For those left in the United States who believe a free press is the ultimate bulwark of democracy, Eric Nagourney’s article in the New York Times today describing how the Times has installed surveillance cameras in the Newsroom is a great shock.
At first, I thought the article was a hoax, perpetuated by someone who hacked the site. But then it seemed real. After not finding the article in the list of Op-Ed articles on the Times’ website, I feared the Times might try to suppress the article, which could be embarrassing in some quarters, without removing the cameras. We shall see.
Eric Nagourney, “Cameras Came to the Newsroom. What if They Catch Us Printing Springsteen Tickets?; My bosses put security monitors around the office; An uproar failed to ensue,” New York Times, June 1, 2019.
That management could implement such a shocking measure suggests that the ownership and management of the Times has fallen into the indolent hands of absentee managers, despite the illustrious history of the Sulzberger family and some of the courageous stands it has taken in matters such as the Pentagon Papers case.
Perhaps the scariest part of the story is Nagourney’s description of the lack of outrage on the part of Times’ employees working in the Newsroom.
As a loyal reader of the New York Yimes, I want the newspaper to add a line under the byline for each story that states the article was written and/or edited under the watchful gaze of the company’s surveillance cameras.
Have any of the bright people who put these cameras in considered whether their presence might affect news gathering (telephone conversations), the protection of confidential sources, or the willingness of the reporters and editors to take on controversial subjects and express outspoken views?
The article brings to mind thoughts about how fragile press freedom has become in the United States, with no effective legal restraints barring billionaires from coming in and buying newspapers and television stations. Luckily, “good” billionaires have bought the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, providing some assurance of continuing independence, however fragile. Together with the ownership structure of the New York Times.
For a totalitarian government to come to power in the U.S., about all that would be required would be to neuter the New York Times and the Washington Post, and shut down or control CNN and NBC/MSNBC. This could potentially be done with enough money and enough acquisitions. Another route would be to acquire control of Google and Facebook in order to control the flow of news from a free and independent press.
But these are digressions, pointing to the methods that have successfully brought totalitarian governments to power in other countries.
Still, if the Times has installed the machinery of a surveillance state in its own Newsroom, the chilling effect could be great. One can imagine subpoenas for the corresponding tapes.
There may be a hue and cry over the cameras, but at the end of the day they are likely to remain in place. This is a deeply disturbing development.
Totalitarianism enabled by technology is not such a far-fetched possibility as one might think.
The Trenchant Observer