NY Times Bias Seeps Onto Arts Pages With Rants on Racist Voter Suppression and Economic Inequity

May 22nd, 2016 6:05 PM

Left-wing bias; it’s not just for the news pages. The New York Times Weekend Arts roundup demonstrates how it saturates the paper, even -- perhaps especially -- in the paper’s Manhattan-centric cultural coverage. Friday’s edition was particularly densely packed.

Arts critic Holland Cotter, who once found a positive artistic side to Soviet Communist repression, discussed exhibition changes at the omni-political Brooklyn Museum on the front of Friday’s Fine Arts section, “A Museum Delivers a New Message.” After noting the museum was “a political hotbed at the moment,” Cotter gave mixed reviews to the new layout while painting outside the lines about politics.

And a single contemporary selection -- a 1994 photographic series by the American artist Lorraine O’Grady -- added to the mix presumably in the interest of audience engagement, is inadequately explained and feels tacked on. Visitors might have been far more intrigued to learn that most of what they’re seeing here was created for, and represents the values of, a social elite and a rising moneyed class that together formed a near equivalent to the segment of society that buys high-end art and controls the inequitable economy in America today.


In between these two poles come images, explicit or otherwise, embodying violence, acquisitiveness, wealth accumulation and an American faith, still very much alive, in Manifest Destiny. This is, in other words, an exercise -- and an unsystematic one, to be sure -- in history as told through art, a kind of telling that museums too seldom make pointed and explicit.

On the front of the paper’s other, more low-brow arts page, theater critic and Occupy Wall Street admirer Charles Isherwood reviewed the new Manhattan play “Turn Me Loose,” starring Joe Morton as the black comedian and liberal activist Dick Gregory, and found ominous parallels to Jim Crow and today’s voting laws.

Some jokes feel so topical it’s hard to believe they date from decades ago, as when Mr. Morton, portraying Gregory performing in a club in 1963, talks about the difficulties black Americans face voting.

“You white folks up North been votin’ for a long time,” he begins. “But in the South, we just barely get a chance to vote! You see, down South, if you colored and want to vote? They make you take a test.” Beat. “On nuclear physics.” Beat. “In Russian! Then if you pass the test, they say: ‘Hey boy! You can’t vote! Because if you can read in Russian? You must be a Communist!’”

1963, meet 2016.


In moments like these “Turn Me Loose” is at its most trenchant and disorienting. Time seems to collapse, and you might forget whether you’re watching the Dick Gregory of the 1960s or the Dick Gregory of today, when racial violence of a different kind has consistently made for sorrowful headlines.

Never is this effect more powerful than in another passage from that interview, when Gregory speaks of Americans who are “too scared to be openly bigoted.” Talking about the rise of Richard M. Nixon and the “Southern strategy,” he rails: “How did you have all those poor white folks voting Republican for the first time in their lives? They didn’t care about what the Republicans stand for! They were just tryin’ to hide their thing. You’ve got to keep people ignorant and poor to fuel bigotry.”

1968, meet … well, sigh, never mind.

Staying with disgraced Democrats, the paper’s most reliably left-wing movie critic Stephen Holden watched “Weiner,” an acclaimed and unlikely documentary on Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former New York City congressman, who resigned in 2011 after his sexting was made public and then two years later launched a delusional quest to be Manhattan mayor.

Holden turned the spotlight on his fellow journalists, not the liberal Weiner’s reckless, exhibitionist behavior on social media.

“What’s wrong with you?”

That question, posed to the disgraced New York City mayoral candidate Anthony D. Weiner in the infuriating and depressing but rivetingly watchable documentary that bears his name, is never answered and only barely addressed in the film, directed by Josh Kriegman (a former Weiner aide) and Elyse Steinberg. As almost everyone knows, Mr. Weiner’s meteoric political career was ended -- or at least interrupted -- by a sexting scandal in which he, sometimes under the preposterous pseudonym Carlos Danger, flirted with and exhibited himself to women.

The questioner is the MSNBC talking head Lawrence O’Donnell, addressing the candidate in a voice so filled with condescension and implied judgment that you loathe him every bit as much as, if not more than, his foolish, egotistic interview subject.


Tough as he is, Mr. Weiner is no match for a bloodthirsty mob of competing reporters and paparazzi demanding more information about his personal life. Whenever he tries to steer the conversation to the issues, journalists won’t let him. If you already hate television news for taking the low road, this documentary will confirm your distaste.

And critic Neil Genzlinger issued a milder version of his colleague Isherwood’s racial rant with his take on “All the Way,” an HBO drama starring Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Given all we hear about the current climate in Washington, “All the Way” is enough to make you misty for the days when horse-trading in the interest of securing significant achievements was what national politicians did. Not that the film gilds this era. We hear some of the actual arguments used to oppose civil rights legislation (sometimes via archival clips of George Wallace and others), and they’re mighty ugly. Is the verbiage today any different? The film invites us to make the comparison.