Were you shocked by the leaked transcript of the New York Times’ recent staff meeting?
This was the meeting at which editor Dean Bacquet admitted that the newsroom had been “built around” covering the Russia collusion story, and that after the Mueller report failed to find collusion, the newsroom will simply shift its focus to President Trump’s supposed racism.
Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins has an interesting take on why the Times, once revered as the “newspaper of record,” has lost its journalistic objectivity.
In a nutshell it is this: newspapers used to be supported by advertising. People might have complained that advertising influenced coverage. But what it really did was insulate editors from other external pressures. They were flush and they could print “all the news that’s fit to print.”
Newspapers across the nation, including the Times, are now suffering from loss of advertising.
Without advertising revenue to keep the paper afloat, the once mighty Times must “suck up to” readers, according to Jenkins. Times readers, urban sophisticates, want a steady diet of Trump bashing.
The reporting staff, of course, shares the anti-Trump bias of the sophisticated readership. But even if that were not so, objective reporting would be hard when the paper must cater to subscribers demanding a daily dose of stories that bolster their assessment of the president.
In “The Tragedy of the Times,” Jenkins writes:
Thank you, Dean Baquet. Readers who complain about articles they don’t like, and who assume they are written under pressure from advertisers, could do worse than to study recent comments of the New York Times executive editor.
Mr. Baquet was secretly recorded at a staff meeting. A transcript was posted at Slate.com. But he has made similar points publicly. The gist: It’s readers nowadays who pressure newspapers to toe a line. Publishers pine for the era when advertising dollars insulated us from such pressures.
Under fire from its public for an anodyne and accurate headline about Donald Trump after the El Paso shootings, which the paper later changed, Mr. Baquet almost pleaded with his crew: “We are an independent news organization, one of the few remaining. . . . Our readers and some of our staff cheer us when we take on Donald Trump, but they jeer at us when we take on Joe Biden. They sometimes want us to pretend that he was not elected president, but he was elected president.”
If he meant a newspaper’s job is to report the facts and arrange them in a logical fashion regardless of the howling winds of reader prejudice, he’s right. Unfortunately it’s not clear this is what he meant.
To his credit, the Times has been one of a few news organizations that have refrained from labelling Mr. Trump a racist, as if this quality can be factually determined between the lines of his tweets. What Mr. Baquet is up against was illustrated by one of his own reporters, quoted in the Slate transcript saying, “I just feel like racism is in everything. It should be considered in our science reporting, in our culture reporting, in our national reporting.”
Such thinking is why audiences other than the Times’s have become cynical when charges of racism are flung.
But Mr. Baquet also lent credence to an already rampant suspicion that the Times sees its job as imposing a “narrative” (a word he used repeatedly) on the world rather than listening to what the world teaches. After the Russia collusion fiasco, you might think an order of business would be finding out how our politics came to be so roiled by fabricated allegations.
All too plainly, Mr. Baquet seemed to suggest that the Times, having failed to deliver the Russia story its readers wanted, must now deliver the Trump racism story they want. “Our readers who want Donald Trump to go away suddenly thought, ‘Holy [bleep], Bob Mueller is not going to do it.’”
For those who remember the late and legendary Times editor Abe Rosenthal, the current Times is quite a comedown. Gay Talese, the Times reporter who chronicled the newspaper, once described Rosenthal as having “wanted always to keep the paper honest, meaning uninvolved with partisan politics.”
It is unclear if the current Times, even if insulated by advertising dollars, would follow Rosenthal’s path.