The Gray Lady Winked: How the New York Times's Misreporting, Distortions and Fabrications Radically Alter History

Reviewed on , book by Ashley Rindsberg

Imagine reading NYTimes’s coverage of past historical events and discovering to your dismay how strange and straight-up misleading the reporting was at the time. Then digging further and uncovering perverse incentives for authors and cover-ups. That’s what this book is.

Although it’s difficult to determine whether the author worked backward from “NYTimes is an extremely biased for-profit family business” or forward from “I wonder what the coverage was for historical events.” I choose to read it as the latter, but I sense that Rindsberg took the former approach. Either way, you will probably unsubscribe from NYT after reading this book for the former reason. Presumably, other newspapers aren’t much better, as their incentive structure isn’t fundamentally different, perhaps except National Media (which the US doesn’t have).

That way of reading it alone is illuminating. As the saying goes, today’s newspapers are tomorrow’s birdcage liners. News expires rapidly, and historically even the largest media companies have gotten the narrative hopelessly wrong.

NYT’s coverage of Nazi Germany in the 1930s was covered by a pro-nazi journalist. So pro-nazi in fact that he was often quoted on Nazi broadcasts, and when all other journalists were put in jail when the war started, he was left alone “because of his proved friendliness to Germany.” In fact, because New York Times is owned by a Jewish family, NYT didn’t cover anti-semitism. They didn’t want to be labeled as a Jewish newspaper and appear biased. During the war, Holocaust-related stories were only on the front-page 6 times. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll look at the Uyghur genocide similarly.

This is the starkest example, but each chapter tells another story: Covering up the Ukrainian famine, long-term effects of nuclear weapons through radioactive poisoning, and so much more.

Overall, it’s not exactly a page-turner, but the first-hand narrative of the incentives and biases of for-profit media corporations (beyond the cheap clickbait arguments) will stay with me.