Commentary Magazine


A Cancellation 16 Years in the Making

Joseph Epstein, well known to Commentary readers and other literate types as one of America’s most distinguished essayists, has cancelled his subscription to the New York Times.

In an article appearing in the current edition of the Weekly Standard titled “Adios, Gray Lady,” Epstein writes that while the Times once enjoyed an aura of “a certain stateliness … the the possession of high virtue,” those days are gone.

“[T]the Gray Lady,” he continues, “is far from the grande dame she once was. For years now she has been going heavy on the rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner, using a push-up bra, and gadding about in stiletto heels. … I’ve had it with the old broad; after nearly 50 years together, I’ve determined to cut her loose.”

Far from an impulsive act, Epstein’s break with the Times actually was years in the making. Though he doesn’t mention it in his Weekly Standard article, back in 1994 he wrote a lengthy essay on his problems with the paper  — “The Degradation of the New York Times” — for Commentary, in which he lamented the paper’s steady drift away from at least attempts at objective reporting to out-and-out advocacy disguised as news coverage:

[T]he news columns of the Times have become so filled with opinion that one has become all but inured to the phenomenon…. Not that one should ever read a newspaper story without a proper measure of skepticism, but in The New York Times of late the gentle whir of political axes being ground has come to serve as a kind of basso continuo to the paper’s reporting.

In his Weekly Standard piece, Epstein elaborates on his decision to forgo the Times: “For so many decades the paper has been part of my morning mental hygiene. Yet in recent years I’ve been reading less and less of each day’s paper. … With the exception of David Brooks, who allows that his general position is slightly to the right of center but who is not otherwise locked into a Pavlovian political response, I find no need to read any of the Times’s regular columnists.”

And it’s not only the paper’s columnists Epstein realizes he can live without. “I’d sooner read the fine print in my insurance policies,” he writes, “than the paper’s perfectly predictable editorials.” Here, too, Epstein’s dismay was already evident in his 1994 Commentary essay:

One can now predict how the Times will come out editorially on nearly every issue, problem, or question of the day. The only amusement, or instruction, is in watching its editorial writers squirm in defending the indefensible, or rationalizing the irrational.

Reading both of Epstein’s articles  — and bearing in mind they were writen sixteen years apart – one doesn’t know whether to marvel at his ineffable patience in waiting this long before finally kicking the Times to the curb or to ask, perhaps uncharitably but with only the best of intentions, Why the interminable delay?