What Times writing looks like: Katie Rogers found a way to use the P-bomb! In this morning's New York Times, her report about Melania Trump starts exactly like this:
ROGERS (5/9/18): Melania Trump's rollout this week of her ''Be Best'' initiative focusing on children was intended to give the first lady an agenda all her own. Instead, it revived accusations that Mrs. Trump's ideas were really coming from somewhere else.So cool! You'll note that Rogers, who tends to do this, doesn't accuse Melania of plagiarism. Who actually has dropped this bomb?
Observers on Twitter quickly pointed out that one of the primary materials with ''Be Best'' branding, a booklet on social media guidelines called ''Talking With Kids About Being Online,'' had been circulated by the Federal Trade Commission during the Obama era. As the story spread, Mrs. Trump's communications director published an extraordinary statement on Tuesday that admonished the news media for reporting on the plagiarism claims.
"Observers on Twitter!" Who else?
At no point does Rogers attempt to say if this accusation makes sense. Indeed, as she continued along, so did her journalistic incompetence:
ROGERS: Before the official ''Be Best'' rollout on Monday, aides had been upfront to reporters when asked about the fact that Mrs. Trump's office was repackaging items, including the Federal Trade Commission booklet, from other programs. Among program materials distributed to reporters covering the event was an initiative by the National Safety Council intended to encourage people to talk to their doctors about opioid abuse.Based on that first paragraph, it almost sounds like reporters were told that the booklet was "being repackaged."
Mrs. Trump's staff plans to continue to solicit ideas for the initiative, which focuses on opioid abuse, social media pressures and mental health issues among young people, from places the first lady has visited. Those include a West Virginia clinic that treats infants born with opioid addiction and a Michigan school where students participate in a program to stress the importance of emotional intelligence and kindness.
But critics did not buy the defense. Mrs. Trump enjoys higher popularity ratings than her husband, but she has been accused of plagiarism before. In 2016, a large part of a speech she delivered at the Republican convention appeared to be taken from remarks Michelle Obama, her immediate predecessor, delivered in 2008. On Monday, observers also noted that Mrs. Obama had delivered remarks in 2016 urging men to ''be better.''
Rogers never clarifies that point. Meanwhile, if that's "the defense" to which she refers, just how strong is the defense, when all the facts have been considered?
Rogers doesn't bother with that. Instead, we're told that unnamed "critics" didn't buy the defense! Presumably on Twitter!
For what it's worth: based on a Nexis search, very few news orgs have used the P-word in reporting or discussing this matter. We'd have to say that Rogers and her editors found a way to work the thrilling claim in.
Rogers' report about Twitter critics appeared on page A16. Facing it, on A17, was another exciting report about a bad person—an exciting report about the day an EPA security team kicked Scott Pruitt's door in.
In this case, we'd have to say that some editor made a strange, if exciting, decision. We refer to this boxed sub-headline, which excitingly appeared in bold:
The agency chief was 'unconscious,' a 911 operator was told.That's technically accurate, but it's mainly just thrilling. It makes it sound like Pruitt had been "unconscious!" It made it sound that way in an exciting box, printed in bold.
Some editor made a poor decision is creating that boxed sub-headline, That said, the problem began with Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman, who re-reported the thrilling if tired old tale.
The scribes had obtained "new documents" about the exciting event. And so, starting in paragraph 2, they told the exciting story all over again:
LIPTON AND FRIEDMAN (5/9/18): On March 29 last year, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A., had vanished for several hours after reporting to his staff that he was feeling ill. Security was dispatched to the $50-a-night, lobbyist-owned Capitol Hill condo where he was living to see if he was O.K.So cool! The operator said he or she didn't know about the breathing portion!
To gain entry, the agents had to knock down the front door to the building.
Mr. Pruitt was fine. But the episode grew into one of the early mysteries of his tenure: What happened that day? New documents obtained this week through a Freedom of Information request help to explain the sequence of events, and the monthslong effort to get the E.P.A. to pay for the door.
It began that day when Mr. Pruitt's staff made repeated phone calls to him that went unanswered. So they called Washington emergency dispatchers. ''They say he's unconscious at this time,'' a 911 operator was told that evening, according to recordings of the emergency call obtained by ABC last year. ''I don't know about the breathing portion.'
You'll note, of course, that this recording wasn't new this week. The reporters seem to say that ABC obtained the recording last year. That doesn't seem to accurate, but the recording was first reported in late March of this year. But it made the story more exciting, so it went into paragraph 5, then into a boxed sub-headline.
In fact, "Mr. Rogers was fine." It also seems, if you read the whole report, that he never was "unconscious," except in the way a person is when he goes to sleep.
Still! A 911 operator made an exciting, erroneous statement! So Lipton featured it in paragraph 5, and an unnamed editor turned it into a thrilling boxed sub-headline, in which it founds like the embattled bogeyman may have been unconscious!
We've been writing about bullshit like this, Chozick/Ryan style, for the past week or so. Perhaps that erroneous statement by that 911 operator was a "memorable detail," one too good to pass up.
Meanwhile, we were struck by the way the New York Times might seem to go easy on the people of whom it approves. Eric Schneiderman may still semi-qualify, based on the way this news report by Jesse McKinley described his alleged heavy drinking.
The passage no longer exists online. This is the way the passage appears in our hard-copy Times:
MCKINLEY (5/9/18): But Mr. Schneiderman, who is divorced with a grown daughter, had also apparently used his position as an excuse to drink heavily, according to an account of one of the women he allegedly physically abused, Michelle Manning Barish. "I would come over for dinner. An already half-empty bottle of red wine would be on the counter. He had had a head start. 'Very stressful day,' he would say, Ms. Manning told the New Yorker...In our hard-copy Times, the excerpt ended there. Schneiderman drank half a bottle of red wine! That was the example of his heavy drinking!
In fact, that's barely the start of the allegation in the New Yorker's report. This is the fuller paragraph:
MAYER AND FARROW (5/7/18): Manning Barish says that Schneiderman pressed her to consume huge amounts of alcohol. She recalls, “I would come over for dinner. An already half-empty bottle of red wine would be on the counter. He had had a head start. ‘Very stressful day,’ he would say.” Sometimes, if she didn’t drink quickly enough, she says, he would “come to me like a baby who wouldn’t eat its food, and hold the glass to my lips while holding my face, and sweetly but forcefully, like a parent, say, ‘Come on, Mimi, drink, drink, drink,’ and essentially force me—at times actually spilling it down my chin and onto my chest.” Schneiderman, she recalls, “would almost always drink two bottles of wine in a night, then bring a bottle of Scotch into the bedroom. He would get absolutely plastered five nights out of seven.” On one occasion, she recalls, “he literally fell on his face in my kitchen, straight down, like a tree falling.” Another evening, he smashed his leg against an open drawer, cutting it so badly that “there was blood all over the place.” She bandaged it, but the next day she went to his office to change the dressing, because the bleeding hadn’t stopped.Strange! Why quote an example of alleged conduct if you're going to doctor the allegation so heavily that you completely fail to convey what was described?
(As noted, this anecdote has been completely removed from McKinley's report as it now exists online.)
The New York Times is very strange in its treatment of public figures—the ones it likes and the ones it don't. This has been disastrously true for a very long time.
It's entirely possible that the Times' behavior, all by itself, explains two deeply consequential election outcomes—George Bush's feather-thin win in 2000, and also of course Donald J. Trump's.
Some "memorable details" get placed in boxed headlines. Editors "leap over desks" to obtain them.
Other details disappear.
Final important point: This report is anthropology—anthropology all the way down. This is the way our species behaves, especially in tribalized times.