The aggressive, biased coverage of The New York Times against Donald Trump is so obvious that even the liberal journalists at CBS noticed it. On Tuesday, CBS This Morning hosts talked to Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Washington Bureau Chief Elisabeth Bumiller about their appearance in the new Showtime documentary series The Fourth Estate.
Asked why the paper would allow cameras inside the Times’s operation, Baquet insisted the program will show: “...That we have a mission, that we make mistakes. But that we work extremely hard, that we're not biased.” This is the same man who once insisted it was important to call Trump a liar, but that Hillary Clinton merely “exaggerates.”
CBS This Morning co-host John Dickerson didn’t seem to buy Baquet’s claims of neutrality. Regarding the Showtime documentary series, Dickerson described:
This series opens up on inauguration day, it's a cloudy day. But it opens up with clouds over the White House and the editor staring at the screen as if they're watching a funeral. Won't people watching this think this confirms every feeling I have about The New York Times being biased about this president?
Baquet casually replied that, of course, everyone was in a bad mood: “First off, it was a grim inaugural speech. It was meant to be grim. It's hard not to have had a grim reaction.”
This Morning co-host Gayle King — who donates to Democrats and has encouraged her liberal friend Oprah Winfrey to run for president — seemed to think that the Times hiring new journalists means the paper isn’t out to get Trump:
If you listen to President Trump, it would seem that The New York Times tries on a daily basis just to take him down, to try to find things that are negative about him, to take him down. In fact, you've expanded the bureau to get it right.
Bureau chief Bumiller proudly touted the beefed up Times effort:
The bureau's now almost 100 people. On election day, 2016, it was 70. So, you can see what we've done..... There's six White House reporters now. There used to be four. We've added an investigations team. We've added more editors, more visual journalists.
Question: Where was this investigative, curious zeal during the Obama administration? Why, only now, does the Times want to hold truth to power? Could it be the same reason that The Washington Post waited for the Trump era to add “Democracy Dies in Darkness” to the front page?
Finally, a media ethics point has to be made: Showtime (the network airing The Fourth Estate) is part of the Viacom empire. John Dickerson made this point at the very end of the interview, noting that Showtime is “a division of CBS.” The VERY NEXT segment featured an interview with Stephen King promoting his new novel. Gayle King admitted that “It's published by Scribner, which is an imprint of Simon and Schuster, which, as you know by now, is a division of CBS.”
What’s that journalists say about conflicts of interests and corporate agendas?
A partial transcript of the segment is below. Click “expand” to read more:
CBS This Morning
JOHN DICKERSON: The New York Times coverage of President Trump is the subject of a new documentary series. In The Fourth Estate, viewers get a behind-the-scenes look at Times journalists investigating and reporting the biggest headlines of the administration's first year. The preview features Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller editing with a D.C..-based correspondent as they face a changing news cycle and a tight deadline.
[Clip from The Fourth Estate]
DICKERSON: A calling from New York with suggestions for Washington. Familiar to anybody? Elisabeth Bumiller joins us now along with executive director Dean Baquet, who is also featured in the series. The Fourth Estate airing will air on Showtime, a division of CBS. Welcome to both of you. New York and Washington, that great tension at the heart of any journalistic enterprise. Dean Baquet, why did you let cameras into The New York Times?
DEAN BAQUET (NYT executive editor): Because I thought if people got a glimpse inside a newsroom, a modern newsroom they would understand that we're human beings, that we have a mission, that we make mistakes. But that we work extremely hard, that we're not biased. I thought that the days when we would not allow people to see that process should be over. I thought it would help us.
DICKERSON: I want to get to the idea of human beings in a second. But as you both know, any good story starts with a strong lead. This series opens up on inauguration day, it's a cloudy day. But it opens up with clouds over the White House and the editor staring at the screen as if they're watching a funeral. Won't people watching this think this confirms every feeling I have about The New York Times being biased about this president?
BAQUET: Except right after that scene, as I recall — and it was unrehearsed — I sort of break into a grin and just acknowledge how big a story it is. I mean, I really don't think so. I really don't think so. First off it was a grim inaugural speech. It was meant to be grim. It's hard not to have had a grim reaction.
DICKERSON: The actual text of the speech and how it was delivered.
BAQUET: Yes. That's right. I mean, this was the “American Carnage” speech. But I also think people saw a newsroom suddenly sort of turn up the volume and get ready to cover it and see the joy in reporting.
GAYLE KING: And say we're going to get it right. The thing that struck me — to follow up on what you said, Dean. A, you show how hard it is to work. And at one point, I think it was Mazetti who said we want to be first, but more importantly, we want to be right. And there were times a story was delayed while you were working hard to make sure you get it right.
ELISABETH BUMILLER (NYT Washington bureau chief): Right. I think that was one of the Michael Flynn stories. And we delayed, and the Post beat us on that story. And we — I think we came back really strongly the rest of the year and right after that. You see the tension that we have and the competition. There's just a lot of stresses on us.
KING: Because if you listen to President Trump, it would seem that The New York Times tries on a daily basis just to take him down, to try to find things that are negative about him, to take him down. In fact, you've expanded the bureau to get it right.
BUMILLER: Right. The bureau's now almost 100 people. On election day, 2016, it was 70. So, you can see what we’ve done. We've added — There’s six White House reporters now. There used to be four. We've added an investigations team. We've added more editors, more visual journalists. We're out of desks in the bureau basically.
NORAH O’DONNELL: Elisabeth, you've been a longtime Washington reporter. We've worked together, covering campaigns in the White House and Pentagon together. Now you're editing. For many who say where do the sources come from? And the term leaking from the White House, it always suggests that someone has an agenda. Explain how you get information from the White House and the administration.
BUMILLER: Well, there's a lot of different ways, as you know. You cover it -- outside-in strategy. You cover the hill. You cover the agencies, and then you check with the White House. The idea that leaking is sort of this passive thing, that we sit there and receive information — this is not true. These reporters — one of the things I've learned as an editor is to watch so many reporters work so many sources in different ways. They're amazing. It's a lot of hard work. It's a lot of getting people to trust you. It's digging and putting stories together.
O’DONNELL: And different white houses have treated — all treated the press antagonistically. George W. Bush, Clinton -- the Obama administration was extremely antagonistic.
BAQUET: This one, of course is —
O’DONNELL: Is publicly antagonistic
BAQUET: And more antagonistic.
O’DONNELL: Yes. How in terms of sourcing do you find your reporters find it?
BUMILLER: It's hard because you hear the exact opposite from senior people at the White House in the same hour. You've got to balance out what is true and what is not. It's a much bigger reporting challenge. That said, I was saying we're not passive recipients of leaks. The federal bureaucracy is very leaky right now because it's — it's a bureaucracy that's been there for a long time. And many of them are not happy with what Trump is doing. So we're finding that — also at the White House, there's a lot of different agendas and different -- different people fighting with each other. So that creates —
O’DONNELL: Game of Thrones.
BUMILLER: A lot of information.