Yesterday, Michael Cieply, a 12-year veteran of the New York Timeswho left this past July, wrote a phenomenal article at Deadline Hollywood titled, Stunned By Trump, The New York Times Finds Time For Some Soul-Searching. Before highlighting some key excerpts, let’s set the stage.
The New York Times’ coverage of the 2016 Presidential election was an abysmal disgrace. I first became aware of the extent of the paper’s shady and compromised reporting, when the editorial board endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary over Bernie Sanders without making an intelligible or coherent argument to justify the stance. This outraged me to such an extent, I wrote a post titled, A Detailed Look at The New York Times’ Embarrassing, Deceitful and Illogical Endorsement of Hillary Clinton, which you should reread in full.
Here’s how I began the piece:
The New York Times’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary consists of an unreadable, illogical piece of fiction. In this post, I will critique the paper’s position in detail, but first I want to take a step back and explain to people what I think is going on in the bigger picture.
In its endorsement of Hillary, the New York Times editorial board did such a sloppy job I can’t help but think it may have done permanent damage to its brand. Upon reading it, my initial conclusion was that the editorial board was either suffering from Stockholm syndrome or merely concerned about losing advertising revenues should they endorse Sanders. Then I thought some more and I realized my initial conclusions were wrong. Something else is going on here, something far more subtle, subconscious and illuminating. The New York Times is defending the establishment candidate simply because the New York Times is the establishment.
One of the biggest trends of the post financial crisis period has been a plunge in the American public’s perception of the country’s powerful institutions. The establishment often admits this reality with a mixture of bewilderment and erroneous conclusions, ultimately settling on the idea people are upset because “Washington can’t get anything done.” However, nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to corruption and serving big monied interests, both Congress and the President are very, very good at getting things done. Yes it’s true Congress doesn’t get anything done on behalf of the people, but this is no accident. The government doesn’t work for the people.
With its dishonest and shifty endorsement of Hillary Clinton, I believe the New York Times has finally come out of the closet as an unabashed gatekeeper of the status quo. I suppose this makes sense since the paper has become the ultimate status quo journalistic publication. The sad truth is the publication has been living on borrowed time and a borrowed reputation for a long time. Long on prestige, it remains very short on substance when it comes to fighting difficult battles in the public interest. Content with its position of power and influence within the current paradigm, the paper doesn’t want to rock the boat. What the New York Times is actually telling its readers with the Hillary Clinton endorsement is that it likes things just the way they are, and will fight hard to keep them that way. It is as much a part of the American establishment as any government institution.
After the paper successfully helped to dispose of Senator Sanders, it continued to commit egregious errors as a result of its blinded, fanatical support of Hillary Clinton. I highlighted an example of this behavior in the August post: New York Times Fails to Disclose Op-Ed Writer’s Ties to Hillary Clinton’s ‘Principal Gatekeeper’.
Fast forward to just one week before the election, when I discovered a tweet in my stream from the paper with such an absurd forecast I immediately flagged it with the following tweet:
I didn’t find the Times’ tweet absurd because I was some ardent Trump supporter (I wasn’t). Rather, I was able to recognize it as absurd because it was absurd. So why was I, a nobody blogger, able to see the ridiculousness of this forecast so clearly when the New York Times couldn’t? Because The New York Times had a predetermined agenda, and this agenda blinded it to reality.
With that out of the way, let’s dig into how things work at The New York Times according to Michael Cieply, and why its election coverage was so, for lack of a better word, deplorable.
Published at Deadline Hollywood:
Having left the Times on July 25, after almost 12 years as an editor and correspondent, I missed the main heat of the presidential campaign; so I can’t add a word to those self-assessments of the recent political coverage. But these recent mornings-after leave me with some hard-earned thoughts about the Times’ drift from its moorings in the nation at-large.
For starters, it’s important to accept that the New York Times has always — or at least for many decades — been a far more editor-driven, and self-conscious, publication than many of those with which it competes. Historically, the Los Angeles Times, where I worked twice, for instance, was a reporter-driven, bottom-up newspaper. Most editors wanted to know, every day, before the first morning meeting: “What are you hearing? What have you got?”
It was a shock on arriving at the New York Times in 2004, as the paper’s movie editor, to realize that its editorial dynamic was essentially the reverse. By and large, talented reporters scrambled to match stories with what internally was often called “the narrative.” We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line.
Reality usually had a way of intervening. But I knew one senior reporter who would play solitaire on his computer in the mornings, waiting for his editors to come through with marching orders. Once, in the Los Angeles bureau, I listened to a visiting National staff reporter tell a contact, more or less: “My editor needs someone to say such-and-such, could you say that?”
The bigger shock came on being told, at least twice, by Times editors who were describing the paper’s daily Page One meeting: “We set the agenda for the country in that room.”
Having lived at one time or another in small-town Pennsylvania, some lower-rung Detroit suburbs, San Francisco, Oakland, Tulsa and, now, Santa Monica, I could only think, well, “Wow.” This is a very large country. I couldn’t even find a copy of the Times on a stop in college town Durham, N.C. To believe the national agenda was being set in a conference room in a headquarters on Manhattan’s Times Square required a very special mind-set indeed.
Inside the Times building, then and now, a great deal of the conversation is about the Times. In any institution, shop-talk is inevitable. But the navel-gazing seemed more intense at the Times, where too many journalists spent too much time decoding the paper’s ways, and too little figuring out the world at large. I listened to one longtime editor explain over lunch, for instance, that everybody on the paper has an invisible rank that might or might not coincide with his or her apparent place in the hierarchy. “You might think I’m a captain,” he said, based on his position at the time in a slightly backwater department. But, he continued, “I’m actually a colonel, because of my experiences and influence here.”
If the New York Times continues to operate this way it has no future. Let’s see if the self-proclaimed “really smart people” there understand that.