably quoted a Times story on Afghanistan from 2015: “According to a piece in the New York Times, quote, ‘Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed Commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population.’”

On Aug. 21, Carlson pointed to a recent Times story headlined, “Intelligence Warned of Afghan Military Collapse, Despite Biden’s Assurances.”

On Sept. 17, Carlson highlighted a video investigation by the Times into a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan. “More than a week ago, the New York Times ran a piece revealing with video evidence that the Biden administration’s drones did not actually kill anyone from ISIS-K, whoever they are, assuming they exist,” said Carlson. “The drone killed a civilian aid worker and a car full of kids.”

On Sept. 20, Carlson again credited the Times for forcing the Biden administration to admit that a drone strike in Afghanistan “killed a number of innocent people, including children.”

On Sept. 22, Carlson quoted a Times report on a housing law in California. “As the New York Times put it, quote, ‘S.B. 9 essentially ends single-family zoning.’ Property owners now have the state’s approval to convert any single-family home in the State of California into a four-unit apartment complex.”

On Sept. 28, Carlson cited a Times story as “vindicating what we said months ago,” said the host. “FBI operatives were deeply involved in the events of Jan. 6.” For the record: The Times story didn’t actually vindicate Carlson’s previous contentions.

On Oct. 4, Carlson cited a December 2020 Times story in which then-reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. questioned Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about the changing resistance thresholds for the country to acquire herd immunity. Of the Times, Carlson said, “their job is to report the news.”

What a bunch of “garbage,” huh?

As the preceding analysis shows, there is a New York Times of the right. It’s called … the New York Times. Carlson, for instance, isn’t going to send an investigative team to probe a drone strike in some far-off land; he has no such team, so he relies on the Times.

Nor is this reliance limited to “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” It’s a network-wide phenomenon. In recent weeks: Host Sean Hannity credited the Times for a story on CIA assets who’ve been killed or captured; host Howard Kurtz credited a Times documentary on Britney Spears and a “bombshell” on Trump’s taxes; host Steve Hilton credited a Times piece on covid risk; host Shannon Bream credited a Times piece on inflation challenges; guest host Mike Emanuel credited a Times story citing Disney’s 18-year battle over Winnie the Pooh; host Bret Baier credited a Times piece on congressional politics; host Maria Bartiromo credited a Times piece reporting that Jill Biden had hung artwork by Hunter Biden in her office; hosts Jesse Watters and Jeanine Pirro credited a Times piece in which a former colleague of CNN anchor Chris Cuomo accused him of sexual harassment. (A spokeswoman for the New York Times has yet to respond to an inquiry about the number of Times subscribers at Fox News.)

When Fox News isn’t citing the Times’s authority, it’s seeking to reduce that authority. Carlson in August called the Times part of a “Praetorian guard” protecting a corrupt establishment; host Mark Levin said it was one of several “propaganda organizations, an appendage of the Democratic Party in the big state.” And how many times has Hannity called the paper “fake news”?

Of all the galling hypocrisies produced on a rolling basis by Fox News, its posture toward the Times — and many other mainstream news outlets — stands apart for its cynicism and destructiveness. The best that can be said for Fox News is that it does nothing to hide its two-faced, simultaneous effort to drag down and pivot off a vibrant news source. And viewers appear just fine with it.