The New York Times tries to report on the Russkies and on the wall: At the top of this morning's front page, the New York Times tries to describe the new report about that Russian misconduct.
Shear and Sanger did the report. Below, you see the way it begins, hard-copy headline included.
This all appears on the Times front page. Why on earth would a major newspaper offer that weird fifth paragraph?
SHEAR AND SANGER (1/7/17): Putin Led Scheme to Aid Trump, Report SaysThat fifth paragraph is technically accurate. But why in the world would a major newspaper offer such a misleading account of such a major point?
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation's top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.
The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America's intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia's role...
Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report...made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.
The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump's victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.
The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.
"The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump?" That statement is technically accurate.
That said, the report also "didn't conclude" that Starbucks sells the best coffee. This new report "didn't conclude" that Tom Brady throws the best spiral.
This major report by the intel agencies "didn't conclude" a lot of things! Journalistically, the Times did something very strange in reporting its contents that way.
Duh! If you read all the way to paragraph 20, Shear and Sanger (or maybe their editor) finally provide "the rest of the story." Inside the paper, on page three million, they finally tell readers this:
SHEAR AND SANGER: The report, reflecting the assessments of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency, stopped short of backing up Mr. Trump on his declaration that the hacking activity had no effect on the election.Duh! Inside the paper, in paragraph 20, Shear and Sanger finally tell all. The intelligence agencies didn't try to assess the effects of the Russian misconduct!
''We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,'' the report concluded, saying it was beyond its responsibility to analyze American ''political processes'' or public opinion.
In the language of paragraph 5, the intelligence agencies "didn't conclude" one way or the other. The question of political effects lay outside the scope of their probe.
Why in the world would a major newspaper present this point in the way the Times did? On its own, paragraph 5 will tend to be grossly misleading. But there it sits on the Times front page, shorn of the obvious context which only comes in paragraph 20.
Why in the world would you do it that way? We don't know, but consider another bit of Trump-reporting in this morning's Times.
This second report, by Shear and Huetteman, concerns the possible construction of a wall along the southern border. Why in the world would a major newspaper report the possible cost of the project this way?
SHEAR AND HUETTEMAN (1/7/17): The full cost of a wall as described by Mr. Trump could be enormous. Attaching such a charged issue to annual, mandatory government funding measures could instigate a risky political fight. Those who want to block money for the wall by holding up the bills could find themselves accused of shutting down the government.From what planet does the Times recruit its reporters and editors? There are two obvious, puzzling problems with that puzzling account.
The Government Accountability Office has estimated it could cost $6.5 million per mile to build a single-layer fence, with an additional $4.2 million per mile for roads and more fencing, according to congressional officials. Those estimates do not include maintenance of the fence along the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
First problem: presumably, a "wall" is not the same thing as a "single-layer fence." The scribes report that the cost of a wall could be enormous. They then proceed to report the possible cost of a fence!
Journalistically, that decision is strange. But why in the world would you describe the cost of a fence or a wall by the mile?
Amittedly, math is hard. That said, why wouldn't you multiply it out, providing the projected cost for the full two thousand miles?
Journalistically, both these decisions are strange. By way of contrast, note the way the Washington Post managed to handle this second problem on today's front page:
DEBONIS (1/7/17): There is no reliable price tag on building a border wall, but Trump has estimated the cost at $8 billion. Recent congressional legislation pegged the number at $10 billion, and construction experts say it could be more than double that.We don't know whose estimate is right. But what could possibly be the point of presenting the cost by the mile?
A deep-dish cynic would answer that question in a deeply cynical way. This is what a deeply cynical person would tell you:
Each of the New York Times' strange decisions tilts things in Trump's favor. Concerning the intel report, that paragraph 5, out on the front page, will tend to give readers a false impression. It will tend to suggest that the intelligence agencies judged that the Russian misbehavior didn't tilt the election.
The agencies didn't reach that conclusion. But inevitably, that's what paragraph 5, sitting all by itself, will surely tend to suggest.
It's astonishing that the Times reported that point that way. That said, a cynic would tell you that the weird reporting about the cost of the wall tilts in Trump's favor too.
Rightly or wrongly, that cynic would tell you that reporting the possible cost by the mile (by the mile!) tends to obscure the large cost of such a project. And by the way, if you read to the end of the Shear/Huetteman report, you will see a slightly weird passage which might give the impression that Nancy Pelosi might be trying to tilt the cost of Trump's wall.
A cynic would tell you that the Times is currying favor with Trump, or possibly with Trump supporters. We aren't saying that cynic is right. But that's what a cynic would say.
For ourselves, We'll say something simpler. Again and again, Times reporters seem weirdly incompetent in an array of ways. They seem like members of a social club rather than highly skilled journalists.
Those Times reports are very weird. Who but the Times jumbles facts this way?
Donald J. Trump would be one such person. How many more can you name?