Part 1—The Times and a trio of problems: Does the New York Times “have a problem covering Hillary Clinton?”
Is the Times engaged in some sort of “Clinton vendetta?”
Despite a long history of groaning error and highly peculiar combat, such questions aren’t easy to answer. After all, let’s be fair:
At various times, the New York Times has written ludicrous front-page reports about various presidential candidates. That includes some major Republican hopefuls.
A few months ago, this strangest of all major American newspapers even moved an expose of the seventeen traffic tickets compiled by Candidate Rubio and his wife. (This wasn’t a front-page report.)
But uh-oh! Only four of those tickets had been issued to Rubio himself! And two of the troubling quartet of tickets had been dismissed.
In short, the Times finds ways to publish “news reports” which are ludicrous on their face, in ways no one else in American journalism has even so much as imagined. Not all the paper’s ludicrous work has been aimed at the Clintons in the twenty-three years since its current alleged “vendetta” began.
That said, there is a long history of peculiar, bungled coverage aimed at one or both of the Clintons. That starts with the bungled front-page reports which created the Whitewater “scandal”—and, in the process, helped create and give the name to a whole era of “scandal.”
The first of those bungled front-page reports appeared on March 8, 1992, more than twenty-three years ago. And hallelujah!
In recent weeks, twenty-three years later, some liberal leaders have begun to complain about this peculiar, long-standing pattern of journalistic combat and error.
Back to our original question:
Does the New York Times “have a problem covering Clinton?” In yesterday’s editions, the newspaper’s current public editor seemed to suggest that it just maybe possibly does.
Yesterday, in her weekly column, public editor Margaret Sullivan discussed reactions to the Times’ latest bungled front-page report—the recent, multiply-bungled report which falsely alleged that a “criminal referral” had been filed against Candidate Clinton.
Sullivan had already discussed this latest debacle in an earlier post. Citing readers and journalists alike, she quoted reactions to that previous post about the Times’ latest disaster:
SULLIVAN (8/2/15): 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.Sullivan explicitly agreed with reader Hannay’s assessment. She explicitly said that, in her opinion, Candidate Clinton “is already facing significantly tougher coverage than any other potential candidate.”
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.
I agree with this sentiment from a reader, Evan Hannay, who is troubled by some of the Clinton coverage: “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.” He thinks The Times should make “a promise to readers going forward that Hillary is not going to be treated unfairly as she so often is by the media.”
Last Thursday, I handed [Times executive editor Dean] Baquet a printed copy of Mr. Hannay’s email and asked him to address it.
Hannay called this fact “undeniable.” Sullivan seemed to agree.
Beyond that, Sullivan didn’t dispute the assessments which came from major voices in the press corps and the academy. More specifically, she didn’t dispute Professor Rosen’s claim that the Times “has a problem covering Hillary Clinton.” She didn’t even challenge Fallows’ reference to a “Clinton vendetta” at the Times—and “vendetta” is a very strong term.
Does the Times “have a problem covering Hillary Clinton?” Does some sort of “Clinton vendetta” exist within the paper’s grumbling bowels?
Such questions aren’t easy to answer. We’ll attempt to evaluate those questions all this week.
On the other hand, two things can be said, right now, about the work of the New York Times and about its history covering the Clintons:
First, forget that alleged problem with Candidate Clinton. The New York Times has an obvious problem with the normal practice of journalism itself.
In yesterday’s editions, Sullivan’s column was forced to share space with two more of the journalistic groaners which virtually define the political coverage of the modern Times.
Sullivan’s column was buried inside the Sunday Review. It appeared on that section’s last page. Meanwhile, on its high-profile Sunday front pages, the New York Times was showcasing its newest, freshest journalistic debacles.
Atop page A1, the paper’s front page, the Times published a journalistically ludicrous “news report” by the ludicrous Amy Chozick, whose capacity for ludicrous work can no longer be denied or doubted.
Meanwhile, on the front page of the Sunday Review, the latest ludicrous “opinion column” by Maureen Dowd appeared.
Tomorrow, we’ll examine the journalistic merit of those sadly typical pieces, which worked in tandem, in ludicrous fashion, in yesterday’s Sunday Times. But even as Sullivan told the world that the Times might have a problem with Clinton, Chozick and Dowd made a simpler point clear:
The New York Times has a groaning problem with journalism itself. The Times has had this very large problem for a very long time.
A second problem came to light in Sullivan’s report. This problem belongs to the liberal world, a world which has long refused to examine the truth about such matters and has long refused to fight.
Good God! More than twenty-three years later, Professor Rosen is finally dropping his resistance to the idea that the Times may have some sort of problem with the Clintons! In only took twenty-three years!
And good grief! More than twenty-three years after this syndrome made its debut, Fallows has finally managed to offer a tweet about the practice he calls a “vendetta.”
That’s right—a tweet! Here it is—the thirteen-word tweet to which Sullivan linked! In his first six words, Fallows fawned to the Times, as you can see if you click on that link. Only then did he move to condemn the “vendetta”—twenty-three years later!
The New York Times has had a problem with journalistic practice since roughly forever. In the current context, this problem began in March 1992.
Since that time, for twenty-three years, we liberals have had a major problem of our own. The shape of our problem is captured in names like the ones Sullivan cited.
Tomorrow: Chozick and Dowd and that problem oh my! Also, Times honchos respond!
Our own liberal problem on view: “It starts to sound a little paranoid.”
Last Monday night—twenty-three years later!—that’s what one of our liberal stars said!