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What I Said at the State Hearing on Harvard's $2 Billion Bond Offering

March 14, 2024 at 9:03 am

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The Last Los Angeles Times Press Run

March 13, 2024 at 9:33 am

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IMPORTANT: A wider editorial focus on trustworthy information and analysis

March 11, 2024 at 9:42 am

Dear Smartertimes reader:

Thank you for being a loyal Smartertimes reader and supporter. I'm excited to share some changes that will accelerate the spread of our vision and increase our impact:

  1. The Smartertimes.com and FutureofCapitalism email newsletters are merging into a single new publication called The Editors. This new name reflects a wider editorial focus on trustworthy information and analysis defending and expanding freedom and prosperity.

  2. The Editors will be hosted on the Substack technology platform. You may already be familiar with Substack as many prominent writers, editors, and thinkers—"Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds, "EconTalker" Russ Roberts, historians of Israel Michael Oren and Daniel Gordis, "Grumpy Economist" John Cochrane, "Free Press" founder Bari Weiss—are on it.

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With a war and a presidential campaign under way, with public trust in news media approaching all-time lows, and with technology making it easier than ever to connect directly with readers, it's hard to recall or imagine a more favorable moment for growth of this venture. I'm eager to seize the opportunity, and I appreciate your continued support.

Thank you for being a part of our journey. Feel free to contact me directly with any questions at [email protected].


Ira Stoll


Two Usage Errors

September 22, 2023 at 8:23 am

From a New York Times dispatch about succession at Bloomberg: "Mr. Bloomberg has recently set his sites on blocking new petrochemical plants that make fertilizer, plastics and packaging."

Even the Microsoft Word program gives me a double underline to indicate that "sites" should be "sights." It's a disappointment that this sort of thing makes it through the editing process at the New York Times.

Similarly, a recent New York Times article about "The Rabbi Whisperer," who helps rabbis craft and deliver sermons for the High Holidays, reported, "The Talmud, the foundational text of Jewish learning, is full of stories of rabbis putting their heads together to hash out the finer points of Judaic principals." "Principals" there should be "principles."

No one expects perfection in a daily newspaper produced on deadline by human beings, but readers who want higher standards of English usage enforced at the Times may consider that some of these errors are the consequence of a deliberate choice by the newspaper's management.

One reporter at the Times, Maggie Astor, recently posted, "Six years ago, @nytimes killed its copy desks. I was luckier than many other copy editors; I'd been thinking of moving into a reporting job anyway, and I landed well. But six years later, I'm still as disgusted and angered by the company's decision as I was when it happened. I did not get over it. I did not come to think 'it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.' And I never — never — again saw the decisionmakers the same way. That decision permanently changed my level of respect for the judgment of the people who made it."

Anyway, the Times has trouble enough on a substantive level earning the trust of readers. Why erode that trust further with sloppy usage? Readers may figure that if the newspaper doesn't place a priority on getting details right when it comes to English language, it won't place a priority on getting details right when it comes to factual accuracy, either.


White Shirts

August 25, 2023 at 12:04 pm

A front page news analysis of the Republican debate reports, "Across the stage, each of the seven men — whether they were pro-Trump or anti-Trump — wore dark suits, white shirts and red ties. It's a uniform frequently favored by another man. One who wasn't there."

In fact Senator Scott was not wearing a white shirt; his shirt was a pale or sky blue. (A different Times article available online indeed acknowledges that Scott's shirt was "white-ish blue."

When you can't even trust the Times to tell you reliably, in a front page article published more than 24 hours after the debate, what color shirts the Republican candidates were wearing, what signal does it send about the veracity and carefulness of the rest of the paper's political coverage. Who edits this stuff? Did they watch the debate? Come on, guys. The Times reporter whose byline is on the inaccurate article, Lisa Lerer, has a previous history of shepherding inaccuracies into the paper.


"Distrust in Vital U.S. Institutions"

August 8, 2023 at 9:14 am

"Like Trump, G.O.P. Rivals Feed Distrust in Vital U.S. Institutions" is the front-page headline over an alarmist New York Times news article, warning that "the tenor of the campaign rhetoric has reached new and conspiratorial levels."

To its credit, the article notes low down, briefly, that "Casting doubt on the integrity of government is hardly limited to Republican candidates" and that "President Biden...has mused about his skepticism of the Supreme Court — 'this is not a normal court,' he said after the court's ruling striking down affirmative action in college admissions." Also, "Democrats have far more doubt about the Supreme Court and the police. (There is bipartisan distrust in the criminal justice system, with less than one in four voters expressing confidence in the system.)"

