AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: TRUMP LIES NONSTOP BUT HILLARY IS “CLOUDED”
Background: I sent a cut-and-paste email about the differing coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to the Executive Editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet. He invited me to express myself in my own words. I did, and here it is.
To: Dean Baquet, Executive Editor
The New York Times
Dear Mr. Baquet:
Thank you for asking me not to use a cut and paste email, and rather to express myself in my own words about what I see as the “false equivalence” in your paper’s coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald. Generations of my family have read the Times. It is one of the world’s great newspapers.
Before I make my case, however, I must thank you for your article on Trump’s reversal on his “birther” stance and for using the word “lie” in your headline.
Last year, your Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, took the Times to task for biased coverage. She noted at that time that a reporter had been assigned a full-time beat on the Clintons since 2013, something the newspaper has not been done to anyone else. You feel that someone who has been FLOTUS, Senator, Secretary of State and philanthropist deserves such scrutiny. But, Sullivan pointed out, the scrutiny is much more often negative than positive.
Asking for fairness in coverage is seen as giving in to each supporters’ demands. But where is the fairness? For instance, a front page showed a picture of Hillary Clinton back on the campaign trail with a small caption. Next to it, two columns in large type: IN A NARROW RACE, MANY VIEW TRUMP AS A CHANGE AGENT
Trump routinely says things that might cause World War Three, while the press talks about Hillary’s pneumonia.
Here is Keith Olbermann’s masterful piece for GQ, “176 Reasons Donald Trump Should Not Be President”.
It is staggering how much of this has been elided by the news media, including the Times, into a daily ‘Trump Did Something Bad But Yeah’.
Last Tuesday’s front page (September 13)
“Clinton Set Back By Call To Keep Illness Secret: Reflex Toward Privacy”
“A Resilient Figure Stumbles, And Her Fans Wince In Turn”
“Trump Seizes Rival’s Absence to Press Case”. Why are these front page stories?
Last week Newsweek published a bombshell report by Kurt Eichenwald about the Trump Foundation and Donald Trump himself.
Parts of it were leaked to MSNBC and shared by Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell. Was this important story about his many overseas deals and conflicts of interest on the front page of The New York Times? No. The front page of that day’s Times had an above the fold article about Donald Trump’s childcare policy. It said in the fifth paragraph that Trump “stretched the truth,” effectively downplaying that he was lying (again). Why not say he was lying? He lies all day, every day. It could have been worded this way:
But in selling his case, Mr. Trump lied, saying that his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has no such plan of her own and “never will.”
If that reads too harshly, remember that almost every word out of his mouth that isn’t self-serving braggadocio is a lie. We expect our news media to report news, not leave it to their Opinion pages. It is not “an opinion” to state that Donald Trump said something “alarming” when he talked about shooting small boats out of the water, is it? Why isn’t that on the front page?
Back to the Newsweek story. A search of the Times website reveals no mention of either the story or the reporter, Kurt Eichenwald. Among many of his findings, world leaders are “terrified” of a Trump presidency. Why isn’t that front page news? Or even first page of the US section? That Trump has quietly trademarked “Trump” four times in Russia? Why is it inevitably Hillary being “shadowed” and having her campaign “clouded” by something that should only affect her coverage in People magazine?
Liz Spayd, the current Public Editor, defends this approach by deploring “false equivalency”. To quote:
Weisberg used an analogy, saying journalists are accustomed to covering candidates who may be apples and oranges, but at least are still both fruits. In Trump, he said, we have not fruit but rancid meat. That sounds like a partisan’s explanation passed off as a factual judgment.
But if the Times reported Trump with only facts, no name-calling, no subtext, just cold hard facts, the idea of “false equivalency” would be proven. For instance, Eichenwald contrasts the two foundations:
The Trump Organization is not like the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the charitable enterprise that has been the subject of intense scrutiny about possible conflicts for the Democratic presidential nominee. There are allegations that Hillary Clinton bestowed benefits on contributors to the foundation in some sort of “pay to play” scandal when she was secretary of state, but that makes no sense because there was no “pay.” Money contributed to the foundation was publicly disclosed and went to charitable efforts, such as fighting neglected tropical diseases that infect as many as a billion people. The financials audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global independent accounting company, and the foundation’s tax filings show that about 90 percent of the money it raised went to its charitable programs. (Trump surrogates have falsely claimed that it was only 10 percent and that the rest was used as a Clinton “slush fund.”) No member of the Clinton family received any cash from the foundation, nor did it finance any political campaigns. In fact, like the Clintons, almost the entire board of directors works for free.
On the other hand, the Trump family rakes in untold millions of dollars from the Trump Organization every year. Much of that comes from deals with international financiers and developers, many of whom have been tied to controversial and even illegal activities. None of Trump’s overseas contractual business relationships examined by Newsweek were revealed in his campaign’s financial filings with the Federal Election Commission, nor was the amount paid to him by his foreign partners. (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for the names of all foreign entities in partnership or contractually tied to the Trump Organization.)
These are facts. Extensively researched facts. Has the Times covered this? If so, I haven’t read it.
There is also no mention of David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post, who has done yeoman work tracking down Trump’s nonexistent contributions to charity, exposing one lie after another. I don’t know editorial policy. Is it customary to ignore reporting by journalists from other outlets?
Not only that, a music critic named Rob Tannenbaum (@tannenbaumr) has been picking up the many violations of the law by the Donald Trump Foundation. He is part of a small foundation himself, and knows the law. As he puts it, “put three journalists on this and Trump’s candidacy would be ended in three days”.
A celebrity with 30 years of experience, Donald Trump knows how to drive news cycles, how to pull stunts, give soundbites, etc. The same day Newsweek comes out, he grabs the news coverage by making an appearance on “Dr. Oz”! I found not one, but three articles on this topic. The other articles focused on how both candidates need to prove they’re medically fit. Again, I am only looking at news articles, not opinion pages.
Hillary Clinton has been a working politician for the same amount of time. Sure, she’s far from perfect. But why not highlight the work she has been doing since she was in college for women’s’ rights, minority rights, child care, etc. etc. etc? Why the constant innuendo?
News people keep repeating they’ve “never seen a campaign like this”, “never seen a candidate like this”. So why cover Trump as if he is? I hold The New York Times and other news outlets responsible for “normalizing” Donald Trump because they think reporting the facts would be somehow having an opinion.
My apologies for this being so long. I didn’t want to lodge a complaint without doing some research of my own. I hope that you will consider looking anew at your coverage of Trump, particularly as we are so close to the election.