John covered the story last night so there is really no need to go through all the tawdry details. The short version of the genesis of the story is that a New York Times reporter, out at a public but not political event, was overheard by someone fairly famous referring to the First Lady as having previously been employed in the world’s oldest profession. This is clearly not criminal behavior but it’s also not the sort of thing one can get away with depending on who you are and where you work. If that a been a politician saying it they probably would’ve already resigned their office before you heard about it. In this case, the end result was a statement from the New York Times indicating that the reporter in question had received some counseling and understood that the language was inappropriate so no more need be said.

I was curious how the rest of the media would respond to this. After all, we still don’t even (officially) know the name of the reporter. What we do know is that the repercussions for this incident turned out to be essentially nothing. Before too much time had elapsed we got the response from the Washington Post, delivered by Eric Wemple. Let’s see what Eric has to say.

Where does this put the New York Times? Are private discussions now part of the newspaper’s guidelines? Not quite, according to New York Times associate managing editor for standards Phil Corbett. In an email to the Erik Wemple Blog, Corbett noted that “this was apparently said at an event with a lot of people around, so really not a private conversation. It’s not like we’re policing what people say to their spouses at the dinner table. The reporter realizes it was inappropriate.”

Inappropriate and dangerous: Trump and her lawyers have spent recent months pursuing defamation cases against a Maryland blogger as well as Britain’s Mail Media — owner of the Daily Mail — for reports that Trump had worked as an escort. Though the original Daily Mail piece included a denial of the false claim, her lawyers insist that the report has limited her business horizons at a time when she’d be “one of the most photographed women in the world.” A settlement was recently reached with the Maryland blogger.

So if I’m reading this correctly it seems that the rest of the media cohort are in agreement with the results and how the Gray Lady handled this. The only topic of debate appears to be whether or not this qualified as a “private conversation” since it took place at a crowded public gathering and not around the employee’s dinner table at home. Beyond that, the primary concern seems to be whether or not mean old Donald Trump will sue them. Seriously? Yet again I find myself shaking my head and wondering how precisely prominent figures in the mainstream media don’t seem to be getting it.

Sadly we need to start this game with the standard question of “what would happen if so-and-so did this?” As I alluded to above, if there were a politician (preferably a Republican) at that same event and the person overhearing the remark were a reporter, there is absolutely no question in my mind as to what would have happened and I defy anyone at either the Washington Post or the New York Times to challenge me on this. The comment would have been confirmed with someone else nearby if possible and it would then have shown up as breaking news on their website and been prominently featured in the print edition the next day. The politician in question would be peppered with inquiries from the press, likely have to hold a press conference and, in a worst-case scenario, potentially resign.

Here’s where the wheels come off the wagon. The media is part of the game whether or not they choose to admit it. While it clearly doesn’t get reported often enough, the appearance of bias or lack thereof in the mainstream media has brought the Fifth Estate fully onto the playing field of American politics. Part of the ongoing questions that journalism must face is how much the overwhelming liberal influence of newspaper editorial boards washes over into the newsroom, showing up in the attitudes of the hard news reporters and the way they select their stories and depict them. The reporter in question here may indeed not be someone who doesn’t regularly cover politics or affairs in Washington DC. That’s really not the point. They’re being described as a reporter and as such they are part of the culture of the newsroom.

The Washington Post and the New York Times may both be willing to brush this off as a relatively harmless event and insist that what their reporters do in their off time is irrelevant to this debate. In response, I would posit that this is precisely why national trust levels in the media are at all-time lows.