But the headline and the lead paragraphs of the Times news article are tilted to appeal to the prejudices of left-leaning Times readers—oh, those evil Republicans undermining trust in our vital institutions. Could it be that the institutions are distrusted because of their real failures, rather than because of conspiratorial rhetoric from Republican presidential candidates? The Times itself hasn't exactly been innocent when it comes to fueling distrust in the Supreme Court, publishing several articles depicting the justices as basically corrupt.

Headlines and articles like this in the Times serve their own role in feeding public distrust in a vital institution—the media. Readers see through it. The idea that it's okay for the New York Times to criticize institutions but that it's "conspiratorial" for Republican politicians to do it, or that it's okay for Democrats and the press to criticize the police and the Roberts-Alito-Thomas Supreme Court, but it's not okay for Republicans to criticize the IRS and the Ivy League, just seems tendentious and partisan, rather than an example of the consistent application of a principle.


"Astonishingly High"

August 3, 2023 at 8:47 am

A news article in the New York Times business section about Disney and ESPN reports, "Estimates vary widely, but if ESPN offered its cable channels à la carte, it would most likely have to charge an astonishingly high fee for the streaming service, perhaps $40 or $50 per month, just to maintain its current revenue."

Maybe just tell Times readers the price rather than characterizing it as "high" or "astonishingly high"? The New York Times charges an astonishingly high $86.67 a month for a seven-day-a-week home delivery subscription of its newspaper, which probably provides less entertainment, and more aggravation, than does access to ESPN.

The Times used to employ skilled editors who kept a close rein on this sort of subjective, opinionated characterization seeping into straight news articles. Maybe those editors are on summer vacation. Or maybe those editors are gone for good, Times ownership having decided that the cost of employing them was so astonishingly high that the improvement in quality and credibility wasn't worth spending the money that would otherwise be available to pay out in astonishingly high compensation to members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family.



June 11, 2023 at 8:24 am

"In Chat With Musk, Kennedy Pushes Right-Wing Ideas and Misinformation," was the headline the New York Times put over a recent (June 6, 2023, print newspaper) news article about Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Elon Musk. It said, in part, "On Monday, Mr. Kennedy repeated a host of false statements, among them:...He claimed, without evidence, that 'Covid was clearly a bioweapons problem.' American intelligence agencies do not believe there is any evidence indicating that is the case."

Now the Sunday Times of London is out with a new investigation. Its editor tweets, "We talked to experts in the US who had been tasked with investigating how the Covid-19 virus emerged in Wuhan. They were given privileged access to top secret intelligence. They described how the scientists in Wuhan had worked alongside the Chinese military when they conducted experiments fusing together the world's most deadly coronaviruses. They allege that the People's Liberation Army was running a secret project alongside the publicly declared work of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This included experiments on a small number of coronaviruses with a close genetic likeness to Covid-19."

I'm quite cautious about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Certainty or clarity on the Covid origin question is indeed elusive, largely because of the Chinese government's refusal to cooperate or to allow a truly independent investigation. Even so, though, it seems excessive for the New York Times to have described Kennedy's theory of Covid's origins as flatly "false" or "misinformation." I understand the instinct and reasoning behind newspapers wanting to provide context and a reality check for claims by politicians, but, well, as Bret Stephens put it in a good column on the lab leak issue back in June of 2021: "When lecturing the public about the dangers of misinformation, it's best not to peddle it yourself."


Underestimating Readers

May 30, 2023 at 6:34 am

"You've Never Heard of Him, but He's Remaking the Pollution Fight," reads an online New York Times headline over an article about Richard Revesz, "a climate law expert and former dean of the New York University School of Law" who since January has headed the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

"You've never heard of him" is in this case a factually inaccurate New York Times headline, as in the case of Revesz, I not only have heard of him, I sat next to him once at a dinner. The Times seems to be underestimating its readers. Revesz himself had opinion pieces in the Times in 2019 and 2015 and 2012 and is quoted in the newspaper with some frequency. NYU's $5.7 million in loans to Revesz for a West Village townhouse and country home on 65 acres in Litchfield County, Connecticut, were a subject of a front-page news article in the Times in 2013.

