Not all liberals. Most are busy with work, family, etc, like normal people. I’m talking about the liberal wing of our well-educated Very Online political class, which collectively fudged its pants last night upon beholding a headline from the paper of record that seemed too credulous of Trump’s good intentions after the El Paso shooting.
Imagine being a bien-pensant intellectual and seeing a positive-sounding headline about that man in your newspaper under these circumstances.
It wasn’t even that positive. “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM” read the banner in the NYT’s print edition last night, which was indeed an accurate summary of Trump’s remarks at the White House yesterday morning. The problem was that it was incomplete. “Unity” normally isn’t a key theme in Trump’s political messaging. Rather the opposite: He’s the guy who’s forever warning that the country is being weakened from without by illegals and from within by leftists, with an emphasis lately on nonwhite leftists like the Squad and Al Sharpton and Elijah Cummings. He’s also the guy who ended up riffing about “some very fine people on both sides” a few days after the last time he tried to unequivocally condemn white nationalists, following Charlottesville. In fact, the Times story that accompanied the Bad Headline made a point of acknowledging that Teleprompter Trump sounds different from Twitter Trump, as WaPo framed the two sides of the president’s public image:
And while he warned of “the perils of the internet and social media,” he offered no recognition of his own use of those platforms to promote his brand of divisive politics. Instead, he focused on a rising intolerance that he has been slow to condemn in the past.
“In one voice our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Mr. Trump said at the White House. “These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”
It seemed unlikely that Mr. Trump’s 10-minute speech, coming after one of the most violent weekends in recent American history, would reposition him as a unifier when many Americans hold him responsible for inflaming racial division. He took no responsibility for the atmosphere of division, nor did he recognize his own reluctance to warn of the rise of white nationalism until now.
So the story itself reflected anti-Trumpers’ criticisms. The headline, which had space for five words or so, did not — and that was enough for an online struggle session. It started slow, with Nate Silver sniffing that “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM” isn’t the headline he would have chosen, but then Democratic politicians got involved and the race to virtue-signal most effusively began.
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 6, 2019
Lives literally depend on you doing better, NYT. Please do. https://t.co/L4CpCb8zLi
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 6, 2019
Let this front page serve as a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by – and often relies upon – the cowardice of mainstream institutions. https://t.co/ynjgtT66yI
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 6, 2019
The virtue-signaling got louder as journalists started getting into the act, per WaPo…
This is the “Dewey Defeats Truman” of racism. pic.twitter.com/G3GfM3VqB5
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) August 6, 2019
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) August 6, 2019
I write for the NYT. This is a terrible headline. https://t.co/ODa8SUK9wf
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) August 6, 2019
…until inevitably we arrived at maximum virtue, the subscription cancellation threat:
It doesn't matter that the underlying journalism is often very good. Headlines matter more than ever – that's the reality of the industry. Refusing to take that seriously is a sign of a failing institution that is not up to the challenge. I'll spend my money on other outlets.
— Adam Jentleson 🎈 (@AJentleson) August 6, 2019
I canceled my subscription. I know a lot of folks will tell me I'm wrong. I will miss it. But I can't keep rewarding such awful news judgment. "Trump Urges Unity Against Racism" is almost as bad as their full-page Comey letter coverage just before 2016 election. Nobody learns. https://t.co/FNUyXN9TmB
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) August 6, 2019
Naturally the Times stood by its copy editors, refused to change the headline, and told the lefty activist class to find better things to do with its time than run heats in the Outrage Olympics. No, no, I’m kidding: American institutions have learned over the last few years not to make enemies of the left when they’re united behind a cause du jour. The paper quickly changed the headline for its second print run to “ASSAILING HATE BUT NOT GUNS,” which didn’t solve the problem of the original headline but did at least signal disapproval of Trump. Then the paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, genuflected by acknowledging to the Daily Beast that the Bad Headline was Bad:
“It was written on deadline and when it was passed along for approval we all saw it was a bad headline and changed it pretty quickly,” Baquet texted The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning as critics continued to vent their outrage on social media.
Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Washington think tank the Center for American Progress, was typical of the Times’ army of critics, implying that the paper had caved to Trump’s constant attacks on the news media.
“What makes Trump happy is the ability to attack the press in the morning, and then precisely because of his bullying, they accept his narrative that he’s fighting racism,” she tweeted. “Nothing makes him happier. Indeed, he wants media that kowtow to him to flourish.”
Tanden added: “There are really amazing reporters at this newspaper who are let down by this bullshit.”
The punchline: Other papers across the country also framed their lead stories with “TRUMP DENOUNCES RACISM” headlines or ones to that effect, which was, after all, the point of his speech. Questions about his sincerity naturally were left to the body of the accompanying story, not for lack of nerve in wanting to criticize the president — imagine that, after more than two years of the media pounding him — but because of space constraints. Headlines don’t typically contain nuance, right? But this is a special case, a rare moment when Democrats are on offense against Trump amid the gravest of circumstances; and the Times is a special paper, not just the paper of record but their paper. Their paper is supposed to editorialize aggressively for them when they have Trump momentarily on his back foot. It failed, and so it must be punished.