Kelly Jane Torrance

What’s the New York Times’s problem with Britain?

When Mark Thompson, a Briton, took over as CEO of the New York Times in November 2012, he was under a dark cloud. He’d just served as Director General of the BBC, and the corporation had been accused of covering up the sex crimes of one of its biggest-ever stars, the late Jimmy Savile.

Ever keen to demonstrate objectivity, the Times ran an opinion piece a few days before Thompson took over, asking whether he was really the right man for the job. ‘Since early October,’ wrote columnist Joe Nocera, ‘all anybody has asked about Thompson are those two most damning of questions: what did he know, and when did he know it?’

That’s precisely the sort of objectivity that the New York Times could desperately do with now, especially when it comes to reporting on Britain. Nearly six years after Thompson’s arrival, all sense of balance seems to have disappeared from its coverage of the United Kingdom — and of Brexit in particular.

If the BBC is often accused of anti-Brexit bias, it stands as a model of reason compared with the New York Times, which has of late been pumping out the sort of coverage that many anti-Brexit BBC editors and reporters would produce were they not constrained by impartiality demands. ‘From one crisis to another, Brexit-torn Britain stumbles,’ read a headline from March. A feature about Grimsby, published in April, began with the headline: ‘In Brexit vote, town’s nostalgia for seafaring past muddied its future’.

While much of the New York Times’ coverage of Brexit Britain has been unrelentingly negative, there have been occasional outbreaks of wishful thinking. ‘Could the UK vote again on Brexit?’ asked reporter Stephen Castle on 21 April. ‘The prospects are rising,’ he said, before presenting the evidence. This amounted to a quotation from a man who regretted voting leave and a lengthy quotation from Lord Adonis about why he thought the chances of a second referendum were ’30 – 40 per cent’.

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