The New York Times doesn’t have much standing to complain about being labeled the “opposition” by the Trump administration, given a column the paper featured on its front page that actually used the word to describe the editorial direction of the Times.
Reporters and editors at the paper were indignant Wednesday when White House chief strategist Steve Bannon labeled mainstream outlets including The New York Times as the “opposition party,” and said the media should “keep its mouth shut.”
“I want you to quote this,” Bannon told TheNYT. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
The reporter who wrote up the interview barely contained his anger over the label in their report, and at least one editor took to Twitter to defend the paper’s “objective” coverage of the election. “To call journalists the opposition misunderstands our role,” editor Patrick LaForge tweeted. “We are not here to help anyone win or lose.”
Any objective observer of the Times’ coverage of the election would at least question LaForge’s assertion. But the paper itself was stunningly revealing regarding its editorial direction when it featured a Jim Rutenberg column on the front page in August headlined, “Trump is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism.” Rutenberg indicated he and his reporter friends were ready to “throw out the textbook” of standard fair journalism practices and pursue an “oppositional” tact in the column.
Here’s the relevant excerpt:
“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?
Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.
But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply? And if they don’t, what should take their place?”
Rutenberg wasn’t the only one talking about ditching even the pretense of objectivity during the campaign, either. Former NPR CEO Ken Stern, not only acknowledged the major media organizations have “abandoned all semblance of objectivity” in an interview, he went so far as to say that it was the right call.
“Trump is an affront to American democracy and common decency, and if this is the price to pay for keeping him out of the White House, so be it,” he told Vanity Fair. “But here is most certainly a price to pay. The next time Fox News or Breitbart caterwaul about media bias, the claim will have substantially more bite to it.”
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