John provided a good rundown of Ben Smith’s interview with New York Times editor Dean Baquet last night. I’ve continued to be impressed by the former Buzzfeed editor’s work since being picked up by the Times. I also find myself wondering how much regret Baquet has had over the decision. The best part of Smith’s interview about how it took so long for the paper to cover the Tara Reade story is that he didn’t have to express a single opinion or say anything critical of his employer. Smith just served up a series of applicable questions that many people were already asking and basically allowed Baquet to dig his own grave.
In addition to the nonsensical nature of Baquet’s answers that John already highlighted, there were a couple of other moments in the interview that were worth a closer look. The first one had to do with the mysterious deletion of a description of Joe Biden’s other “uncomfortable” encounters with women in the past. That edit, which I already wrote about, took place in stealth mode after the article had already been published with no mention of the change being made. A related tweet including the quote was also deleted without comment. Smith asked Baquet why the change was made and this is the answer he received.
Even though a lot of us, including me, had looked at it before the story went into the paper, I think that the campaign thought that the phrasing was awkward and made it look like there were other instances in which he had been accused of sexual misconduct. And that’s not what the sentence was intended to say.
In case you missed the key phrase in that answer, I’ll momentarily hand the microphone over to Alexandra DeSanctis, who picked up on it immediately.
— Alexandra DeSanctis (@xan_desanctis) April 14, 2020
“I think that the campaign thought that the phrasing was awkward…”
There aren’t many ways to parse that statement and none of them paint the New York Times in a very good light. How does Dean Baquet know what Joe Biden’s campaign was “thinking” unless somebody picked up the phone and told them? Is the Times now just receiving their marching orders about what they can and can’t publish about the 2020 election straight from Joe Biden’s campaign staff? Even if we want to assume the best-case scenario here and say that Biden’s team didn’t contact the newspaper to complain, Baquet still admits that what they might think about the phrasing of the story was a consideration in their decision.
Since when does a major American newspaper care what the subject of an article thinks about their coverage? How many times have they stopped to ponder what Donald Trump might “think” about some of their articles covering him and have they made any edits based on that?
Further, as I noted yesterday, awkward or not, the real question is whether or not the deleted portion of the sentence was accurate. Let’s keep in mind that the phrase was “… beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” That sentence didn’t even carry an accusatory tone. It was a simple description of stories that the New York Times has already covered and a description of how some of the women involved said he made them feel. There is nothing inaccurate about it and it’s completely applicable to the story being covered.
The only other part of Smith’s interview I wanted to touch on was the question he asked regarding Bernie Sanders and whether or not his battle with Biden played into their decision to wait so long to cover the Tara Reade story. Here’s the applicable bit.
How do you think about the timing with a story like this? The story broke at a time when Bernie Sanders was deciding whether or not to drop out of the race. Do you feel some obligation to him or to his supporters to try to figure out what’s going on?
At that time, we didn’t know he was about to drop out of the race. I guess everybody knew he was thinking about it. But I thought the biggest obligation we had, frankly, was to the story and to having multiple conversations with Tara Reade. And to be honest at that point it wasn’t like we were in a heated race with the clock ticking. The main obligation was to get a really sensitive story as close to right as we could.
Much like the rest of the interview, this is nonsensical word salad that doesn’t actually address Smith’s question. First of all, if you didn’t know that Sanders was already nearly mathematically eliminated from the nomination and was going to have to withdraw at some point, you shouldn’t be editing a free coupon-clipper handout, to say nothing of the New York Times. Baquet then immediately pivots away from the question and goes back to his insistence that they had to “get the story right.”
The obvious implication is that if they had run the story immediately when Reade first made her claim on March 25th (the way they did with Kavanaugh’s accuser), the attention to such a scandalous tale might have damaged Biden’s campaign and inspired Sanders to stick around longer. And they couldn’t have that, right? The DNC wanted Sanders out once and for all to clear Biden’s glide path to the nomination. Baquet once again fails to even address the question.
I give full credit to Ben Smith for at least making the attempt to get answers on this subject. I’m not impressed with Baquet’s decision to allow the interview to run, however. Why would he object? He took the opportunity to tell his side of the story without addressing the very serious underlying issue. And that’s the obvious liberal bias of the New York Times and their willingness to flush their supposedly sacred journalistic principles if it helps the Democrats.