Major errors at The New York Times destroy the premise of two stories

There have been two enormous mistakes in The New York Times this week — errors that completely undermined the premise of the stories.

1. On Monday, Lisa Friedman wrote that government scientists had surreptitiously given her a draft report on climate change because they were concerned that the Trump administration would suppress it. But as Erik Wemple of The Washington Post explained, the report had been publicly available for months, and was even parked at the Internet Archive.

2. On Wednesday, Adam Nagourney reported on an internecine battle among California Democrats that is supposed to tell us something about the struggle between the party’s progressive and establishment wings. It struck me as pretty thin gruel given that we learn both combatants in the bid for party chair, Eric Bauman and Kimberly Ellis, supported Hillary Clinton last year, although Bernie Sanders is supporting Ellis now.

But then we get to the bottom and see this: “An earlier version of this article misstated the candidate Kimberly Ellis supported in the Democratic primary race last year. It was Hillary Clinton, not Senator Bernie Sanders.”

Imagine reading this before the correction was made. It’s a completely different story. It’s not about the continued hostility between Clinton and Sanders supporters at all. As with the climate-change story, it’s the sort of article that might very well not have been published at all if the facts had been clear beforehand.

I know that quite a few copy editors lost their jobs at the Times recently. Could that have something to do with it? Maybe. But the Times still has a larger editing corps than any other paper. Moreover, these kinds of large, conceptual errors strike me as something that have been endemic at the Times for many years. I suspect it has more to do with the culture than the copy editing.

Sounds like a good topic for the public editor. Oh, wait. Never mind.

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Pence’s petulance undescores his tricky relationship with Trump

Mike Pence. Photo (cc) 2015 by Gage Skidmore.

Few members of the Trump administration have carried themselves with more unctuous sycophancy than Mike Pence. “Thank you, Mr. President, and just the greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who’s keeping his word to the American people,” the former Indiana governor said at that North Korean-style cabinet meeting back in June. At joint public appearances, Pence gazes at President Trump with a mixture of admiration, gratitude, and sheer astonishment at finding himself just a heartbeat away from the presidency.

But now Trump and Pence may be on the outs. The proximate cause is a New York Times story over the weekend reporting the not especially earthshattering news that Pence is keeping his powder dry in case Trump does not run for re-election in 2020.

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Christopher Caldwell ignores disturbing evidence of Bannon’s bigoted views

Stephen Bannon at CPAC on Friday. Photo (cc) by Michael Vadon.
Stephen Bannon at CPAC on Friday. Photo (cc) by Michael Vadon.

Christopher Caldwell, a conservative writer whom I admire, weighs in with a sympathetic profile of Stephen Bannon in today’s New York Times in which he ignores available evidence that Bannon may personally hold racist and anti-Semitic views. (This would be aside from the garbage published by Breitbart News, the alt-right website Bannon headed before joining President Trump’s campaign last summer.) Caldwell writes:

Many accounts of Mr. Bannon paint him as a cartoon villain or internet troll come to life, as a bigot, an anti-Semite, a misogynist, a crypto-fascist. The former House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, have even called him a “white nationalist.” While he is certainly a hard-line conservative of some kind, the evidence that he is an extremist of a more troubling sort has generally been either massaged, misread or hyped up.

The trouble with Caldwell’s attempt to blow past the alleged caricature and tell us about the real Steve Bannon is that there is, in fact, well-known, on-the-record evidence that contradicts Caldwell’s sanguine views.

Perhaps Caldwell’s most disingenuous ploy is to enlist Julia Jones, a liberal screenwriter and former collaborator of Bannon’s. Caldwell writes: “She regrets that Mr. Bannon ‘has found a home in nationalism.’ But she does not believe he is any kind of anarchist, let alone a racist.”

Now, this is not the first time that Jones has been quoted in the Times to the effect that Bannon is not a racist. The last time, though, we got the full context, and it turns out that Jones’ view of what constitutes not being a racist is rather different from the standard definition. This is from a profile of Bannon by Scott Shane that the Times published on Nov. 27:

Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.

“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”

I realize that this is hearsay. But it comes from a friendly source, and there hasn’t been a single suggestion since Shane’s story was published that either Jones or Bannon disputes the accuracy of that particular anecdote.

As for whether Bannon is an anti-Semite, well, it’s complicated. His chief ally within the White House is said to be Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, who is Jewish. As Caldwell and others have noted, Bannon reserves his real animus for Muslims. Nevertheless, there is the matter of a sworn deposition by Bannon’s ex-wife, Mary Louise Piccard, in which she claims that Bannon assaulted her because he was upset that she was sending their daughters to a private school with too many Jews.

Jesse Singal, writing last Nov. 15 in New York magazine, did a good job of gathering together what we know about Bannon and the Jews. As Singal noted, Piccard’s statement did come in the midst of a nasty custody battle, and Bannon has denied ever saying such a thing. But it’s been confirmed that there was a domestic incident around that time. And it’s also been confirmed that Bannon once asked the director of a school “why there were so many Chanukah book in the library,” as Piccard put it. (What’s unclear is whether the question was friendly or hostile.)

A friendly source saying on the record that Bannon talked about the genetic superiority of some people and said it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if many African-Americans were banned from voting. Disturbing suggestions that Bannon has expressed anti-Semitic views. I would say these are more than “hyped up” charges, as Caldwell puts it. The fact that we are talking about President Trump’s right-hand man makes them pretty damn alarming.

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The Times wants you to know that not all black women are drug addicts or criminals

What the holy hell is this?

