Commentary Magazine


When Journalism Substitutes For Religion

In a story announcing that Jill Abramson will replace Bill Keller as the executive editor of the New York Times, we’re told this:

Ms. Abramson, 57, said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of the Times to be like “ascending to Valhalla.” “In my house growing up, the Times substituted for religion,” she said. “If the Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

This is a practically perfect quote from Ms. Abramson, simply in terms of giving voice to what one imagines the people who run the Times are like. She believed the Times wasn’t simply a great newspaper; the stories were written on tablets of stone. (Perhaps she viewed reporters at the Times as secular prophets and the op-ed columnists as secular apostles.) But it goes even deeper than that: the Times was a substitute for religious faith, meaning it must have provided her not simply with the news but with existential meaning and moral guidance.

For a person to have viewed (and presumably to still view, at least to some degree) a newspaper with religious reverence and its stories as sacred text is slightly weird and quite revealing. Devotion to a journalistic enterprise is one thing; cultism is quite another.

Jill Abramson’s mindset is exactly the kind conservatives assume liberals at the Times possess. To see it confirmed by her own words is, in its own way, quite useful.

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