NY Times tells reporters no more Rachel Maddow or Don Lemon appearances

This is an interesting development. Vanity Fair reported today that NY Times executive editor Dean Baquet has decided it’s a problem to have his allegedly down-the-middle news reporters appearing on left-leaning MSNBC and CNN shows. Baquet is now telling them to turn down invitations to appear on Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Don Lemon. That may not be a comprehensive list but at least those three are out:

On Sunday, May 19, New York Times finance editor David Enrich got a request from a producer at MSNBC to appear on Rachel Maddow’s show the following night…

Enrich said yes, but after mentioning the planned appearance to the Times’s communications department, he was told he would have to retroactively decline. The reason? The Times was wary of how viewers might perceive a down-the-middle journalist like Enrich talking politics with a mega-ideological host like Maddow.

The Times has come to “prefer,” as sources put it, that its reporters steer clear of any cable-news shows that the masthead perceives as too partisan, and managers have lately been advising people not to go on what they see as highly opinionated programs. It’s not clear how many shows fall under that umbrella in the eyes of Times brass, but two others that definitely do are Lawrence O’Donnell’s and Don Lemon’s, according to people familiar with management’s thinking. Hannity’s or Tucker Carlson’s shows would likewise make the cut, but it’s not like Times reporters ever do those anyway. I’m told that over the past couple of months, executive editor Dean Baquet has felt that opinionated cable-news show are getting, well, even more opinionated. Baquet and other managers have become increasingly concerned that if a Times reporter were to go on one of these shows, his or her appearance could be perceived as being aligned with that show’s political leanings. “He thinks it’s a real issue,” one of my Times sources said. “Their view,” said another, “is that, intentionally or not, it affiliates the Times reporter with a bias.”

That last paragraph strikes me as unintentionally funny. The author is in the midst of hashing out whether this policy is appropriate or necessary and then admits in passing that no NY Times journalist would ever appear on the equivalent right-wing programs, some of which are literally airing at the same time as Maddow and Don Lemon. This sort of suggests that it’s not just a perception of bias that’s the problem here but actual, old-fashioned liberal media bias.

There’s no way to know for sure what motivated this, but I wonder if Ted Koppel’s rant about CNN and MSNBC last October had anything to do with it. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

In the first half of this clip, Koppel makes some blunt points about how the media has changed from what it was 40-50 years ago and how, as a result of the blending of news and commentary, the public now believes everyone on TV has an agenda.

Koppel tells the story of a reporter from the NY Times who he tried to get as a guest on his show decades ago. The reporter was told by the Times’ executive editor Abe Rosenthal that he could go on Koppel’s show, but if he did he couldn’t return to the Times. “His point being two-fold. One, you work for the Times and that’s all I want you to do. And two, Koppel’s going to ask you a lot of provocative questions and I don’t want my NY Times reporters expressing opinions.”

“Well them days is long past,” Koppel said. He continued, “From Morning Joe to Rachel at night, on CNN, on MSNBC the spear-carriers are there from the NY Times, from the Washington Post.”

At the same event, Koppel told CNN’s Brian Stelter, “CNN’s ratings would be in the toilet without Donald Trump.” Stelter argued a bit but admitted that ratings were up sharply thanks to Trump. That clip circulated pretty widely and I think it’s possible that Baquet may have seen it or at least heard about it. Maybe it reminded him that things used to be different.

On that point, an unidentified source told Vanity Fair the new booking paradigm was a mistake for the NY Times: “At the moment that Donald Trump became president, and print media was coincidentally in crisis mode from a business perspective, a significant contributor to the success of publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post was the exposure that their great work got on networks like MSNBC and CNN. They are the beneficiaries of some very positive exposure for their journalists.”

In other words, the Times and the Post also benefited, albeit indirectly, from all that non-stop anti-Trump coverage at CNN and MSNBC. No argument here. In fact, I’m fairly certain Ted Koppel would agree. But if the underlying argument is that bashing Trump has been good for everyone, doesn’t that just prove Koppel was right about what’s motivating this? The problem is that while it may be good for the bottom line, it hasn’t helped the credibility of these outlets which reveal themselves to be partisans. It seems Dean Baquet has finally decided to act like that still matters. That’s something I guess, but it won’t change the fact that the NY Times is a left-leaning paper full of left-leaning journalists. It just means they won’t be quite as obvious about revealing it.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on February 02, 2023