The New York Times: Worse Than You Thought

The Nieman Journalism Lab scores an interview with Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times. If you think the Times has gotten even worse in the last year or two, Baquet is the man to blame.

Nieman records, enthusiastically, that the Times has veered even more sharply to the left during the present election season:

Consider that the Times employed 18 of its journalists as realtime fact-checkers during the first presidential debate. Consider Baquet’s own public clarity about calling out Trump lies. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Times featured on its homepage a review of a new Hitler biography by book critic Michiko Kakutani, whose Trumpian analogy may have remained inexplicit, but nonetheless spoke loud volumes about a newfound Times confidence in squarely taking on the issues and fears that consume its readers’ minds.

Or, more accurately, a newfound confidence in coming out as an agent of the Democratic Party. Which the Times has been for a long time.

All that, of course, has turned out to be prologue for the Times’ recent publication of just three pages of Donald Trump’s 1995 federal tax return — and its 2,000-word-plus interpretation of it.

This is wrong. The Times published one page from each of three 1995 state tax returns, nothing from Trump’s federal return. I wrote about the Times hit piece here.

Nieman then proceeds to its interview with Baquet, which is well worth reading. Baquet emerges as a Democratic Party partisan of modest intelligence and less than average knowledge of the news. He talks about Donald Trump; no surprises here:

DOCTOR: I’m wondering what kinds of challenges the conundrum Donald Trump has caused. It’s so far beyond normal fact-checking. How have you come to peace with how you cover Donald Trump?

BAQUET: I thought Jim Rutenberg’s column nailed it, about the struggle over how to cover.

Baquet refers to Rutenberg’s notorious article about how “journalists” need to do everything they can to defeat Donald Trump.

It’s not just his outrageous stuff…he says things that are just demonstrably false.

As opposed to…Hillary Clinton? Or Barack Obama?

He will have changed journalism, he really will have. I was either editor or managing editor of the L.A. Times during the Swift Boat incident. Newspapers did not know — we did not quite know how to do it. I remember struggling with the reporter, Jim Rainey, who covers the media now, trying to get him to write the paragraph that laid out why the Swift Boat allegation was false…We didn’t know how to write the paragraph that said, “This is just false.”

What “Swift Boat allegation” is that? There were a number of Swift Boat ads, and almost none of them contained any claim that could even arguably be termed false. The most impactful ad showed archive footage of John Kerry testifying before a Senate committee that his fellow servicemen were a bunch of war criminals, like Genghis Khan. Kerry’s testimony was certainly false, but the ad? No.

Another Swift Boat ad showed every naval officer in the line of command above Kerry saying that he was unfit to be commander in chief. I suppose Baquet disagrees, but what was false? With one or two minor exceptions, the Swift Boat ads were not a matter of true or false; they shed undisputed light on John Kerry’s carefully hidden past.

BAQUET: The dirty secret of news organizations — and I think this is part of a story of what happened with Bush and the Iraq war — [is that] newspaper reporters and newspapers describe the world we live in. We really can be a little bit patriotic without knowing it. We actually tend to believe what politicians tell us — which is a flaw, by the way. I’m not saying that with pride. The lesson of the Iraq war, which I think started us down this track, was that I don’t think people really believed that the administration would actually lie about the WMDs, or that they would say the stuff so forcefully.

The claim that the Bush administration lied about Iraq’s WMDs has been debunked so often that there is no need to repeat the facts here. Moreover, as Paul pointed out years ago, the assertion is not just false but stupid. It would make no sense for President Bush, or anyone else, to falsely claim that Saddam had WMDs, knowing that the subsequent invasion would prove his assertion untrue. It is extraordinary that Dean Baquet does not grasp such elementary points.

One more thing: we now know, years after the fact, that Iraq did possess considerable quantities of chemical weapons, to the point where they were a health hazard to our troops. Here, Baquet apparently is unfamiliar with his own newspaper’s reporting.

There is much more. Baquet wasn’t a fan of video until recently:

When I first became managing editor, I foolishly looked at video as this new thing that we were doing — that I guess we have to do video to make money. It is unimaginable to me that The New York Times would not have video now. I now have video ideas. …

DOCTOR: I heard that, yeah. Do you remember any of those this week?

BAQUET: Yeah, I shot them a note saying we really have got to do — it turned out they were doing it already — a video montage of everything Donald Trump has said over time about immigration.

And this:

BAQUET: We did a video a month ago in which we collected all the video from the Trump rallies. I don’t know if you saw it.

DOCTOR: I did. I was actually going to compliment you on that. It was a three-minute video and it was jaw-dropping.

BAQUET: It was stunning and you can’t tell me that that wasn’t the best way to tell that story.

Video! With Democratic Party editing, it is a great way to go after Republicans!

There are some people who still believe that old-fashioned left-wing institutions like the New York Times are, despite everything, repositories of institutional knowledge that are worthy of respect. This is wrong. The Times is a partisan rag with zero journalistic integrity, a shill for the Democratic Party. Nothing more. And its current executive editor knows less about the news than you do.

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