Here's Why The New York Times Shouldn't Run Ads Taking on Donald Trump

The most extraordinary moment of this year's Oscars wasn't when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway awarded Best Picture to the wrong movie. It occurred earlier in the broadcast when The New York Times ran an advertisement directly taking on Donald Trump and his relentless attacks on the media.

The Times using the Oscars to reach their core audience (highly educated, affluent coastal elites who care about things like movie awards) isn't what's shocking - it's the Times switching roles from an independent entity that offers an objective assessment of the news of the day to an unrepentant political advocate, one not all that different from Emily's List or the ACLU or MoveOn.org (like all political advocates, the Times now even asks for donations on its homepage).

As I understand it, the leadership at the Times believes we are living in a historic moment that requires historic measures. They fear that 2017 America could become the equivalent of the 1930s Weimar Republic, and that risk requires them to step outside of their normal role as an independent, neutral entity and become a clear political and policy advocate.

From a policy standpoint, while I wish the Times weren't so hyper-partisan and I wish the editorials didn't read like nails on a chalkboard, I agree with just about everything they have to say about Trump.

But I worry that by merging their news and editorial coverage about politics - by becoming a political advocate and leaving their traditional role as a bedrock of the fourth estate - they're letting the genie out of the bottle.

And once the genie's out, no matter how important it may seem at the time, you can never put it back in.

The power of independent institutions

I was out of town on Election Night, so I called my kids the next morning to talk about the results and reassure them about what would come next. We talked about our nation's strong, independent institutions like the Constitution, the courts and the media, all of whom sit above day-to-day politics and can help limit any harm Trump could do.

The value of those institutions comes from their independence, their longstanding practice of not choosing sides (except in editorials or at the end of a judicial proceeding), and their ability to take the long-view over a period of decades - even centuries.

Are there times where our courts abuse their power on the left or the right? Absolutely - but it then erodes confidence in the validity of their decisions. Are there constant attempts by both sides to abuse the Constitution? Yes - but that's why amending it is so difficult.

The fourth estate

And while a private company like The New York Times is neither the U.S. Constitution nor the judiciary, it has been - for over a century - the standard bearer of the first amendment and the fourth estate. That comes from a strict adherence to a high standard of independence.

I'm not sure you can write headlines and news articles that directly and consistently attack people and policies, target virtually all of your focus towards debunking one individual and one party (to be clear, I'm an independent and believe that both parties are corrupt), and still maintain long-term credibility as a neutral, objective, independent institution.

And given the level of talent at the Times, I'm not sure it's even necessary in order to make the point they want to make - you're far better off breaking big stories (like Sessions or Flynn) and still maintaining a high level of objectivity and credibility.

Preserving credibility

I care a lot about stopping Trump from banning immigrants, enacting border taxes, launching unwarranted military strikes, denying climate change, taking away people's health care, and generally spewing lies and hate.

But unless he brings the entire world down with him, our country will still exist long after Trump is gone.

And we're still going to need the institutions that preserve our democracy. Once those institutions lose their credibility, they can't be as effective.

And that puts our freedom at risk.

So when The New York Times decides to abandon its traditional role as the arbiter of all the news that's fit to print and instead becomes a participant in day-to-day political combat, it erodes its ability to help keep America great.

And if we ever have to look back at the day when our democracy changed for the worse, the night the Times advertised during the Oscars may be the turning point when we tried valiantly to win the battle and instead lost the war.

Published in Inc.

Bradley Tusk