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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Public television journalist Gwen Ifill dies at 61

Gwen Ifill at a book-signing in Seattle. Photo (cc) by KCTS 9 Public Television.
Gwen Ifill at a book-signing in Seattle. Photo (cc) by KCTS 9 Public Television.

I’m very sad to learn that Gwen Ifill has died. Co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour and host of Washington Week, she was conspicuous by her absence during the final run-up to the presidential election.

I remember reading seeing her byline in the New York Times back in the 1990s. But I didn’t realize that she had a local connection until I looked up her bio: She was a graduate of Simmons College and had worked for the Boston Herald American.

Her humane voice will be missed in the strange days to come.

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The Times’s weirdly Putin-free first take on the NBC forum

Illustration (cc) by Michail Kirkov.
Illustration (cc) by Michail Kirkov.

Here we go again. A week after the New York Times completely rewrote a story that initially portrayed Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico and subsequent hate-rally speech on immigration as a turn toward a softer, more statesmanlike candidate, the paper’s lead story omitted the biggest news coming out of Wednesday night’s NBC News “Commander-in-Chief” forum.

The story, like last week’s, was by Patrick Healy. And it contained not a single mention of Vladimir Putin, whom Trump praised fulsomely—even suggesting that he was a more impressive leader than President Obama. Here is the original article, posted on Wednesday night.

By this morning, Healy’s story had been updated to include a mention of Putin—in the fifth paragraph. Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s three-reporter effort led with this:

Donald Trump defended his admiration for Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at a forum here Wednesday focused on national security issues, even suggesting that Putin is more worthy of his praise than President Obama.

That’s known as finding the lede and running with it. (Although I didn’t save the Post‘s first take on Wednesday night, I know it mentioned Putin prominently.) By the way, the Post also led the print edition with that story, under the headline “Trump Defends Praise for Putin.” The Times: “Candidates Flex Muscles During TV Forum.”

The forum itself was inexpertly moderated by Matt Lauer, who grilled Hillary Clinton with predictable questions about her damn emails while repeatedly letting Trump off the hook. Clinton, speaking first, pointed out that Trump has lied repeatedly about his initial support for the war in Iraq. Good thing—because when Trump lied again, Lauer sat there and said nothing.

As Dylan Byers writes at CNN.com:

Perhaps most notable were the questions Lauer did not ask of Trump. At an event geared toward national security and military veterans, the NBC co-host failed to ask a single question about Trump’s controversial remarks about Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Sen. John McCain’s prisoner-of-war status or his deferments from the Vietnam War, among other issues.

All of this comes, of course, as a host of media and political observers are beginning to take loud notice—see my commentary earlier this week for WGBHNews.org—that the political press is pummeling Clinton while holding Trump to a much lower standard.

By the way (to return to the beginning), Times public editor Liz Splayd explained her paper’s Mexican misadventure by saying that Healy got caught up with deadline problems—the tone of the day changed significantly once Trump begin his ugly speech in Phoenix. OK. But again, the Post set the right tone in its very first take. It’s fair to ask what is going on at the Times.

Update: To be fair, a sidebar in the Times published Wednesday night made mention of Putin. And I’m told by Harvard’s Christina Pazzanese, though I didn’t see it, that Times reporter Alexander Burns had an even earlier take than Healy’s that did mention Putin. But my point stands. Anyone checking the Times‘s website or apps late Wednesday night would have seen Healy’s story as the big takeout—and there was no mention of Putin.

Update II: The Burns story has been disappeared from the Times website, but Susan Ryan-Vollmar found this.

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