Monday, July 20, 2020

Day 133 of Nat'l Emergency: Digging Up Dirt Is Dirty Business

The sins of the fathers taint the acts of the sons no matter how noble the latters’ causes may be. Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” showed us that reality with the persecution of the St. Evrémonde family during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Charles Darnay was found guilty of oppressing the populace even though he renounced his family title and the nobles who killed and otherwise exploited the peasants.   

And so we now are witnessing the persecution of The New York Times because ancestors of the founding family were slaveholders. Had their coffin draped by the Confederate flag. Were member of the Daughters of the Confederacy (https://nypost.com/2020/07/18/the-family-that-owns-the-new-york-times-were-slaveholders-goodwin/?utm_source=url_sitebuttons&utm_medium=site%20buttons&utm_campaign=site%20buttons).

To be sure, The Times has been cast as guilty of a supreme journalistic sin, that of foregoing objectivity, quashing dissenting voices while permitting bullying of any staffer who deviated from the corporate line.

Never mind that today’s Times champions civil rights. By publishing a special report last year on the  400th anniversary of slavery in the British colonies and laying the foundational reason for the break with the king on perpetuation of slavery, The Times is accused of misrepresenting history while ignoring its own involvement in the despicable practice.

The article demanding genetic purity from The Times was written by a former Times staffer of 16 years. It appeared in The New York Post, a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, an ardent supporter of Donald Trump. Murdoch also owns The Wall Street Journal, arch rival of The Times. Could The Journal benefit from knocking The Times off its lofty perch? No doubt.

That being a real possibility the truth of slaveholding by Times family ancestors is not diminished. But is it damning?

Slavery was part of colonial DNA. It continued into the 19th century even in northern states. New York, for example, did not outlaw all forms of slavery until July 4, 1827. Among northern states only New Jersey permitted slavery longer.

The Ochs family, which bought and reformatted The Times into the preeminent paper in the United States if not the world, had its roots in the Antebellum South. They owned slaves.

I find it increasingly difficult to accept the wholesale tarring of family descendants, especially when one considers how the newspaper over the last 50 years has been a steadfast champion of press freedoms, civil rights and has been a bulwark of defense against abuses of power on local, state and national levels. 

One could surely legitimately argue that The Times has shed some objectivity in its coverage of Donald Trump. That it holds Israel to a higher standard than Palestinians and Arab countries. That its Op-Ed page is mostly a forum for progressive, not conservative, ideas.

Even if guilty on all counts The Times cannot be equated with the symbols of the Confederacy protesters seek to topple. Those statues and the stars and bars flag are symbols of rebellion against our duly elected government. They were traitors unworthy of any reverence or fealty, no matter how valiantly or competently they fought.

My lens of history, of historical perspective, is biased. I admit it. Friends and relatives swear by The Journal as a better newspaper.

Perhaps it is. I don’t read it often enough to make an assessment. Same thing with The Washington Post. They are both owned by tycoons.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has invested heavily in The Post to restore it to its Pentagon Papers/Watergate era prominence.

But in achieving his rank as the richest person in the world Bezos put lots of companies out of business and lots of people out of work. My magazine’s readership included many of those companies and people affected. I derive only some comfort from his resuscitation of The Post.

From Rupert Murdoch I take absolutely no comfort. Anchored by Fox News, his media empire is largely responsible for the distrust many Americans feel toward their country and the resultant emergence of Donald Trump as an avatar of transformation based on misinformation, conspiracy theories and outright lies.

The Times is not pitch perfect. But it still retains a voice that is noteworthy and dedicated to the improvement of our country, despite the less than perfect history of its founding family’s members. 

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