The New York Times mission statement is simple: “We seek the truth and help people understand the world.”
How does that work out in its op-eds and editorials? Here’s what the Times has to say: “Our Opinion report helps people imagine the world as it could be, through rich discussion and intelligent debate. Our Opinion journalists are experts in their fields who offer informed viewpoints on significant issues.”
In the Age of Trump, there’s a subtext to these carefully chosen words. The New York Times does not do fake news; it does not do conspiracy theorists; it does not do hucksters.
So can someone explain to me why it’s doing astrology? It doesn’t seem to fit neatly into the mission statement.
On December 28, the Times’s opinion section featured a podcast with Kara Swisher, the paper’s respected tech correspondent, interviewing Chani Nicholas, an astrologer from San Francisco.
Chani is an entrepreneur who appears to have become the to-go astrologer for the Times. This is how she interpreted the December 28 conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn for readers: “This is the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.” Whew! That was a tough one. Who could have guessed that after the election in November?
Earlier in the year she published a book, You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance, and released an iPhone app for her fans. She has a deal with Netflix, writes for Oprah magazine, reads celebrity birth charts and has been featured in newspapers and magazines galore.
In the interview, Chani reads Kara Swisher’s horoscope (admittedly, Swisher is sceptical) and explains the appeal of astrology for the modern world:
we are in deep need for a feeling of connection with the natural world. Like everything goes back to our relationship with this planet, and also with the sky, and with the living things around us. Human beings were dependent on the cycles of the sun to live. We could follow the sky, we could understand what was rising when and what that meant for food cycles. It’s a clock, and that’s how we knew how we were, where we were, what time it was, when to do rituals, when to have festivals.
It’s not exactly a hardball interview full of “rich discussion and intelligent debate”. It has no “come on, you’re smart enough to know that this is complete BS” moments.
Perhaps the two women connected because they are both lesbians and “queer astrology” is quite A Thing at the moment. It was the “queer community” which launched her work, Chani explains to Swisher.
Perhaps the same link explains why Chani is chummy with another lesbian, Alicia Garza, one of the three founders of the Black Lives Matter movement. Ms Garza has two regular podcasts, Sunstorm, and Lady Don’t Take No. She interviewed Chani on both of them, asking whether astrology can help us manage anxiety and grief in a turbulent year.
So we return to the original question: how does astrology help in seeking the truth at the New York Times? There are no double blind studies. There are no peer-reviewed articles. There is no scientific basis for astrology whatsoever. Your destiny is not determined by the zodiac. Your fate is not in the stars. If we’re talking conspiracy theories, astrology is the biggest and oldest conspiracy theory of all. If we’re talking fake news, astrology gives the lunacies of QAnon a run for their money. If we’re talking hucksters, astrology is more successful than selling cow urine to cure coronavirus.
Why is the Times helping to promote Chani’s book and app? Perhaps it’s a sign that, like most Americans, its editors are adrift on the sea of uncertainty. They’ve lost the narrative thread. Christianity isn’t working; liberalism isn’t working; politics isn’t working … Mmmmmm. Why not give astrology a go?
Isn’t it strange? After four years exhorting readers to trust the expertise of scientists, the Times begins the New Year by suggesting that they should trust the expertise of astrologers.