The quality of what appears in the New York Times ranges broadly, from excellent in science reporting to immigration editorials that read as if they were downloaded straight from the SPLC. Although I often give a hard time to their education coverage, it's really way above average. It could be that the NYT's education coverage pushes the envelope of realism as far NYT subscribers are willing to accept as "appropriate."
One of the enduring mysteries of the NYT is raised by the pompous cluelessness of the letters on the Letters-to-the-Editor page. (For example, here are five published responses to the recent article “Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools.”) I like to hope that whoever is selecting the letters is throwing away all the witty and insightful ones. Then again, maybe these really are the best ones, which is pretty scary.
As an example of a NYT writer who gets the joke, here is Virginia Heffernan of the Sunday NYT Magazine (which, for all the grief I give it, is probably the best overall magazine in the country these days) explaining what the best bloggers do these days:
Surprisingly, though, the focus of modern fact checks is rarely what we 20th-century fact-checkers would have underlined as checkable facts. Instead, Web fact-checkers generally try to show how articles presented in earnest are actually self-parody. These acts of reclassifying journalism as parody or fiction — and setting off excerpts so they play as parody — resembles literary criticism more than it does traditional fact-checking.