Is there an Ideological Bias in Choosing NY Times Bestsellers?

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At today’s annual meeting of New York Timesshareholders held at the company’s headquarters in New York City, in response to a question from a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Free Enterprise Project (FEP), Times executives issued blanket denials that liberal bias affects the selections on the newspaper’s bestseller list.

“The New York Times claims to be all about truth, but today all I heard were the same denials and lack of transparency that have been the hallmark of the Times bestseller list for years,” said National Center General Counsel and FEP Director Justin Danhof, Esq., who attended today’s meeting. “The company’s executives claimed that there is simply no bias whatsoever in its bestseller selection process. For a company that claims to focus on facts and the truth, this is simply unbelievable.”

At the meeting, Danhof noted that the company refuses to disclose its bestseller list policies, and that its constant denials of liberal bias don’t stand up to the facts. He stated:

The motto of one of your primary competitors, the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post, is “democracy dies in darkness.” When it comes to this company’s bestseller list, it’s truth and process that are dying in the darkness. The company refuses to explain its policies for selecting bestsellers. Then, when it is repeatedly called out for bias against conservative authors, it issues blanket denials. Without transparency, those denials are meaningless.
In early February, for example, the Times refused to list Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life on its bestseller list despite a Toronto Star report at the time noting, “[i]t’s the No. 4 best-selling book in the U.S. overall, according to Publishers Weekly. It’s No. 1 on Amazon. It’s No. 2 on the Washington Post‘s non-fiction list. It’s No. 4 on USA Today‘s overall list.” When a Star reporter attempted to get an answer for the omission, numerous folks from the Times responded with answers that were immediately debunked.
Danhof then asked:
Last week, the world watched as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was questioned on Capitol Hill about data privacy and other matters. He faced specific questions about Facebook’s efforts to diminish conservative speech and opinion. The Times doesn’t even try to obfuscate with talk of complex algorithms like Facebook does. You simply hide behind a secretive process and stable of liberal staffers.
Without revealing anything proprietary, will you commit to an independent audit of your policies for selecting bestsellers to evaluate whether the political biases of the selectors have influenced the process? And will you make those findings public?
Danhof’s full question, as prepared for delivery, is available here.
In response, Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger avoided the questioned and claimed that the company must protect the process to avoid a situation in which authors might game the system to get on the list. His son, Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, took the fa?ade a step further and claimed that there is simply no bias in the process and that many liberals have also complained about their books not being on the list.
“When is the first, last, or only time that a liberal author complained that the Times list blocked him due to anti-liberal bias? When is the first, last or only time a liberal publishing house severed ties with the Times bestseller list as Regnery has?” askedDanhof.
“Since the Sulzbergers clearly weren’t answering my question, I interjected and noted that I was providing them a very simple process by which they could prove that the company isn’t biased against conservative authors. If they were to agree to an independent audit, and the audit uncovered exactly what the two were claiming, they would be able to point to direct, objective evidence that the company’s liberal stance doesn’t influence the bestseller decision-making process,” said Danhof.
In response, Arthur Sulzberger suggested that it was an interesting idea and they would indeed consider it, but that they couldn’t say yes or no.
“I gave them a solution to a problem that has plagued the company for years,” said Danhof. “If they are being truthful, such an audit would give them ammunition against conservative authors who claim the Times is biased against them. However, it’s also possible that such an audit might reveal that the anti-conservative bias that is publicly known is just the tip of the iceberg and that the silencing of conservative voices is far more pervasive than we already know. Time will tell if the company decides to take our suggestion.”
Also of note at the meeting was a question from a 20-year veteran of the New York Times. She wanted to know what the company was doing to expand the paper in the Midwest because, as she put it, she talks to a lot of Democrats in Kansas ? a very red Republican state ? and they are all clamoring for some Democratic news. In response, A.G. Sulzberger started to give her a business answer about the company’s expansion and the sorts of topics that the paper would cover of interest to Midwesterners. As he was wrapping up, Times CEO Mark Thompson quickly interjected that the Times is not a Democratic newspaper, but rather it focuses on objective journalism.
“This question came from a 20-year veteran of the paper. Even the employees of the company believe it is a paper of, by, and for liberals,” said Danhof. “Thompson’s last-ditch effort to correct the record was as hollow as it was obvious.”
Anti-Trump sentiment was also evident at the meeting. Before the meeting began, an attendant offered Danhof a company pin that read: “The truth has a voice.” Danhof accepted the pin, rhetorically asking, “Who doesn’t like a pin?” Not recognizing Danhof, Arthur Sulzberger responded something to the effect of Donald Trump wouldn’t. Additionally, the elder Sulzberger was approached by other shareholders before the meeting who sought to engage him on the topic of impeaching Trump and role the paper could play. He was never observed reciprocating.

“When Sulzberger made the quip about the pin, it was obvious that he simply assumed that I, along with anyone else who would be in the Times building, was as liberal as him,” noted Danhof. “He was wrong, and frankly his discussions with other shareholders were equally as disturbing.”

Today’s meeting marks FEP’s fifth participation in a shareholder meeting in 2018. 

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