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The New York Times’s false equivalency problem, in one paragraph

One of these things is not like the other. But the Times reported them as if they are.

The New York Times. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Throughout the 2016 election, the New York Times was heavily criticized for having a “false equivalency” problem. The critique was that the Times treated Hillary Clinton’s problems, particularly emails and her work with the Clinton Foundation, as roughly equivalent to Donald Trump’s problems — his racism, lies, and conflicts of interest, for example.

Now the Times has given another example of this type of false equivalency, in one paragraph:

Bias incidents on both sides have been reported. A student walking near campus was threatened with being lit on fire because she wore a hijab. Other students were accused of being racist for supporting Mr. Trump, according to a campuswide message from Mark Schlissel, the university’s president.

Some context is important here: Since the election, advocacy groups have reported a spike in reports of hateful acts, particularly against racial and religious minorities. They argue that Trump’s election has emboldened racists and bigots, since Trump ran on an explicitly racist platform, giving rise to the attacks.

The Times article essentially pushes back on the narrative. Sure, there have been bigoted attacks against minorities, with some going as far as threatening the life of some people of color. But Trump supporters have also been called racist!

Obviously, one of these things is not like the other. Having your life threatened — by someone who wants to set you on fire — because of your religion is much worse than being called a racist. Yet the Times’s story, which is about how Trump supporters feel unwelcome on liberal college campuses, presents this as two equal sides.

This is exactly what people mean when they complain about a false equivalence: It’s treating both sides, to the extent that there are any sides here, as equal when they’re not remotely close.

Update: A New York Times spokesperson responded to criticisms of the paragraph with a statement:

The paragraph in question reported the sentiment of the University's President in a letter to the university community. To make that clear, editors have added a link to that letter in the story.

Our story was a measured and balanced look at what is happening on college campuses in the wake of the election. We stand by it.


Watch: It’s now on America’s institutions — and Republicans — to check Donald Trump

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