If the Times is going to use "you" in headlines, it might want to try harder to do so in a way that is respectful of its readers, rather than insulting of them. Perhaps some Times readers even attended NYU Law School and would have heard of the dean? Perhaps some are professors at competing law schools? It's headlines like these that give longtime readers a sinking sense that the Times' new target audience is not people like us; that the Times headline writers would rather chase new readers than respect their existing audience.


The Times Gets in Bed With Google

May 11, 2023 at 8:49 am

"New York Times to Get Around $100 Million From Google Over Three Years" is the headline over a Wall Street Journal news article amplifying a brief February 6 Times press release ("The New York Times Company and Google Expand Agreement on News and Innovation") to the effect that "The New York Times Company and Google announced an expansion of their collaboration with a multi-year commercial agreement today. The companies will work together on tools for content distribution and subscriptions, using Google tools for marketing, ad product experimentation, and further on Subscribe with Google and Google Ad Manager."

Lo and behold, the entire top of the front page of today's New York Times print business section, with the headline "Deft Moves Help Google Make Gains on 2 Fronts," is devoted to boosterish coverage of Google, with publicist-quality subheadlines like "The tech giant's newest entry-level phone, the Pixel 7A, is just good as devices that are nearly double its price" [should be just "as" good, but apparently the $100 million from Google isn't enough to pay for quality copyediting at the Times] and "Google continues to build on the latest craze in tech with an array of products using artificial intelligence."

There are other outlets and reporters—for example Jacob Siegel in Tablet—casting a critical and skeptical eye at the way Google is collaborating with governments to fight "disinformation" in a way that helps the ruling elites exert control but undercuts freedom and democracy.

Anyway, $100 million is a lot of money to a company like the Times, whose print subscribers plummeted to 700,000 in the first quarter of 2023 from 770,000 in the first quarter of 2022, whose digital average [monthly] revenue per user sank to $9.04 in the first quarter of 2023 from $9.13 in the first quarter of 2022, and whose stock price has sagged to about $36 yesterday from $54 in October of 2021, even as the Ochs-Sulzberger family members who manage the place have collected millions of dollars in compensation.

Maybe Google would be getting lavishly positive coverage from the Times even without paying the $100 million. But should Times readers have to rely on the Wall Street Journal, a competing paper, to understand the financial relationship between the Times and the Big Tech companies that the Times is supposed to be providing editorially independent coverage of? This is the same paper that thinks it's an outrageous conflict of interest for Justice Thomas to socialize with Harlan Crow. If it were any institution other than the Times taking $100 million from a business it is supposed to be independently covering, the Times would be breathlessly telling readers how rotten the whole thing is. As it is, the combination of the financial deal and the Times headline "Deft Moves Help Google Make Gains" serve to undermine reader trust in the Times. It's the sort of thing you might call the public editor about, if the Times hadn't eliminated the position.


U.S. Church Closures

April 21, 2023 at 11:19 am

Under the headline, "Lots of Americans Are Losing Their Religion. Are You?" Times newsletter writer Jessica Grose reports:

In their forthcoming book, "Beyond Doubt: The Secularization of Society," the sociologists Isabella Kasselstrand, Phil Zuckerman and Ryan Cragun describe a change in the built environment of St. Louis that is "emblematic" of the ebb of organized religious observance in America. What was once a Gothic-style beauty of a Catholic church built in the 19th century by German immigrants had been turned into a skateboard park.

"In the United States," the authors tell us, "somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 churches close down every year, either to be repurposed as apartments, laundries, laser-tag arenas, or skate parks, or to simply be demolished."

What Grose doesn't say is that thousands more churches are started each year, so that the net picture is much less negative than she portrays. A 2019 study of 34 Protestant denominations, for example, found "4,500 churches closed in 2019, while about 3,000 new congregations were started." By mentioning just the church closings and not the church openings, the Times gives its readers a misleading, distorted, exaggerated view of reality.


Deep Red Ohio?

February 23, 2023 at 9:42 am

A news article and photo cutline in Thursday's New York Times refer to Ohio as "a deep-red state that Mr. Trump won in the 2016 and 2020 elections."

It's true that Ohio has been trending more Republican lately, but to call it "deep red" is probably an overstatement. The state still has a Democratic U.S. senator, Sherrod Brown. An October 2021 report from the Ohio Secretary of State on party affiliation data in the state's voter registration database found 947,027 registered Democrats and 836,080 registered Republicans, meaning that Democrats have a voter registration edge in the state. An April 2020 statewide poll by Baldwin Wallace University's Ohio Poll found more Democrats than Republicans, both before and after weighting.

