Here’s New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, on NPR’s Fresh Air today:
GROSS: When someone questions whether The New York Times is balanced or not during the campaign, for example, in its coverage of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, do you do like accounting where you count like the number of stories that have investigated Hillary Clinton versus the number of stories that have investigated Donald Trump? Is there like, you know, a metrics analysis of fairness or do you measure fairness in another way?
BAQUET: No. In fact, I think balance is sort of a – is a – and I’m not sure I buy the constructive balance. To me, it’s fairness. You should always ask yourself – you would never say I’ve done 17.3 stories that the Clinton campaign isn’t going to like, and I’ve only done 14.7 stories that the Trump campaign isn’t going to like. So let me do 3.6 more that the Trump campaign isn’t going to like. I think you’ll – your – not only will your head explode, but that’s imbalanced coverage because to do that, you’re actually having to turn up the volume on other stories to make them equal to the others. No. I think you say we want to be fair.
Fairness could mean that some candidate gets tougher coverage. Fairness could mean, you know, that you look at Hillary Clinton’s record on foreign policy. And we actually did a two-part series on Hillary Clinton’s role in shaping Libya policy which is her most important foreign policy endeavor. We didn’t do a two-part series on Donald Trump’s foreign policy. He didn’t have one. We did much, much more reporting on Donald Trump’s finances because the Clinton – we did much reporting on the Clinton Foundation. We didn’t do much reporting on the Clinton’s finances because their personal finances were not in the league with Donald Trump, and they weren’t running as successful business people.
I think once you get into the actual measurement of metrics, you make yourself crazy, and, in fact, you’ll actually end up being unfair because you will have to do more of something and less of something else. And the rule to me is – this is going to sound weird – but the rule is you want each campaign to think you were really tough on them, and that’s what happened in this case. That’s for sure. I don’t think any candidate of the Republicans or the Democrats from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump thought we were not tough on them. I think they all thought we were tough on them and said it.
This kind of “if you’re getting it from both sides, you must be doing a good job” bullshit is the reason why the mainstream media in this country keeps walking squarely into the same right-wing trap over and over again, and frankly it is mind-boggling that the executive editor of the New York Goddamn Times is too dumb to see it.
Maybe a hypothetical would help. Say you have two candidates running for president, hypothetical ones, let’s call them…Fillary Flinton and Monald Mump. And let’s say there’s a hypothetical major newspaper, called the Drew Dork Dimes, covering the campaign. Flinton doesn’t have a great relationship with the Dimes but tends to roll with the punches and only complain in response to specific stories. Mump, on the other hand, whines from the beginning of the campaign to the end, and beyond, that the “failing” Dimes is unfairly beating up on him, targeting him just because he’s too Real and Honest and Smart and Good and the Dimes hates that, so they just attack him all the time. He calls reporters garbage and spends big chunks of his campaign rallies whipping his frothing audience into a frenzy about the Dimes’ terrible reporters. He does this regardless of what the Dimes’ actual coverage is like.
The Dimes, whose executive editor Wean Waquet thinks it’s dumb math bullshit to try to count up the number of negative stories about this or that candidate and compare them, then makes some…interesting choices about how to cover the campaign. They do a two part series on Flinton’s foreign policy record, which is good and important. Mump doesn’t have much of a foreign policy record, so the Dimes doesn’t cover his foreign policy at all, which seems…odd, because a President Mump will most definitely have to deal with foreign policy, and the fact that Candidate Mump has no foreign policy experience is actually kind of an important story in itself! When covering Mump’s campaign they consistently opt for weasel words like “myth,” “alt-right,” and “climate contrarian” where non-weasel words like “lie,” “white supremacist,” and “science denier” would be more accurate and more honest. They fuck up, in short. Presented with a candidate whose ignorance, lies, bigotry, and abusiveness are so far outside the norm, the Dimes completely fail to captures for its readers just how far outside the norm he really is.
But wait! Wean Waquet says you’re being unfair! Of course the Dimes did a great job covering President-elect Mump! I mean, have you heard the way Mump has been talking about the Dimes? He does nothing but complain about how unfair the paper is being to him! That’s the goal, intones Waquet, summoning his years of experience as a veteran journalist, you want every campaign to think you’ve been tough on them. And yet, Candidate Mump whined about the Dimes coverage almost before the Dimes even started covering him, almost as if he…wanted everybody, including the editors at the Dimes, to think that they’d been unfairly hard on him regardless of whether or not they actually had! But could that be true? Can you imagine such a thing?
Apparently Wean Waquet can’t! Which seems unfortunate, because it means he can be suckered into mismanaging his paper’s political coverage by nothing more sophisticated than the lamest working the refs trick in the right-wing playbook, one that they’ve used over and over and over and over again for decades now without savvy veteran journalists like Wean Waquet ever catching on. And the rest of us have to pay for that.
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