Sympathy for the New York Times.

Policy made plain.
May 21 2003 1:41 PM

Sympathy for the New York Times

Often plagiarized. Seldom plagiarizing.

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This near-universal dependence on the Times helps to explain the schadenfreude (dependence causes resentment) as well as the more serious alarm about the Times' reliability. It also puts Jayson Blair's rip-offs of others, if not his fabrications, in perspective. No one gets ripped off more than the New York Times.

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The social critic Dwight Macdonald, reminiscing about the left-wing Partisan Review crowd of the 1930s, wrote: "The N.Y. Times was to us what Aristotle was to the medieval scholastics—a revered authority, even though pagan, and a mine of useful information about the actual world." Today's equivalent of that sect-ridden, conspiracy-minded, alienation-proud political world is on the right. I was listening to a right-wing broadcast crank the other day as he carried on about how the Times can't be trusted, among half a dozen current issues. I don't know where he got his information, but I have a guess.

Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.