One was a deeply peculiar article about former White House communications director Hope Hicks and how she faces, as the Times put it, an "existential choice" of whether or not to comply with a congressional subpoena. The news article also featured an oddly glamorous, stylized photo of Hicks. Think about the mindset that the piece even required, both from the reporter who wrote it, (Maggie Haberman) and the editor who oversaw the article—the mindset being that of course, members of Trump's inner circle have a "choice" of whether they want to comply with a congressional subpoena, as if that's the legal norm for you and me. Think about how deep into the dysfunctional game of normalizing Trump you have to be to even think about framing the Hicks story the way the newspaper did. (The puff piece was also riddled with missteps, and follows a long line of fawning Hicks coverage at the Times.)
The Hicks article really did seem to capture how badly the paper has lost touch with its calling, and the dangerous consequences of those failures. "When a respected paper such as @nytimes calls this an ‘existential’ question, rather than a question about complying with the law, we have a very serious problem with our democracy," stressed Princeton University historian, Julian Zelizer. "This is what it looks like to become dysfunctional."
The other piece that produced Twitter howls was an in-depth Times article, complete with a timeline, that documented the array of insults Trump has used to describe Democratic candidates. All the article did was amplify Trump's idiocy by repeating his childish taunts about his political opponents and treating them as important news. (They're not, and the press shouldn't treat them as such.)
But honestly, that’s not all that's been glaringly wrong with the paper recently. Late last week, after Trump used Twitter to share a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Times completely ignored the incident in its write-up of what the paper claimed was a Both Sides "war of words" that had broken out between Trump and Pelosi as they questioned each others' fitness for office. Please note that Pelosi questioned Trump's fitness based on his erratic behavior and comments, while Trump questioned Pelosi's fitness based on a manipulated video. Yet the Times treated those as equal.
This train of timidity travels on and on. Last month while covering a Trump rally where he told a ghastly lie about Democrats supporting infanticide, the Times could only summon enough courage to call Trump's hideous declaration "a standard, and inaccurate, refrain." Back in February, Trump told a gargantuan lie when he claimed that 72% of arrested undocumented immigrants don't show up for mandatory court appearances. He was off by 70 points: The actual figure is 2%. The Times politely labeled that a "false statement." The daily has been extraordinarily reticent in telling the truth about Trump being a pathological liar.
That's when the paper hasn’t been busy hyping White House talking points. In late March, having read not one page of Robert Mueller's report on his Russia investigation, the Times rushed to announce that Trump had been exonerated and that Mueller's conclusions had provided Trump with a "powerful boost" toward reelection. The Times made that sweeping conclusion having only been given Attorney General William Barr's four-page press release, which we now know was riddled with false spin.
The New York Times is the most famous and powerful news organization in America. It’s a shame the newspaper’s not up to the Trump-era challenge.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.
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