New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg’s essay for the Winter 2018 edition of The Wilson Quarterly was hailed as a “behind-the-scenes look” at the paper coming to journalistic life after being attacked by Trump: “How ‘Fake News’ Changed The New York Times – and Didn’t.”
Does that mean the notoriously liberal Times was sleeping during the Obama administration and its myriad missteps and scandals? The first subhead of the Wilson Quarterly piece gave the game away: “Suddenly, Our Mission Got Really Clear.”
(Remember that it was Rutenberg who penned the notorious front-page jeremiad on August 8, 2016, "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." He asked, “If you're a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation's worst racist and nationalistic tendencies....how the heck are you supposed to cover him?")
Rutenberg’s excitement about the paper’s war on Trump is palpable.
But a funny thing happened inside The Times’s headquarters and in its bureaus throughout the world: an early sense of trepidation was quickly replaced with a new sense of mission. There was palpable excitement over the chance to show traditional journalism’s true worth in the face of an administration that was clearly going to use misdirection, misinformation, and barbs against the press as governing tools. For as cynical lot as there ever was, idealism rushed in.
Media criticism can apparently be deadly.
....The president of the United States was regularly rallying his Twitter mob against us. While the newsroom reaction was mostly either gallows humor or eye-rolls, every now and then the conversation turned to what was lurking in the backs of all of our minds: somebody’s going to get hurt....
Unconsciously, Rutenberg shows a newspaper asleep at the switch during the cozy, liberal Obama years suddenly finding attacking energy under Trump. He bragged about newly aggressive fact-checking, and once again smeared the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who came under media fire in 2004 (from Rutenberg and every other Times reporter) for questioning Sen. John Kerry’s heroics in Vietnam, which Kerry tried to exploit during his presidential campaign against President George W. Bush.
The best example came with the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad campaign against Senator John Kerry in 2004, the first modern example of “fake news” swaying an election. The effort was based on the polemical book about Mr. Kerry by the conservative conspiracy theorist and best-selling author, Jerome Corsi. As my colleague, Kate Zernike, and I reported in a front-page, 4,000-word investigation that August, claims that John Kerry fabricated the heroics for which he won the Silver Star during the Vietnam War were fabricated themselves, contradicted by Navy records and some of his accusers’ own past statements.
Our reporting helped end their campaign, forced the firing of President Bush’s lead campaign attorney (who had secretly worked for the group) and stopped the spread of their lies....
The Times never bothered to actually test the Swifties' claims for veracity, even after the Swifties proved Kerry false on his claim of having spent Christmas 1968 on a secret mission in Cambodia.
Rutenberg fretted that social media companies weren’t pushing more liberal mainstream news items into the faces of Republicans (i.e., “that crowd”):
Many members of that crowd live in informational silos. Three of the four platforms that provide those silos – Google, Facebook, and Twitter – are promising to fix their algorithms so that more people see more diverse takes on the news. I remain skeptical....