Esquire’s Boyer Mocks NY Times Objectivity Failure, Lets Trump Play Media Critic

March 31st, 2019 7:47 PM

The April 2019 issue of Esquire features a long, eye-opening article on how attacks on Trump have permanently damaged the media’s reputation (always fragile) for objectivity. Boyer aimed at several media targets but his main focus was the New York Times.

Donald Trump Changed The New York Times. Is It Forever? -- Donald Trump has shattered presidential standards. In response, The New York Times and other elite news organizations have scrapped their rigorous, long-held standards of objectivity. But will the Times’s changes have unintended consequences? And what does Trump himself think of all this?"

The president had some criticism for one Times story in particular.

When the closing gavels came down on the 2016 political conventions, the news cycle did not ease into the usual midsummer lull but instead locked directly into a state of high alarm, with Donald J. Trump at its center....

Boyer gives us a sample of Trump as a New York Times critic.

But amid those passing controversies was one story that Trump himself remembers clearly still. “Yep, very famous story,” he remarked to me in a recent interview. “It was a very important story...” Trump was referring to a front-page New York Times article published on August 8, 2016, under the headline "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." The opening paragraph posed a provocative question:

“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?”


Trump said that was an important article because “they basically admitted that they were frauds."

“They admitted in that story that they didn’t care about journalism anymore,” he continued, “that they were just going to write badly. That was an amazing admission.”

It’s an essential Trumpian assertion -- wildly hyperbolic, but containing what much of Red America would consider a sort of rough truth.

Rutenberg’s cri de coeur begged many questions, including this one posed by Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell and Tim Graham: “Impartiality is mandatory in political coverage. If a reporter cannot manage this -- and some simply cannot -- then he should recuse himself from the assignment. This is first-semester journalism. Why can't that cardinal rule be followed?”

That certainly seemed to be the case at the Times, which soon began to characterize dubious Trump statements as “lies” in news reports and headlines, a drastic break from the paper’s once-indelible standards....

This view of impartiality suffered mightily with the entry of Donald Trump into presidential politics, and the eventual decision to describe his inaccurate statements as “lies.”

Boyer had an example ready.

Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, told NPR that Trump’s falsehoods, such as his claim that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U. S., were “different from the normal sort of obfuscations that politicians traffic in.” A “normal” political prevarication, Baquet explained, is “the politician who says, ‘My tax plan will save a billion dollars’ and when in his heart of hearts he knows it’s $1.9 billion that it’s not going to save; that, in fact, it’ll cost people.” As it happened, on the same day that the Times referred to Trump’s birther claim as a “lie,” it also employed the term in another story about Trump -- on a subject that neatly fit Baquet’s definition of “usual political fare.” The Times reported that Trump’s campaign had made conflicting statements about the candidate’s proposal to offer huge tax cuts to small businesses. “Call it the trillion-dollar lie,” the paper declared.

It was the sort of editorial inconsistency that news organizations (excepting cable news’ more amped-up precincts) had once strenuously tried to avoid, bearing as it does on credibility and trust. Calling Trump a liar in news stories was a significant first step toward becoming openly oppositional, leaving readers little choice but to conclude that the Times would cover Trump as a “potentially dangerous” figure, as Rutenberg had termed it.

(NewsBusters also covered that “trillion-dollar lie” controversy.)

Boyer quoted Trump astutely outlining media bias, with Boyer even agreeing in part.

The fun stopped when Trump announced his run for the White House. He thinks it’s because he ran as a conservative Republican: “I used to get great press until I announced that I was gonna run...and the fact that you’re running as a Republican conservative, automatically, they put you behind the eight ball.” While it’s true that the news media are not known to be favorably inclined toward conservative policies, the negative reaction to Trump had more to do with the person of Trump -- and especially his words, his aggressive hyperbole and verbal brushback pitches -- than with policy prescriptions....

However, NewsBusters would take issue with Boyer’s description of the paper’s pre-Trump “insistence on impartiality.”

As Jill Abramson notes in her book, the paper’s discernible tilt away from its formerly fussy insistence on impartiality paid off. “Given its mostly liberal audience,” she wrote, “there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative: They drove big traffic numbers.”....

Boyer ended with a look to the future post-Trump and questioned the paper’s ability to reclaim its authority:

.... the Times’s core identity as the authoritative paper of record may be difficult to reclaim.

He suggested an epitaph for the paper’s editors during the time of Trump. Noting that former Times editor Abe Rosenthal's grave marker reads: “He kept the paper straight,” Boyer cracked that “More fitting final words for them might well be: ‘Trump made us do it.’"