On Tuesday, The New York Times published a story headlined “Why Women Quit Working: It’s Not for the Reasons Men Do.” It is illustrated with a photo of a woman named Krystin Stevenson, who is black and has dropped out of the work force. And we learn:

At 31 with two children, she doesn’t turn her nose up at jobs that are considered women’s work. She hasn’t been swallowed by the wildfire of opioid addiction, dogged by a brush with the law or sidelined with a disability after years of heaving loads in manufacturing or construction.

Yes, if we’re reporting on the life of an African-American, we’d better establish right up front that she’s not a drug addict or a criminal. Because. Well, you know.

As it turned out, Stevenson stopped working because her mother got sick and was no longer able to help with the kids. Stevenson’s situation, Times reporter Patricia Cohen tells us, is emblematic of a broader trend.

But wow, that set-up. How did it ever get past an editor?

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The legend of the New York Times and the Bay of Pigs

At Cuba's Bay of Pigs Museum. Photo (cc) by Lens Envy.
At Cuba’s Bay of Pigs Museum. Photo (cc) 2014 by Lens Envy.

The 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion—a failed US-backed attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro—is often cited as an example of how the New York Timesshamefully flinched in the face of pressure from the White House, thus helping to enable a foreign-policy catastrophe.

If only the Times had revealed everything it knew beforehand, so this line of reasoning goes, the Kennedy administration might have backed down from its disastrous scheme. President John F. Kennedy himself contributed to the legend, telling the Times’s managing editor, Turner Catledge, some months later: “If you had printed more about the operation you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

The problem with this narrative is that it’s not true—not exactly, anyway. Though the Times did withhold a couple of key details, on April 7 of that year it published a front-page story, above the fold, reporting that US-trained rebels were prepared to invade Cuba, and that the operation could begin at any time. Ten days later, the anti-Castro forces were routed on the beach.

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Times senior editor exults over Trump-driven traffic

I’m late with this, but I thought you’d like to see this internal memo a source sent me about folks at the New York Times exulting about how much traffic the paper received as a result of Donald Trump’s bizarre interview.

The Times did a good job, but I’m a little perplexed by the self-congratulatory tone of senior editor Steve Kenny’s note. Trump showed up at the offices of our leading newspaper and made news. We get it.

Subject:Late note for Tuesday, Nov. 22

Good morning, all:

What a day for news. What a day to be a Timeswoman or a Timesman.

Donald Trump’s visit to the building dominated not only our news day, but the days of every news organization in America. (The lead photo on The Washington Post’s homepage at the moment is a picture of Trump in OUR lobby.)

Starting with the off-again-on-again drama of the meeting itself ‪on Tuesday morning and continuing to our posting of the full transcript early ‪Wednesday morning, the interview drove hundreds of thousands of readers to our site.

Here are some numbers:

— The lede-all by Mike Shear, Maggie Haberman and Julie Davis — 1.2 million page views

— The Hillary Clinton prosecution story by Mike and Julie — 727,000 page views

— Jonah Bromwich’s “The Interview as Told in 12 Tweets” — 232,000 page views.

— The “Fall of Chris Christie” story by Kate Zernike — 520,00 page views. (O.K. — not related to the interview, but really big numbes.)

The interview transcript was compiled by Liam Stack, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Karen Workman and Tim Herrera. Zach Johnk of the FoNa Copy Desk was here until almost ‪1 a.m. copy editing — all 11,810 words of it. We published when he was finished, and Laurie Kawakami gave it an all-out social push.

Laurie’s effort paid off. The transcript is No. 2 on the homepage, and Stela tells me that almost 60 percent of readers are coming to it through social media. Samantha Henig sent in a note earlier in the evening that there is a plan Wednesday to post audio of the meeting, and we’ll send out an alert as well in the morning to direct readers to the transcript.

The transcript has already scored 52,000 page views, and it didn’t go up until almost ‪1 a.m.

About ‪1:15 a.m., the Post and Courier in South Carolina reported that Trump would announce Nikki Haley as his choice for U.N. ambassador. About 45 minutes later, The Post put up its own story (with its own confirmation) and alerted. At that hour, understandably, I couldn’t raise anyone, and it didn’t seem to be the sort of story to call out the troops.

I put together a 550-word piece that sourced the P&C and the Post, with lots of background from our own reporting about the furious back-and-forth Trump and Haley had during the primaries. (She supported Rubio and was outspoken in her criticism of Trump.) But in the end, I didn’t feel comfortable posting a story without independent confirmation, so we didn’t put it up. It’s slugged 24HALEY in Copy, in case any of it can be of any use early today.

The big news if we do confirm it is that she has no foreign policy experience.

Elsewhere on the homepage, Tony Scott’s review of the new Brad Pitt movie, “Allied,” is and has been the top performer, and Valeriya Safronova’s “Night Out” with Lauren Graham, the “Gilmore Girls” star, has been a favorite.

Readers seem to be hungry for something a little lighter, and we have some choice bits planned for them in the Running Story List, found here.

Among major competitors, The Post, The Journal, the BBC, and CNN are all leading with our Trump interview, although their focuses vary. The Post is concentrating on his pulling back on some campaign promises, The Journal on his “no conflict of interest” comments, the BBC and CNN with the “alt-right.” The Guardian’s lead is about what it says is a growing coalition of liberal groups urging Hillary Clinton to call for recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Also of note: The BBC has an interesting story about the immediate and growing backlash among the far right after our interview was published. The Post is off-leading with Nikki Haley.

Steve Kenny
Senior Editor/News Desk
The New York Times

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Trump to Times: Eh, I didn’t mean any of it

Climate change? Never mind. Lock her up? Didn’t mean it. Torture? I don’t think that anymore.

The big takeaway from Donald Trump’s interview with the New York Times was how casually he walked away from some of the most caustic things he said during the campaign. If there’s a more striking example of a politician admitting that he essentially lied about everything to get elected, I’m not aware of it.

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