The New York Times Keeps Screwing Up
The New York Times is one of the very few outlets privileged enough to handle information regarding the whistleblower complaint first-hand — their reputation demands it — however, their unique position doesn’t seem to have inspired much of any journalistic integrity. After revealing details about the whistleblower’s identity — and putting their life at risk — the Times committed to an astounding number of bad editorial decisions that seem to have made the public deeply skeptical of their ability to handle what is likely going to be the greatest scandal of the Trump presidency.
The saga started out on Thursday, when the New York Times published a story alleging details about the whistleblower’s identity, claiming that he worked at the White House before reprising his role at the CIA where his expertise on Ukraine was of use to the agency. This bit of detail may seem innocuous at first, but it’s been the centerpiece of discussion surrounding the irresponsible way with which the Times have chosen to basically provide anyone with access to White House employment records a way to narrow down the whistleblower’s identity. The NYT’s executive editor Dean Baquet had but a paltry justification to address criticism of these details being made public, naively assuming this would only provide information “to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible.”
This obliviousness to the current political climate was the guiding principle for the NYT’s handling of the current impeachment inquiry. Not long after Democrats expressed major interest in pursuing it, the opinion section of the New York Times had become populated by no less than four distinct pieces cautioning against a potential political miscalculation. The usual suspects were there — David Brooks and Bret “Bedbug” Stephens made an appearance, sharing the spotlight with two other Never Trumpers. As hard as the New York Times seems to champion its unique role as divulger of crucial information about deeply-threatened individuals, it doesn’t seem to want to deal with the fallout of such reporting — it’s as if the only ones afforded the luxury to make up their mind about Donald Trump’s culpability are the Times’ own columnists, not the politicians to whom falls the task of actual accountability.
If the New York Times seemed like it was at least starting to absorb some of the criticism it had incurred after mishandling coverage of the impeachment inquiry, it further entrenched its spot as seeking of false impartiality over facticity. The Times had initially published an unmistakable condemnation of a meeting Wayne LaPierre — the NRA’s chief executive — had with Donald Trump regarding legal defense funds in exchange for a more favorable stance on gun control as the controversial non-profit continues to lose funding, and with it the lever to keep influencing politicians in Washington. The mention was amended later to less emphasize LaPierre’s language in the meeting, suggesting an editing error (which is highly unlikely) or collusion with either the NRA and/or the Trump White House. No matter what, the circumstances for such an edit still remain dubious, and it’s unclear why such an adjustment was made in the first place.
And just when it seemed like the Times couldn’t screw up any further, they plagiarized a story about Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine resigning by the Arizona State University’s own paper, repackaging it as their own and declining them any credit in the process. The story was eventually edited to reflect the ASU’s involvement in the scoop — only after 22 paragraphs of reading — but it still didn’t do much to cushion the damage the Times had been accumulating after a pretty steady succession of poorly-planned decisions were made by staff, and most-notably, executive editor Dean Baquet.
Cries of indignation against the New York Times have not waned since it found itself midst the thick of a growing critique of its “both sides” narrative. The Times took heat for it when editor Jonathan Weisman was demoted after a “Trump Urges Unity vs Racism” headline made the print edition in response to the El Paso shooting, prompting even the paper’s own writers to show disapproval. The prestigious newspaper deserves a special mention here since it’s one of the very few to have survived the transition to digital unscathed. TechCrunch’s Jonathan Shieber remarked that “some of this is driven by a newly relevant news cycle that has seen American audiences wake up to the day-to-day decisions that are reshaping the country from the halls of power in Congress and the White House,” but since the Times occupies such an important role in American culture, why doesn’t it take its reporting more seriously? The infractions above would’ve made your average D-grade magazine blush with shame, let alone a paper with the reputation and weight the New York Times carries.
The media’s role in such pivotal moments for our political discourse is to be firstmost conveyors of truth, but what the New York Times displayed is an utter disregard for journalistic integrity, despite its best intentions. Between this, and Trump’s gaslighting of the media, it seems like journalists and editors alike still haven’t learned the lessons of the 2016 elections, and are doomed therefore to repeat its mistakes.