The Times tries to puzzle it out: If someone asked us if we think that Donald J. Trump is a white supremacist, we know how we would answer.
The exchange would start as shown below. We don't know what would come next:
QUESTION: Do you think Donald J. Trump is a white supremacist?We don't know where the exchange would go from there. But that's the way it would start.
ANSWER: We're not sure what you mean. What does a person have to do, or have to believe, to be a white supremacist?
This morning, the New York Times asked a new fact-check team to fact-check a variant of this question. We were struck by the sad-sack way they proceeded.
Taylor and Rueb are the new fact-checkers. They worked, somewhat loosely, from recent remarks by Tucker Carlson. But the first of their four fact-checks went exactly like this:
RUEB AND TAYLOR (8/9/19): WHAT MR. CARLSON SAID:There you see the team's first fact-check of Carlson. Trump has "never endorsed white supremacy," Carlson recently said. In theory, Taylor and Rueb were fact-checking that statement by Carlson.
"[President Trump] never endorsed white supremacy, or came close to endorsing white supremacy. That’s just a lie."
In a speech on Monday, after the attacks in Texas and Ohio, Mr. Trump cited the threat of “racist hate” and denounced white supremacy.
“In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”
Despite that call for unity, Mr. Trump’s critics say he is responsible for the rise in racial division in the country. Among their examples: his false claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States; his campaign statement that Mexican immigrants were “rapists”; his claim that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a clash between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va.; and, most notably, his recent tweets saying four minority congresswomen should “go back” to their countries. (All are United States citizens, and three of them were born in America.)
How did they fact-check Carlson's claim? This is what they did:
First, they spent two paragraphs quoting recent statements in which Trump denounced white supremacy. They never offered any statement in which Trump has endorsed this point of view or belief.
After that, they offered a longer paragraph, reporting that Trump's critics "say he is responsible for the rise in racial division in the country." It isn't especially hard to agree with Trump's critics on that point. But is that supposed to mean that he is a white supremacist? Taylor and Rueb didn't say.
Included in the incidents cited by Taylor and Rueb is a somewhat shaky account of Trump's famous statement about those “very fine people on both sides" of whatever it is he was talking about in the several days of chaos in Charlottesville. Just for what used to be known as the record, Trump explicitly said that he condemned white nationalists at several points during the post-Charlottesville press conference from which the quote is taken.
So there you have the fact-check! In fairness, it's hard to say that Taylor and Rueb ever quoted Donald J. Trump endorsing white supremacy. No one forced Taylor and Rueb to examine that particular statement by Carlson. But does the lack of contradiction mean that we're supposed to regard Carlson's statement as true?
A bit of background:
Many tribals became upset this week about a front-page New York Times headline. Many people thought, not unreasonably, that the headline gave a remarkably simple-minded account of a situation which was much more complex.
That said, the Times has been doing such work for decades. The Times often seems more like a fatuous upper-class social club than like a serious, competent newspaper.
The paper employs about three million writers. Again and again and again and again, they don't seem able to analyze or reezun reel gud. There are also some exceptions.
We pondered this state of affairs for the ten millionth times as we read this morning's fact-check. The work seemed under-cooked all the way through—but then, the work appeared in the New York Times, and they've functioned this way forever.
They graduate from the finest schools, then end up doing work like this. Our systems are failing from the top down. The Hamptons-based Times is an excellent place to see this process in action.