US

The New York Times Could Face Libel Claims After Front Page Story Smearing Milton Friedman, Jordan Peterson

By Zachary Stieber

The New York Times could be facing libel claims after a front page article smeared Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, famed psychologist Jordan Peterson, and Jewish political commentator Ben Shapiro as “far right.”

In a lengthy piece that was published on the front page of the June 9 edition, technology columnist Kevin Roose claims that YouTube’s algorithms are to blame for “radicalizing” a man, Caleb Cain, and cited Christianity and the distrust of large numbers of Muslim immigrants as examples of the so-called far-right mentality.

“Mr. Cain never bought into the far right’s most extreme views, like Holocaust denial or the need for a white ethnostate, he said. Still, far-right ideology bled into his daily life. He began referring to himself as a ‘tradcon’—a traditional conservative, committed to old-fashioned gender norms. He dated an evangelical Christian woman, and he fought with his liberal friends,” Roose wrote.

In the piece, which is not labeled as an op-ed, Roose claims that he’s “heard countless stories” like that of Cain, the man the piece focuses on, and that “the common thread in many of these stories is YouTube and its recommendation algorithm.”

The piece is largely anecdotal and Roose never makes clear why he believes some personalities referenced in the article are far-right while others are not.

Among the pictures in a collage of screenshots from YouTube are Friedman, an American economist who died in 2006 and who was known for his research on monetary history and theory; Peterson, 56, a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor known for his unique analysis of modern problems; and Ben Shapiro, 35, founder of the conservative Daily Wire and a nationally known political commentator.

In the digital version of the article, the thumbnails are what meets the reader immediately, with nothing distinguishing some YouTubers from others. Some thumbnails disappear as the reader scrolls down.

Philip DeFranco, a YouTuber seen in the piece, slammed The Times and Roose.

“This slowly disappearing thumbnail collage with escalating language seems to insinuate a lot,” he wrote.

After heavy criticism, Roose alerted people that the collage had been changed and some thumbnails were removed. Neither he nor the paper issued an apology.

Robert Barnes, a lawyer, said that Roose clearly defames Peterson, Shapiro, and YouTuber Dave Rubin, among others, “by innuendo, using an image to visually associate in your mind each w/ the rolling headlines: ‘far-right’ ‘conspiracy theories’ ‘misogyny’ ‘racism’ ‘far-right’ ‘brainwash.'”

“Media believe they can use affiliative terms, vague inflammatory language & visual images to libel-by-innuendo w/o consequence, especially in headlines. In fact, libel law does not allow libel by headlines, even if the substantive portion of an article says nothing about them,” he added.

Independent journalist Tim Pool, a popular YouTuber, was among those critical of the piece, noting that the ending of the piece seemed to undercut its premise.

“What’s funny is the story frames it as playing into the far right but goes into detail about how a conservative began watching @RubinReport and Intellectual Dark Web content that led him over time to more left wing content and then to denounce the alt right,” he wrote.

In another missive, he announced he was canceling his subscription to The Times.

“The New York Times just published an anecdote with no evidence on their front page,” he added. “One guy who watched youtube videos is a story about ‘a youtube radical’ Its fine as an op-ed but front page? Insane.”