Conclusion—A refusal to fight, perhaps worse: Does the New York Times have some sort of problem covering Candidate Clinton? More globally, has the paper had a problem covering the Clintons over the past twenty-three years?
On Sunday, August 2, the New York Times public editor seemed to say that the answer might be yes. Public editor Margaret Sullivan said she agreed with a reader who had written her saying this:
“Hillary deserves tough questions when they are warranted. But it is undeniable that she is already facing significantly tougher coverage than any other potential candidate.”
Beyond that, Sullivan posted these further remarks, none of which she challenged. She was discussing reaction to her previous post about the Times’ latest front-page debacle concerning Candidate Clinton:
SULLIVAN (8/2/15): Afterward, Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, wrote to The Times: “There is far more at stake than a newspaper’s reputation. How about the future of our country and the countless lives that are affected by the outcome of a presidential election?”Fallows, a major journalist, accused the Times of a “Clinton vendetta.” Sullivan didn’t even dispute that claim.
My post quickly generated more than a thousand reader comments (a record), many of which had the same complaint: The reporting on Mrs. Clinton from such a dominant news source has an unfairly critical edge.
Arlene Williams, a longtime subscriber, wrote and objected to “what I see as jaded coverage concerning Hillary Clinton.” News articles and opinion columns are “just consistently negative,” she said. And Ben Lieberman of Acton, Mass., said The Times seemed to be “on a mission to cut her down to size.”
These readers aren’t alone. The press critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen wrote on Twitter: “I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today’s events it’s fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton.” Rachel Maddow said last week on MSNBC that the attitude of the national press corps, including The Times, is, “Everything Hillary Clinton does is a scandal.” And James Fallows of The Atlantic called what he sees as a Times “Clinton vendetta” a “serious lapse,” linking to a letter the Clinton campaign wrote in response to the Times story.
Is Professor Rosen right in his own assessment, which is softer than that? Is it “fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton?”
There’s no perfect way to answer such questions. That said, the questions extend back twenty-three years, all the way to the newspaper’s Whitewater coverage, a fact which Sullivan glancingly mentioned in her column.
Does the Times have a problem covering Clinton? In some way, is the Times, or is someone within the Times, conducting some sort of vendetta?
We aren’t going to answer those questions, although they deserve examination. In closing our report, we thought we’d mention the remarkably compliant way the liberal world has failed to ask or pursue those questions down through these many long years.
Those questions were raised in the venerable publication, Harper’s, as early as 1994. The essay in question, by Gene Lyons, was then turned into the 1995 book, Fools for Scandal.
Lyons challenged the New York Times’ bungled front-page reporting about the Whitewater “scandal.” When he did, the liberal world averted its gaze. Star liberals have continued to avert their gaze from related episodes right to this very day.
The litany of Whitewater-era “scandals?” The remarkable twenty-month War Against Candidate Gore? The ugly, ludicrous Clinton-hating purveyed by Maureen Dowd, the Times’ most influential columnist?
None of these episodes inspired the liberal world to complain. Just consider:
Back in June 2008, an earlier public editor, Clark Hoyt, savaged Dowd for her misogynistic Hillary Clinton-hating. But Hoyt’s example didn’t inspire other scribes to speak.
Major journalists love to copy-and-paste. But no one copied what Hoyt said about Dowd’s ugly work. Simply put, it isn’t done! Presumably, the New York Times is too important within the world of the guild—and Maureen Dowd is too important within the world of the Times.
Whatever the reason, ranking liberal and mainstream journalists make little effort to challenge or critique the work of the Times. Consider three of the major figures Sullivan cited in her column.
Jay Rosen: Sullivan quoted Professor Rosen saying this: “I have resisted this conclusion over the years, but after today’s events it’s fair to say the Times has a problem covering Hillary Clinton.”
Perhaps it’s just a turn of phrase. But does anyone know why a major press critic would have “resisted” that thought down through these many long years?
Forget about adopting that conclusion! Does anyone know why a major press critic wouldn’t have devoted attention to examining this possible problem?
Maybe Professor Rosen has done so. With that comment, it sounds like he has arrived at the scene of a fire 23 years later.
Rachel Maddow: In response to the recent front-page debacle, Maddow did something she never does. On July 28, she devoted a segment of her program to open criticism of the New York Times.
Maddow didn’t cop one of her slippery pleas about what “the Beltway press” is wrongly saying. In a 1040-word segment which lasted 5:35, she directly criticized the Times.
To watch that segment, click here.
This was extremely unusual conduct on Maddow’s part. We couldn’t help noticing: 1) that she spent a greater amount of time that week telling her “Dog pee can’t stop Santorum” story; and 2) that she will, in all likelihood, never do such a thing again.
James Fallows: In some ways, we were most struck by the quotation from Fallows. He referred to a “Clinton vendetta” at the Times. That is strong language indeed.
Fallows used very strong language. But the comments Sullivan quoted came from a single 13-word tweet. If the Times is running a “vendetta,” might the problem possibly call for a longer discussion? In this case, the alleged vendetta didn’t even occasion a post at Fallows’ Atlantic blog.
For our money, Fallows was responsible for one of the major texts in the twenty-month War Against Gore. For Part 1 of our five-part series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/00.
Fourteen years later, Fallows devotes thirteen words to his claim about this vendetta. We’ll suggest he came up a bit short.
At least those three spoke up. Others did not. As we noted last week, Chris Hayes argued against the idea that the Times has a problem in this area, as it seems he typically does in matters of this type.
Elsewhere on The One True Liberal Channel, silence invaded the suburbs. As best we can tell, Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell didn’t discuss the front-page debacle at all. Al Sharpton managed only the briefest of mentions.
The Whitewater “scandals?” The War Against Gore? The ugly, endless Clinton-hating of Maureen Dowd?
The liberal world has rolled over for these behaviors every step of the way. Twenty-three years later, a certain pattern seems clear:
The conservative world fights the Times tooth and nail, all the way. The leaders of the liberal world seem to prefer good jobs at good pay, or perhaps just high social standing.
“How about the countless lives that are affected by the outcome of a presidential election?” We’d have to say that Professor Tannen has the right idea!