With Trump, do we cover or confront? Plus the Wash Post’s internal criticism and a journalist’s plane crash death

August 19, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good Monday morning. Let’s dive right in with more to digest from the recent New York Times staff meeting, thanks to Slate’s Ashley Feinberg publishing a transcript of what was said.

A situation not seen since the ’60s …

The New York Times held a staff meeting last week to go over some recent controversies, including a widely criticized headline and the Twitter activity of one of its editors.

But there was something more to it than addressing a couple of hot-button topics. At the heart of the meeting the Times’ role in this age of President Donald Trump. Slate’s Ashley Feinberg obtained a recording of the meetingand what’s striking is how Executive Editor Dean Baquet talked about the responsibilities of the Times on a story, he said, newsrooms haven’t confronted since the 1960s. (Read the transcript of the meeting — it’s fascinating.)

He told staff, “This one is a story about what it means to be an American in 2019. It is a story that requires deep investigation into people who peddle hatred, but it is also a story that requires imaginative use of all our muscles to write about race and class in a deeper way than we have in years.”

And it’s about the expectations some readers have placed on the Times. Baquet admits there will be stories that not only might anger some readers, but some of the staff at the Times.

“They (the readers) sometimes want us to pretend that he was not elected president, but he was elected president,” Baquet told the staff. “And our job is to figure out why, and how, and to hold the administration to account. If you’re independent, that’s what you do.”

Is it? Some seem to think the media should be part of the resistance.

Speaking on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg quoted Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron, who has said, “We’re at work, not war.”

“The job doesn’t change,” Rutenberg said. “It’s being really aggressive about telling the truth. The Trump administration— the Trump era— forces us to be sometimes a little more aggressive that we used to be because we are being met with so much to report, so much disinformation, so much misinformation, so much division, so much direct affronts to what we do as reporters.”

However, Adam Serwer, a staff writer at The Atlantic who has been critical of the Times’ coverage of Trump, said, “This argument over whether they should be the resistance is actually sort of a straw man distraction from what’s actually happening, which is people demanding that the Times not moderate its coverage with elaborate euphemisms to describe things that can be described in more straightforward language.”

Example: calling Trump or his words “racist” or saying the president “lies.”

The Times doesn’t go far enough for some readers in criticizing Trump. Some readers believe they go too far. To be clear, this is not an argument for, “If you’re getting criticized from both sides, you’re doing a good job.” But the Times is not — and should not — be a part of the so-called resistance. The Times’ job is to report the truth, regardless of what the truth is. It is not to set an agenda aimed at the president or anyone else.

In wrapping up the staff meeting, Baquet said, “This is a hard story. This is larger than the headline. This is larger than the other stuff. This is a really hard story. This is a story that’s going to call on like all of our muscles, all of our resources, all of our creativity, all of our empathy. … If you ask me how we get through this with the best coverage, it’s by having honest conversations. It’s by inviting people into the Trump story who ordinarily might not have played on such stories like this and making sure they get to participate in the coverage.”

 

Oh, by the way, Trump tweeted this Sunday night:

“The New York Times will be out of business soon after I leave office, hopefully in 6 years. They have Zero credibility and are losing a fortune, even now, especially after their massive unfunded liability. I’m fairly certain they’ll endorse me just to keep it all going!”

Et tu, Wemple?


Jeffrey Epstein. (New York State Sex Offender Registry via AP, File)

This is a great headline:

‘Deepening the mystery’: The Post scores a scoop and then botches it

It’s a story ripping into the Washington Post’s coverage of the autopsy findings of Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide. So who was the one criticizing the Post so harshly? Actually, it was The Washington Post. Media columnist Erik Wemple took issue with his own paper’s story, writing that the Post was fueling unfounded conspiracy theories.

The portion of the story in question said, “An autopsy found that financier Jeffrey Epstein suffered multiple breaks in his neck bones, according to two people familiar with the findings, deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death.”

Wemple wrote, “Deepening what mystery, exactly?” Wemple pointed out there are several mysteries, such as how Epstein was able to kill himself.

But, Wemple wrote, “It’s not, however, the mystery seized upon by conspiracy theorists on the Internet, whose job it is to expound on far-fetched scenarios before the investigation reaches its end point. That mystery is simply this: Hey, who killed Epstein, the Clinton people or the Trump people?”

Fox News poll has Dems winning — for now


President Donald Trump speaks with reporters Sunday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

A Fox News poll last week showed that if the 2020 presidential election was held today, Trump would lose to many of the Democratic hopefuls. The poll had Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris all winning.

Is there anything to be made of that poll? Appearing on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday, CBS political contributor Leslie Sanchez said, “I think it’s a lot of political hyperbole. We’re still too far out.”

Sanchez added that a downward turn in the economy could cut into Trump’s base. She said, “So there’s an opening there that’s offsetting of what should be a really boisterous support for the president in terms of the economy today. … These are voters who are shopping for a better alternative.”

What will Tucker Carlson’s return bring?


Tucker Carlson in 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

Tucker Carlson is expected to return to his show on Fox News tonight after his vacation, which coincidently (or perhaps not coincidently) came just after his controversial remarks that white supremacy in the United States is a “hoax.” Those comments led to the loss of some advertisers.

Carlson could address the controversy, but the guess is he won’t. He likely will dive right into the news of the day.

Journalist killed in plane crash

Nancy Parker, an award-winning journalist for TV station WVUE (Fox 8)  in New Orleans, was killed Friday in a stunt plane crash along with the pilot. She was 53. She was working on a story about the pilot. The crash is under investigation.

An emotional Fox 8 anchor Lee Zurik said Parker was on the plane, “doing what she loved, telling a story.” The station’s website published a tribute to Parker.

Parker’s husband, Glynn Boyd, wrote in a Facebook post: “My heart is shattered. The dearest and most wonderful person in my life is gone. … She was my everything.”

Parker had been at Fox 8 for more than two decades. She also has worked at TV stations in Columbus, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Lester Holt anchors from Iran


“NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

NBC’s Lester Holt will host tonight’s “Nightly News” from Tehran, Iran. He also is scheduled to appear from there on this morning’s “Today” show. Holt will interview Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who will be giving his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since the U.S. imposed sanctions on his country.

Hot type

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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