Hey, folks. Been spending way too much time on Twitter lately, ranting about coverage and the election, and hence have sucked up all the would-be blogging time. But in doing so, I’ve managed to begin a conversation with some folks who actually perform such coverage. One of them asked me to be specific about a charge they found hard to swallow: that there is a systematic difference between the way Trump is covered and Clinton is in the major venues.
That correspondent and others pointed out, accurately, that at least since May, and in many cases before then, there have been major, damning, utterly critical stories about Trump. Given that, wouldn’t complaints about, say, stories on Clinton’s emails or the alleged corruption inherent in the Clinton Foundation-State Department nexus suggest more a partisan reaction, hypersensitive about stories critical of the side I favor, rather than a measured accounting of the full coverage record?
My answer was and that while there are indeed such stories, and that many of the Clinton pieces that have enraged me are at some definition of accuracy perfectly on-the-beam. But then I go on to say that the question of systematic bias is not about each single story. Rather, it turns on the entire editorial apparatus of campaign coverage: how those stories are assigned, pursued, resourced, and extended past day one or two coverage, and how the facts within them are set up for interpretation.
That argument leads to an obvious and appropriate response:
It’s going to take me some time to do so across the range of questions I’ve actually received. But there was a piece in today’s New York Times that provides a case study (the fancy name for anecdata) that offers an example of the gap between fine-scale factual accuracy and a truthful exercise in journalism
For the record: what I’m attempting to do isn’t simply to say “You Suck!” to The New York Times, the first target of my logorrhea below, or anyone else. It is to help smart and incredibly hard working people realize what’s often hard to notice deep in the weeds and the mud. That would be exactly where one is in the maze — which would be the first step to navigating to somewhere better.
With that as prologue, here’s what I just wrote to one of my correspondents. That reporter challenged me on several points, and I began what will be a multipart response by walking back, just a little, my somewhat incendiary claim that current campaign coverage reminded me of the Times’ Iraq war lead-in coverage — to which I added my own desire to give a specific example of what I meant by a biased approach to a story. So here goes, in a slightly edited version of what I sent in private:
…The Iraq War mention isn’t a perfect analogy, I’ll agree: there’s no comparison to Judith Miller in the Times’ current campaign coverage, and there’s no sign I can see of the editorial or management errors that allowed her coverage (and other stuff too, TBH) such impact.
The Iraq war serves for me, and I think many critics of the Times as a kind of existence proof: the Times is capable of major failures that have huge consequences, which means, to me, that it’s important to be very vigilant. I know this seems obvious, and perhaps even insulting to those inside the organization – but from outside the newsroom, it often appears that the NYT has a difficult time admitting errosr, especially those more complicated than a straightforward factual mistake. A personal anecdote: I had drinks some years ago with a NYTimes reporter (still there, not on the politics desk) and at one point in our conversation (late, after a number of rounds) he said something like NYTimes reporters don’t write stuff that’s not true; we get more scrutiny than you believe so we make sure it doesn’t happen. (Fallible memory, some years, but that was the gist). And I’m sure the scrutiny is there (heck – here I am part of it.) But that was not a reassuring statement, as I think you can see.
I’ll get into this more below but my broad framework is that with exceptions, the way the thumb is on the scale (from my point of view) in NYT coverage of the campaign is not at the level you work, on the reporting day by day and the production of individual stories. It is rather on the editorial apparatus that creates the framework for readers to interpret your coverage.
You ask for specifics – let me give you an example from today’s paper, “Emails Raise New Questions About Clinton Foundation to State Dept.”
[Edited to add: Hmmm, didn’t realize how long this sucker was on the page. Continued after the newly inserted jump] (more…)