The New York Times Isn't Failing Trump

Man, Dog Equally Involved In Biting-Related Incident

The New York Times ran a story that contained some fairly frank and straightforward discussion of not just Trump’s corruption but the utter depravity of his administration and his re-election campaign.

A key paragraph that was widely quoted on Twitter reads:

“Mr. Trump’s aides said he enjoyed the frustration and anger he caused by holding a political event on the South Lawn of the White House, shattering conventional norms and raising questions about ethics law violations. He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him, said the aides, who spoke anonymously to discuss internal conversations.”

The headline on the piece?

Almost tragically, it is “Rival Themes Emerge as Race Enters Final Weeks: Covid vs. Law and Order”, with a subhead that characterizes the logline for the piece as “The national political conventions over the last two weeks set the battle lines for the election’s remaining weeks. Joe Biden is focusing on President Trump’s virus management, while the president is hammering a law-and-order message.”

The part about how jazzed Trump is that no one can stop him from breaking the law occurs in the 24th paragraph, after a lot of horse-race style back and forth about messaging and strategy and odds.

Trump’s actual relationship with the New York Times is more complicated than the bitter enmity he publicly evinces. He craves their approval and they crave a Trump they can approve of. It’s inarguable that their coverage of the FBI investigations into his campaign (which they downplayed) and into Clinton’s (which they overplayed) helped him in 2016. It’s possible he would not currently be occupying the White House without that aid.

Here, in this piece, we see more of the same journalistic malpractice that got us here. “He relished the fact that no one could do anything to stop him” ought to be headline news, and certainly would be if it were referring to a Democratic president, most especially one named Clinton.

But then, people expect better of Democrats than they do of Republicans, especially Republicans named Trump. And while no one expects anything of him, our newsmakers and newshakers still insist on molding and modeling him into a figure that fits conventional presidential politics. So this wallbanger of a revelation, this thing that would be a twenty megaton bombshell if it were said of Biden’s campaign, is not only not headline news, it’s buried two dozens paragraphs into a story about political gamesmanship and is presented as nothing more than a little illustrative aside.

This would be bad enough on its own, but the major theme the article ascribes to the Trump campaign is “law and order”.

I understand that the Times is reporting what Trump seeks to portray his campaign as being about, but I’m not sure the Times understands that they’re allowed to report anything else.

There’s a precept in journalism that goes, “’Dog Bites Man’ isn’t a story. ‘Man Bites Dog’, now that’s a story.”

I’m no journalist but it seems to me that Animal Welfare Activist Who Runs Dog Rescue Bites Dogs Regularly, Laughs When They Cry Out In Pain is just about the biggest version of “Man Bites Dog” you could ever hope to run. The New York Times had that story, and decided it was an anodyne piece about how truly the two candidates inhabit a land of contrasts.

There was no one thing that put Trump over the top electorally in 2016 and if he pulls off the same kind of victory this year it won’t be just one thing, either, but the failure – the willing abdication of duty and unwillingness to learn – of our most venerable journalistic bastions will be among the factors.

If they don’t start figuring things out now, I don’t think they’re going to have another chance to learn the lesson.