In our American culture’s continuing interest in virtue signaling, there may be no more reliable way of signaling you’re on the “right” conservative team than by complaining about The New York Times. Second only to grumbling about CNN and MSNBC, Times bashing is a regular feature of social media and family gatherings.

And conservatives have had good reason to wonder about this venerable 172-year-old publication, originally called “The New-York Daily Times” and first published 10 years before the Civil War (and one year after the Deseret News, which started in 1850). In the years since, it became the first “newspaper of record” and the world’s most powerful news outlet, with 132 Pulitzer Prizes and some 1,700 journalists covering news from all corners of the globe, along with 9.6 million paid digital subscribers — including me.

Yes, despite her flaws, I’m coming clean on my affection for the Gray Lady (as the newspaper has been called for both metaphoric and stylistic reasons). In saying this, I concede many of Ashley Rindsberg’s points in his book “The Gray Lady Winked” on the “misreporting, distortions and fabrications” in the paper’s history.

As Rindsberg summarizes these instances, “It was as if the Times had reported from a different dimension of reality, presenting narratives about unfolding history that were drastically divergent from the ones we now know.”  

The Times has plenty of failings and obvious biases that need no repetition for conservatives and people of faith. As the culture wars have turned an increasingly hostile eye to all things Christian — including biblical views of marriage and family — the Times has been a consistent amplifier of critiques about the fundamentals of faith. This ranges from reporters soliciting negative stories about Christian schools to commentaries portraying conservative Christians as a great threat to America. 

Furthermore, any paper that loses the trust of a writer as gifted as Bari Weiss should be suspect. And yet, some credit is also due.  

The fact is that The New York Times has taken even greater strides in recent years to feature and preserve a rich diversity of commentary on the world today, what Heterodox Academy calls “viewpoint diversity.” 

The self-silencing majority
The New York Times hires David French as opinion columnist

For years, David Brooks joked that being a conservative columnist at The New York Times was “like being the chief rabbi of Mecca.” Even so, his columns at the Times since 2003 became what I looked forward to most each week, paired with uniquely warm and insightful radio and television conversations with E.J. Dionne and Mark Shields. In recent years, Bret Stephens and Gail Collins have picked up that baton, providing a new highlight.

And well before Stephens started in 2017, Ross Douthat became the youngest regular op-ed writer after replacing Bill Kristol as another conservative voice on the Times editorial page. 

While it’s true that these right-leaning voices have been decidedly centrist and against Donald Trump, they have consistently advocated for conservative principles over the years. 

Of course, you could write all this off as being a token attempt to show ideological diversity. But there’s more, such as John McWhorter’s incisive commentaries on language and race since 2022 (“Police Brutality Is Not Always About Race”) and Tish Harrison Warren’s moving reflections on contemplative Christianity since 2021 (“The God I Know Is Not a Culture Warrior”; “When Gay Rights Clash With Religious Freedom.”)

Even with the recent hire of David French, naysayers will point out these voices are collectively a drop in the bucket of commentary being put out into the world by this publication. But they are missing the point: The New York Times has not given up on what can be gained as a society from bringing together competing voices across the spectrum. 

This is precisely what an earlier publisher of the paper, Adolph Ochs, pointed toward in his 1896 statement: “To make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.”

Indeed, one thing that distinguished the Times from the yellow journalism around the turn of the century was a commitment to standards for more fair-minded journalism, what Ochs called “all the news that’s fit to print.” 

This openness to truth wherever it comes from is also reflective of the vision in its inaugural edition

“We shall be Conservative, in all cases where we think Conservatism essential to the public good; and we shall be Radical in everything which may seem to us to require radical treatment and radical reform. We do not believe that everything in Society is either exactly right or exactly wrong; what is good we desire to preserve and improve; what is evil, to exterminate, or reform.”

This is a great vision for any media outlet today, not to mention a university — including those with religious commitments that shape our vision. Believers, of course, also disagree on a wide variety of public issues, and within the boundaries of our faith professions, we ought to foster space for healthy disagreements and diverse perspectives.

Even when I disagree with Michelle Goldberg, Roxane Gay, Frank Bruni and Paul Krugman, I take them seriously — perhaps partly because the institution they work for strives to take people like me seriously. And I always learn a lot from reading them, even when they drive me a little nuts. 

And what a difference Nicholas Kristoff has made. His writing consistently reaches to make sense of some of the most painful things in the world, and he has single-handedly changed the landscape in public consciousness about pornography with his transformative piece “The Children of PornHub.”

Praise from a conservative like me, of course, will likely be seen as a liability, even “proof” that this paper has lost its way. That’s essentially what some have argued in an open letter that critiques recent coverage from the paper about gender and sexuality, released alongside a coordinated but separate letter from 130 LGBTQ advocacy organizations.  

These letters portray the Times as damaging and hostile to the trans community because of reporting exploring different perspectives on medical care for children who are questioning their gender identity. But the irony is that these authors are attacking the very thing that makes The New York Times singular, in an age of propagandizing and partisan reporting. 

In my interview with Jon Haidt for the Deseret News, he specifically highlighted the failure of our “knowledge-centered institutions” (such as newspapers and universities) to “stand up for the mission of their institutions.” When they fail to do so, they fall into precisely what Weiss was warning against, a tendency to see truth not as “a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

That’s the last thing any of us need in a major media outlet. But heaven help those seeking to preserve the integrity of universities and newspapers alike. CNN chief Chris Licht has faced vitriol that he calls “stunning” in recent months — even being called a “TV Fascist” by one loud voice. His transgression? Steering that prominent cable news outlet away from partisan reporting and toward exploring controversial subjects from different points of view — without telling viewers “what to think” but instead “how to think.” 

That’s a good thing, no matter how many people say otherwise. And bravo to Licht and to A. G. Sulzberger and the editorial team at the Times, for showing the bravery and backbone needed to push back on some of this biting condemnation and to chart a better course.  

America is better for it. Seeking truth together is what we need, more than anything else. And I say God bless all who are reaching for this in our fractured, contentious world — yes, including those working for The New York Times.  

Jacob Hess is a founder of Public Square Magazine and a former board member of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation. He has worked to promote liberal-conservative understanding since the publication of “You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)” with Phil Neisser. With Carrie Skarda, Kyle Anderson and Ty Mansfield, Hess also authored “The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints.”