By and large, I try to resist commenting on this blogs frequent references to the New York Times, burdened as I am by actual knowledge of the place, of many people who work there, and of its culture actually I should say cultures because they vary from one department or section of the paper to another.The Times does many things that are egregious. But of course the Times also does many things, period, things often entailing rare skills, unusual dedication, exhausting work, sacrifice of corporate profits, not infrequently even risk of life. Sportswriters, unlike media critics, do not judge a .400 hitter by the other 6 out of 10 times at bat. And the Timess record is well above that average, although as anyone knows who has either been the subject of a news story or has had to write one in seven hours and eight hundred words, it is unheard of to get everything completely and exactly right.The Times, to repeat, prints many egregious things. Mollie Wilson OReilly recently posted an example from the Vows column in the Sunday Style Section. I was taken aback by Bill Mazellas nave defense of this as a simple case of neutral news coverage, something quickly rebutted by Mollie and others. Could Bill imagine, I wondered, the disdain in which such features are commonly held by many of the papers own reporters and editors? What in our household have long been termed the greed sections of the Times were widely tolerated in the Times newsroom as an ingenious invention by Abe Rosenthal to bring in advertising revenue that has allowed the paper to maintain serious bureaus in Afghanistan and Iraq and send reporters to Central Asia and the horn of Africa and many parts of the globe now abandoned by most of the news media. For many, including many of those who at various times put their lives on the line to get important stories, the entire Styles Section and its like are at best necessary evils. (I hope that this will not provoke further reflections on the pope and condoms.)But the Christmas editorial discussed below is something else. It is not the editorial I might have written had I ever been invited (or accepted) to join the editorial page. There are many Christmas editorials, including some redolent with explicit celebration of Christs birth, that I might not have written. But they dont stir my ire or sense of victimization either. Here we have four paragraphs of admirable, if somewhat bland, Christmas-related sentiments. It could have been written, for all I know, by an editor who was at Midnight Mass. But he or she consciously wrote it from a religiously neutral standpoint, except perhaps for the final endorsement of prayer. And it was written for a readership about whose religious convictions no assumptions could or would be made. This is, it seems to me, not the only possible but nonetheless a very plausible and respectful reflection of our contemporary pluralism. There really are many people who are not out to get us but who sincerely and thoughtfully dont believe in Christ or Christianity. Are we shocked, shocked, by that? I think we should get used to it.
Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.