I have a theory that the people who own the New York Times are going to make a lot more money on their investment than they had expected. The only thing in their way is the people who work at the New York Times.
Allow me to explain.
The recent controversy about coverage of the explosion at the Gaza hospital—in which the Times and others took a culpably credulous position toward Hamas’ unsubstantiated claims that the blast was the result of an Israeli airstrike and that it killed nearly 500 people—offers only the faintest prefiguration of where the disinformation project is headed. There are five distinct relevant factors at play, none of which has reached its full maturity:
- The growth in scope and quality of professional, well-funded disinformation programs; everything from troll farms to more sophisticated creators of counterfeit news.
- The complementary growth of unpaid, freelance activist disinformation operatives motivated by commercial interests, ideology, racism, religious hatred, and/or nihilism.
- Social media’s ability to successfully bend critical institutions—ranging from national newspapers to major political parties—in the direction of servicing their most immediately profitable customers by feeding their appetites for cathartic, performative rage.
- The generational shift in attitudes among younger staffers at media outlets such as the Times, who believe that their own narrow—and often hysterical—conception of social justice, rather than journalism, is the true fundamental mission of the institution. This is an attitude they are taking with them as they rise through the org charts.
- The fact that all of these destructive and warping trends are going to be supercharged as radically more sophisticated generative-AI disinformation operations create a tsunami of lies and bespoke fever dreams that will be large enough to simply overwhelm legitimate journalism and other forms of intellectually honest information-gathering and analysis if allowed to go unchecked.
Media outlets such as the New York Times—and The Dispatch—will have the opportunity to play a critical role in the emerging communication environment by offering a service that hasn’t really been fashionable to speak about in technological and media circles since the 1990s: curation. As we discussed on a recent episode of Dispatch Live, the Times does great reporting on any number of important subjects, but it also has real problems when it comes to a handful of very big issues: Israel and the Middle East, the so-called social issues in domestic politics (notably sexuality and guns), and religion—especially in traditional, conservative, orthodox forms. The Times knows this. When he was executive editor, Dean Baquet observed that the paper and its New York- and Washington-based peers simply “don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”