The Columbia Journalism Review interviewed New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet over The Times changing its Tuesday morning lead headline after a left-wing social media mob complained it wasn’t sufficiently hostile to President Trump, in the wake of the mass murders in El Paso and Dayton. The interview also revealed how intimately dependent the paper is to liberal expectations.
The Times caved to liberals on Twitter, including Democratic candidates, who were enraged at the initial accurate summary of what Trump actually said in his speech condemning hatred and violence (“Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism”).
Someone at CJR came up with its own cutting headline: “Times public editor: The readers versus the masthead” over Gabriel Snyder’s take. “Public” in this context means the left-wing Twitter mob and 2020 Democratic candidates that forced the paper to change the headline. It’s also a bit of inside baseball, as the Times controversially no longer employs a public editor (click “expand”):
Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, was at home on Monday night -- as was the rest of the paper’s senior leadership (referred to internally as “the masthead”) -- when the next day’s front page was being composed. Soon, it would turn into a public disaster.
At 9:13pm, Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, the statistical news site once published by the Times, sparked a social media furor with a tweet of the front page. A banner headline appeared over a pair of stories on President Trump’s White House speech addressing the weekend’s two mass shootings; Silver commented, “Not sure ‘TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM’ is how I would have framed the story.”...
And then began the pile on from the left and Democratic presidential candidates (if that's not redundant):
Within an hour, Tom Jolly, the Times print editor, tweeted an image of the second edition with a rewritten headline: “ASSAILING HATE BUT NOT GUNS.” But by that point, the firestorm had spread, with readers, journalists, and politicians taking to Twitter to attack the paper for failing to call out Trump’s racism and accepting “his narrative” that he opposes racial discrimination.
Baquet pointed out that The Times executive editor no longer picks out the front-page stories in this digital age but “Nevertheless, he says he does take responsibility for what he calls a ‘bad headline,’ saying ‘It didn’t have enough skepticism of what the president said.’”
Snyder showed how Murphy spoke with The Hollywood Reporter, unveiling his flagship streaming show The Politician, which stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange and airs in September.Times has become an anti-Trump beacon for liberals, even comparing it to the liberal ACLU:
All of that is a fair explanation of how a bad headline happens. But it’s almost irrelevant to the bigger problem at hand, which is how reader expectations of the Times have shifted after the election of President Trump. The paper (a term I still use primarily due to the force of habit) saw a huge surge of subscriptions in the days and months after the 2016 election. Why that happened is still a subject of debate within the Times. I think that subscribing to the Times was something actionable for people who were afraid of Trump, much like signing up for email lists, volunteering for political campaigns, or donating to the American Civil Liberties Union....
Snyder also captured the conflict between the ostensibly neutral (ha!) newspaper and its leftist readership slavering for a constant supply of anti-Trump red meat.
Yet there is a glaring disconnect between those energized readers and many Times staffers, especially newspaper veterans. Baquet doesn’t see himself as the vanguard of the resistance. He takes a much more traditional view of journalists as objective chroniclers of the news, leaving it to readers and pundits to decide what the facts mean. “I don’t believe our role is to be the leaders of the opposition party,” he says.
Baquet tried to put today’s conflicts in historical context, then made a point to bow in respect to a hard-left magazine:
....The New York Times has a strong view about its role. We are not The Nation, even though I have deep respect for them....
That’s pretty revealing in itself; one can’t see a New York Times editor expressing “deep respect” for the conservative National Review.
The paper’s own “Reader Center” also issued a mea culpa in “A Times Headline About Trump Stoked Anger. A Top Editor Explains. -- A deputy managing editor addresses a front-page headline about President Trump that readers criticized for lacking important context” (click “expand”):
We asked Matt Purdy, a deputy managing editor, to address the criticism and offer insight into our editorial process:
We needed to deliver a nuanced message in a very small space under tight deadlines, and unfortunately, our first attempt at that did not hit it right.
When a group of top editors received an email with the first edition of the front page last night, we saw the headline, realized that it was not a good one and decided to change it. It’s not uncommon for our masthead editors to adjust headlines as we go.
As this conversation was happening among Times editors, readers began discussing the initial headline on Twitter. They rightly pointed out that the initial headline didn’t reflect the story accurately.
But the headline did reflect what Trump said accurately. And that was the problem for its readership, which demands Trump be vilified at every opportunity, which meant criticism must be injected even into the president’s most benign comments.