Dean Baquet Has No Regrets About How Much New York Times F*cked Up 2016 Election
The New York Times objectively bungled its coverage of the 2016 presidential election, resulting in a steaming crater where once stood the American experiment. When lone plagiarist Jayson Blair tainted the paper’s reputation in 2003, the Times flogged itself in a special mea culpa edition. The top editors lost their jobs.
There’s been no such introspection after 2016. During a recent interview with the New Yorker,Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet stood firm behind the paper’s slow-moving Bronco chase fixation with Hillary Clinton's emails.
I know this is going to get everybody riled up again, but I don’t have regrets about the Hillary Clinton e-mail stories. It was a running news story. It was a serious F.B.I. investigation. The stories were accurate. My God, we were writing stories about Donald Trump harassing women—we did the first of those.
If Clinton’s emails were a “running news story,” it was because the so-called paper of record wouldn’t stop running stories about them. Sure, the stories were accurate, so they passed that very low bar. But Baquet doesn’t acknowledge the Times's role in making But Her Emails seem far more important than it was. "Deranged, corrupt sociopath moving closer to the White House" was the five-alarm fire topic that the Times downplayed, comparatively.
Baquet hides behind false equivalencies when defending the Times’s treatment of Clinton and Trump: Clinton was running on competence, and her perceived untrustworthiness (thanks, media!) was a longstanding obstacle. But Her Emails picked at an old wound, and every new Times story delighted her opposition.
Meanwhile, Trump didn’t hide that he was an asshole or even that he’d gone bankrupt in the past. That was all baked in. The Times never seriously challenged Trump’s competence, and often ran articles suggesting he wasn’t a scary social conservative like Ted Cruz. Maggie Haberman wrote an article in April 2016 about how Trump was “more accepting views on gay issues.” The Times propped up the "Trump the Deal Maker" myth, and key voters considered Trump more ideologically moderate than Clinton. That’s a complete media fail.
REMEMBER?: What Is Hillary Clinton Dying From Today?
Baquet says he doesn’t "buy that we were tougher on Hillary Clinton than we were on Donald Trump.” They could teach journalism seminars on the disparate treatment between Trump and Clinton. In September 2016, the Times declared that “Hillary Clinton Is Set Back By Decision To Keep Her Illness Secret.” She had pneumonia, but the Times ran multiple articles about this “scandal.” This was after months of "Hillary Clinton on Death’s Door” stories.
According to an analysis by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), “the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton’s emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election.” Front pages were devoted to email updates while the Times declared days before the election that the FBI had found "no connection" between Trump and Russia. (This was somewhat premature.)
Baquet, a professional journalist, claims the Times was caught flat-footed by Trump’s victory:
I don’t think that anybody had their arms wrapped around the mood of the country that allowed for the election of Donald Trump, including us. I don’t think people—including the New York Times—quite had a handle on the anger, the amount of racial animosity. I don’t think any of us thought that Donald Trump was going to be elected President. Anybody who says they did, I don’t buy it.
Baquet refuses to buy a lot of things that are actually true. You could probably sell him magic beans, though, if they were somehow connected to Hillary Clinton’s emails. How can the Times cover years of Tea Party rallies and Birther conspiracies without accepting that the nation was racist enough to elect Donald Trump? We're not sure the Times even covered Trump’s racist past that extensively. Google “Donald Trump, racist, 2016, New York Times” and “Hillary Clinton, health, 2016, New York Times.” The results shouldn’t surprise you.
Maybe the Times should’ve considered speaking to almost any Black person after Trump launched his campaign. When Trump was leading GOP primary polls in 2015, then-Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison suggested Trump could possibly win this thing. George Stephanopoulos and Maggie Haberman laughed in his face. The Times lacked the imagination and the humility to take warnings from Black people seriously. We knew all along that in a contest between a competent woman and a white male buffoon, Hillary Clinton was the longshot. The Times was part of the misogynistic system that made Trump’s election possible, and the paper should reflect long and hard on this before it does more damage.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."