It's a good example of politics being in the perception of the beholder. If you are a reporter for the New York Times writing for readers in San Francisco, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., Ohio looks "deep red." If you come from somewhere that is actually really deep red, like Wyoming or South Dakota or Utah, Ohio looks like a place where Democrats have an advantage, or that is maybe mildly red when it comes to presidential choices, but is not accurately described as "deep red."


"Unregulated Free Market Economy"

January 8, 2023 at 8:41 am

An arts section piece on Columbia University's new business school buildings includes this sentence: "Glenn Hubbard, the former business school dean who brought the project to fruition, saw the need to break free from fealty to the unregulated free market economy that over decades has led to extraordinary wealth concentration."

I found the sentence puzzling. What "unregulated" economy existed over the decades to cause the wealth concentration? We have a lot of regulations here in America. So many that a full set of the Code of Federal Regulations is "approximately 200 volumes." So many that, sometimes, the wealthy capture the regulators and then use the regulation to prevent new entrants from competing, which also contributes to wealth concentration. A lot of the wealth happens, also, not because of lack of regulation but because someone works hard and creates something useful that people are willing to voluntarily pay for. I recalled from my (positive) review of Hubbard's 2013 book Balance that reducing regulation of occupational licensing was one of his ideas for increasing economic growth.

I emailed Hubbard and he kindly and quickly wrote back, in part, "I don't recall using the word 'unregulated' in my conversation with the reporter. What we discussed was the need for guardrails to advance opportunity and the ability to compete, as well as more contemporary social insurance to help people and places struggling in the overall beneficial dynamism of the economy. I talked with him about teaching Political Economy and bringing classical liberal ideas to students as well as neoliberal ones (the subject of my most recent book, The Wall and the Bridge)."


Ochs-Sulzbergers Fault Justice Thomas for Nepotism

January 2, 2023 at 8:42 am

In the latest development in the Ochs-Sulzberger family's ongoing campaign against nepotism, an opinion column in today's New York Times declares Clarence and Virginia Thomas as the "most egregious Nepo couple." Nepo is short for nepotism. This is really something—a newspaper whose publisher is a fifth-generation member of the family whose trust controls it, denouncing for nepotism, of all people, Clarence Thomas—who lived as a child in a one-room shack in Pin Point, Georgia, with a dirt floor and no plumbing.

From the 2022 New York Times Company proxy statement:

Certain Members of the Ochs-Sulzberger Family Employed by the Company during our 2021 Fiscal Year. A.G. Sulzberger was employed as Chairman and Publisher of The New York Times during 2021. See "Compensation of Executive Officers" for a description of his compensation. [That section indicates A.G. Sulzberger was paid $8,112,955 for his work in 2019, 2020, and 2021. New York Times Company stock was down 32.66 percent in 2022, destroying about $2.74 billion in value for shareholders.] David Perpich, who was employed as head of the Company's standalone products group in 2021, was paid $924,698 in 2021 and received a grant under the 2021-2023 long-term performance award program with a target value of $200,000. James Dryfoos, who was employed as executive director, technology compliance, was paid $290,408 in 2021 and received time-vested restricted stock units with a grant date fair value of $5,700. Pamela Dryfoos, who was employed as executive director of finance for the Company's standalone products group, was paid $286,080 in 2021 and received time-vested restricted stock units with a grant date fair value of $5,700. Mr. Dryfoos, Ms. Dryfoos, Mr. Perpich and Mr. Sulzberger are all fifth-generation members of the Ochs-Sulzberger family.

(Image source: Steve Petteway, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Wikimedia Commons)



December 11, 2022 at 3:12 pm

On Thursday, New York Times unionized newsroom employees walked off the job. One feature of the rally in support of their contract demands was participation of the broader labor movement. A representative of the Communications Workers of America proclaimed from the rally stage: "Workers are fed up with corporate greed. The labor movement stands with you. We're all in this together." The president of the New York State AFL-CIO, Mario Cilento, said, "We are a family. The labor movement is family." Representatives of Workers United, representing "newly organized Amazon and Starbucks workers," were at the rally and recognized for their support.

Lo and behold, the Sunday New York Times features two long news articles cheerleading labor organizing campaigns at Starbucks and among food delivery workers in New York City.

Maybe one thing has nothing to do with the other. But it sure looks more like solidarity than the hardheaded, impartial, beholden-to-no-one news coverage that the Times publicly portrays as its ideal.


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