I am thinking about quitting the New York Times. Ever since I took my present job six years ago I have been frequenting the website of what is generally regarded as the leading paper of record in the United States and, frankly, I find it sadly predictable. A Times headline on any topic that matters to me — whether women, the family or religion — gives me about the same sense of anticipation as a scoop from China (The People’s) Daily.
For weeks now I have been getting alerts from the Times on the subject of birth control. Over 40 of them have dropped into my box since December (thanks for that, NYT), the majority of them reporting or commenting on the now infamous White House decree that all insurance plans must fully cover birth control (including abortifacients) regardless of conscientious objection on the part of certain employers — chiefly, Catholic-affiliated hospitals, schools and other institutions.
Birth control, you must know, is one of the Gray Lady’s sacred cows – perhaps the most revered of them all. It is allowed to wander at will through the establishment, attended by acolytes from Planned Parenthood and the Guttmacher Institute, rudely bumping into such moderate columnists as David Brooks and Ross Douthat on its way to the friendly offices of Nicholas Kristoff, Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd and a seeming host of others. Ms Dowd, by the way, is one of those writers highly prized by the Times – a dissident (or is it ex-?) Catholic.
Which brings me to the proximate cause of this article: the full-page advertisement run by the Times in its March 9 issue (front section, page 10) and headed, “It’s Time To Consider Quitting the Catholic Church”. The ad, placed by a group called Freedom From Religion Foundation, takes the form of an open letter “to liberal and nominal Catholics” setting out reasons why they should exit the church “en Mass” (ha ha) for the sake of women’s reproductive freedom. It is decorated with a cartoon showing a big-mouthed bishop, a pill and a brassed-off woman.
The message is that those Catholics who don’t agree with their church about birth control (and, gosh, Guttmacher reckons that’s 98 per cent of the women) gay rights (including marriage), and embryonic stem-cell research — are propping up a benighted, ruthless, dishonest, anti-democratic institution when they should be fighting against it — by, for example, joining FFRF. “You are better than your church, so why stay?”
The text of the ad is a more succinct, and slightly more cautious, version of the original on the FFRF website, no doubt the result of judicious editing by the Times. The headline advises Catholics to “consider quitting” where the original just tells them to quit. A tasteless reference to a Catholic doctrine is omitted, and Thomas Paine is quoted in support of shucking off the church instead of Bertrand Russell (who probably means nothing to most Americans, even to Times readers) although the latter is quoted indirectly on the necessity of freeing oneself “from ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men, from blind obedience to an illusory religious authority”. A Times trademark appears in the addition of “overpopulation” to the miseries the church wants to inflict on the world.
What remains, however, is quite intemperate enough. It presses all the buttons of popular prejudice with references to “the Dark Ages”, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and — the Times’ own favourite issue — the sex abuse scandal, “involving preying priests, church complicity, collusion and coverup going all the way to the top”. The paper has never given up its goal of pinning responsibility on the Pope.
So it’s pretty nasty stuff, the sort of thing a respectable newspaper would not publish under its own aegis, although some columns in the Times have come near it. However, it sounds very like what the editors might have wanted to say, in which case the ad would have seemed the perfect solution. All care (from the legal department), no responsibility.
(The times would not, however, take the risk of publishing a copycat ad from the Stop Islamization of America group, even with the price tag of $39,000 dangling before it. At least, not yet, according to a letter from the paper quoted by Fox News. Afghanistan, you know…)
So the ad is nasty, yes, but also a rather desperate move on the part of folks who see that the Catholic Church has found its backbone over this issue and that all the huffing and puffing from the birth control establishment, all the Times editorials and columns, all the dissident Catholics paraded in front of the media, are not gaining them any ground. I just checked the FFRF website and I did not see it boasting any sign-ups from ex-Catholics over the past week, or a sudden surge in demand for “debaptism” certificates. In fact, their campaign could have just the opposite effect. People have all sorts of gripes against their mother — until someone else starts insulting her; then they remember whose child they are.
As for me, the New York Times was never my home, just a place to find out what was going down in Manhattan and the select postcodes of the north-eastern United States, so it would not be difficult to quit. I was never a true believer. Heck, I still only read within the free quota of articles — there’s no way I am going to subscribe.
It does seem a shame to give up on an institution that has lasted so long and served the public quite well at times — a bit like the Catholic Church. But then, by using their website I am boosting their hit rate and helping to prop up a business that seems bent on attacking the things I most value. Like those “nominal” and “liberal” Catholics whom the FFRF thinks still go to church.
So I’m thinking seriously about quitting. I might even find it a liberation — there are so many good things out there to read.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.