NYT Shows No Self-Awareness, Hits Pro-Trump Tabloid for 'Crossing...Line Into Politics'

July 22nd, 2018 9:07 PM

The New York Times indulged in some self-owning irony on Sunday’s front page under the byline of Jim Rutenberg and Ben Protess: “Inquiry Focuses on Publisher’s Support for Trump.” The subject was American Media Inc., the tabloid company that publishes the National Enquirer, and its dealings with Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen [emphasis mine]:

Federal authorities examining the work President Trump’s former lawyer did to squelch embarrassing stories before the 2016 election have come to believe that an important ally in that effort, the tabloid company American Media Inc., at times acted more as a political supporter than as a news organization, according to people briefed on the investigation.

That determination has kept the publisher in the middle of an inquiry that could create legal and political challenges for the president as prosecutors investigate whether the lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, violated campaign finance law.

It could also spell trouble for the company, which publishes The National Enquirer, raising thorny questions about when coverage that is favorable to a candidate strays into overt political activity, and when First Amendment protections should apply.

A.M.I.’s role in the inquiry received new attention on Friday with news that federal authorities had seized a recording from Mr. Cohen in which he and Mr. Trump discussed a $150,000 deal A.M.I. struck before the election, effectively silencing a woman’s claims of an affair by buying the rights to her story and not publishing it. The men also discussed whether Mr. Trump should buy the rights away from the company, which he did not ultimately do, according to a lawyer for the president, Rudolph W. Giuliani.

From the beginning of the campaign, A.M.I. promoted Mr. Trump and savaged his opponents, sometimes with unsubstantiated stories alleging poor health, extramarital affairs and the use of prostitutes. A.M.I.’s chairman, David J. Pecker, is a close friend of the president and his former lawyer, and company leaders were in regular contact with Mr. Cohen, former employees have said in interviews.

Showing an equal lack of self-awareness, the paper’s political Twitter account tweeted: “In the help it provided the Trump campaign, the tabloid publisher American Media Inc. may have crossed the line into politics.”

Of course, The New York Times has spent decades working on behalf of the left and the Democratic Party and against conservatives and Republicans. Not to mention that the tweet was publicizing a story from Jim Rutenberg, the very reporter who wrote “The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity” on the front page of the paper during the heat of the electoral race in August 2016 featuring this cri de coeur for reporters to become political activists against the Trump threat:

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, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?...It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.”

Another data point: In November 2017, The Times opinion section Twitter account, according to Politico, “listed the phone numbers for the congressional offices of several key Republican senators in the ongoing debate over the GOP tax bill,” to persuade them to vote against Trump’s tax bill. That certainly sounds like “crossing the line into politics.”