Twitter is mean to The New York Times, both as an institution and as it’s represented by its most prominent and well-remunerated reporters. Sometimes this bothers me, because some of it is still the standard old racist garbage the paper has been targeted by since the civil rights movement, from way before I was born, through today.
Then there’s Our Modern Era! when despite Progress, some of the paper’s best Black and female reporters are every day savaged. Former Trump White House scoopmeister Maggie Haberman has come in for some of the worst abuse; I always see a little bit of sexism there, until she issues another one of her clueless “Oh c’mon Maggie; really?” tweets.
One came Thursday, as she promoted her new book about (who else) Donald Trump, titled forlornly Confidence Man. She played off the slightly shocking news that not only had Trump torn up executive papers he didn’t like, he occasionally ate them (?), and also caused minor plumbing problems in the White House. Or as Haberman told us, from her book: “Here’s some reporting from the book’s later years—White House residence staff periodically found papers had clogged a toilet, leaving staff believing Trump had flushed material he’d ripped into pieces.”
I mean, the idea that Trump ate documents is on one level worse. I think? But the idea that he flushed them leaves the question of whether staff had to… resurface them? And maybe put them back together?
Either way (she offered no guidance), Maggie’s toilet tweet did not go over well on Twitter. Many people understandably asked why we hadn’t read this disgusting scoop in the Times, you know, back in the day—the day it might have warned voters against him. And that frenzy led to the other worst New York Times Twitter genre: staff writers defending their own. Look, I love loyalty. I expect it from some people. When we were at a recent Nation conference, Elie Mystal had my back and I had his. (That’s all I’m going to say. If you want more, we’ll send routing instructions.)
But the sad Times habit of falling in for your kinfolk disrespects your readers. As did (my friend, a great writer) Nick Confessore when he tweeted this and then deleted it once the damage was done:
Just today at the news meeting, all the reporters chimed in with all the stuff they’re saving for their books. Editors then handed out bonuses based on how much each reporter was holding back. It’s how things work in the good ol’ mainstream media.
Yeah, that’s exactly what we think, Nick.
You’re better than that. C’mon. (Hence, you deleted it. We’re both right!)
The point is clear. We critics of the Times are deluded. We just don’t know how those cool meetings go within Timesland. We especially don’t know how the book discussions go. We are benightedly stupid, and (of course) permanently out of the loop. Oh, and jealous. We’re so fuckin’ jealous.
I’m pretty sure that last point is true. At least for me.
But the worst thing about the system of Times defensiveness is that it also ignores genuine feedback and criticism from folks who deserve to weigh in. They’re not powerless or irrelevant in this case.
To me, the most significant detail might be this: The paper, correctly, asked [popular-vote-winning 2016 President] Hillary Clinton for her response to the idea that Trump had in many ways and many places, some of them perhaps obscene, squirreled away illegal documents. How did Clinton’s team feel about what appeared to be a double standard between her document standards and his?
The Times did ask. But it did not use what Clinton said. Can you judge this news value? Clinton spokesperson Nick Merrill tweeted this:
The@nytimes just printed a story on Trump’s mishandling of classified information. They asked for comment from@HillaryClinton’s office as this exposes his hypocrisy. In typical form, the NYT’s editors declined to print the comment, so posting it here.
And here it is: “The two-year frenzy over emails was a political Rorschach test, in which everyone saw something different in what was absolutely nothing. Call it sexism, Republican depravity, ratings hungry media, it’s time we acknowledge it was bullshit, and write that into the history books.”
Unfortunately, not fit for the Times.
So we’re printing it here. Hey, Times folks, we love you. Some of us even acknowledge that we’re jealous of you. We stay up late to see what you’re doing. You have the best newsroom in the country. But when you cover the man who is trying to destroy democracy, you’re still missing the point.
Millions of us take notice, and expect you to do better.