Update, May 4, 2020: Nikole Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her lead work on the disputed "1619 Project" discussed in this essay.
By Tom Kuntz, RealClearInvestigations
April 29, 2020
The New York Times is widely admired for owning up to its errors. In addition to the corrections it runs each day, it has a tradition of publishing extensive Editor’s Notes and even full-length investigations when it has determined that flawed reporting misled readers and botched the rough first draft of history. Since 2000, these have included lengthy reassessments of its reporting on whether a Chinese American scientist, Wen Ho Lee, had collaborated with the Chinese; the false stories filed by a troubled black reporter, Jayson Blair, and articles regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
The "woke" history of the 1619 Project goes hand in hand with the Old Gray Lady's coverage of Donald Trump, the antithesis of wokeness. Welcome to the Empress's new facts.
During the last few years the Times has published two other sets of deeply flawed articles that also demand such extended corrections: “The 1619 Project” and its Trump-Russia coverage. It is a sign of how much the Times, and mainstream journalism in general, have changed that it appears highly unlikely the “paper of record” will correct the record.
To the contrary, the 1619 Project – blasted by leading historians for gravely distorting the history and legacy of slavery in America – has already been awarded a prestigious George Polk Award and appears to be a front-runner for a Pulitzer Prize this coming Monday.
Similarly, in the face of the Mueller Report’s finding last year of no Trump-Russia collusion, the Times is not giving back the 2018 Pulitzer Prize it won with the Washington Post for coverage that uncritically pushed the conspiracy theories of anti-Trump intelligence sources. (Nor is the Post.) As it withholds from its readers any detailed explanation of its relationship with a vital source of its misleading coverage – Fusion GPS, producer of the discredited Steele dossier at the heart of the affair – the Times continues to publish the spin of intelligence sources trying to discredit or at least blunt continuing federal inquiries into what happened.
The Trump-Russia coverage, even with caveats pinning assertions to sources rather than solid evidence, clearly created a false impression that Donald Trump and his team were in cahoots with the Russians. It’s hard to believe that former Times Executive Editor Max Frankel would have written an op-ed for the paper declaring that an “obvious bargain [was] reached during the campaign of 2016” between the Trump campaign and Russia if he hadn’t read those unmistakable insinuations in the Times. The Trump campaign is suing the Times for libel over Frankel’s claims. (Full disclosure: I was hired as an editor at the Times in 1988 under Frankel.)
A fuller accounting by the Times is especially necessary because the media’s pushing of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories was central to an unprecedented and possibly criminal effort to subvert or remove a president under false pretenses. Unless the Times and other sources come clean about who was feeding them misleading and partisan information, we may never understand this momentous chapter of history.
Protecting confidential sources is, of course, one of the bedrocks of journalism. The free flow of information depends on people being able to share hard truths without jeopardizing their careers or lives.
But not when sources lie or mislead. When that happens, the confidentiality deal is off and “your responsibility would be to set the record straight,” Lynn Walsh, ethics chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, confirmed to me recently in a general conversation about SPJ’s standards for anonymous sourcing.
When sources engage in gross deception on a matter of such import, even committing national security crimes in the process, the news media involved should honor their higher duty – to their readers or viewers – to expose the malfeasance and correct the record.
There’s a less exalted incentive for the Times to revisit its reporting: damage control before the Justice Department releases the findings of prosecutor John H. Durham’s criminal probe of Trump-Russia’s origins.
The auguries, however, are not good. Just this month, when the Times reported newly declassified material showing the FBI was told that the Steele dossier may have been seeded with Russian disinformation, it did not remind readers that it, too, had been fed the dossier by Fusion GPS. Its new article mentioned not a word of an unredacted footnote showing Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson acknowledging to the Justice Department in late December 2016, around the time he says he first passed the dossier to the New York Times, that his "document" relied on a Russian Intelligence Service (RIS) agent "central in connecting Trump to Russia." Here is the footnote in question:
That footnote omission by the Times -- one calling into question Simpson's January 2018 claim to the Times that ''I have not become aware of any disinformation'' in the dossier -- adds to developments that raise doubts about any Times commitment to full transparency on this story. For example:
- The co-founders of Fusion GPS, Simpson and Peter Fritsch, have stated that they were early and influential sources for the Times in their recent book “Crime in Progress.” But though the two describe at length their interactions with the paper, The Times has neither reported the details nor publicly disputed them -- nor have other media that used Fusion as a source.
- Times reporters themselves have publicly called out deception by other important sources – on Twitter but not in print.
- Journalists once employed by BuzzFeed and Politico with key insights into media coverage of the Trump-Russia affair are now working for the Times. This should allow the paper to enlist them in a more honest accounting of the broader Trump-Russia coverage – or not.
The Times did not respond to requests for interviews with journalists knowledgeable about its Trump-Russia coverage.
RealClearInvestigations’ overview of the 1619 Project can be read here, and authoritative critiques of it here, here and here. Solid critiques of Trump-Russia coverage can be found too, though they are scarce in the mainstream press and concern the media in general.
In this commentary, I’ll focus on the new or largely overlooked issues raised about the Times above, from the vantage point of the investigative nonprofit I lead, RealClearInvestigations, which has sought to fill gaps in the reporting since 2016. Then I'll tie the discussion into the 1619 Project.
On Trump-Russia, the need for explanations applies to any deceptive or partisan sources the Times may have relied on – including well-known anti-Trump leakers within the government such as former FBI Director James Comey, and hidden ones such as those who, when the Steele dossier became increasingly discredited, used the Times to put out an implausible new origin story for the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe featuring drinks and vague talk at a London bar by a junior Trump campaign aide.
You haven’t read this in the New York Times: Fusion GPS’s founders confirming in detail how their opposition research outfit was an early Times source.
It is clear now that a prime engine of the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory was the opposition research commissioned from the Washington firm Fusion GPS, paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The so-called Steele dossier – named for the former British spy who helped compile it, Christopher Steele – included a range of wild tales that deeply influenced federal investigations, including kinkiness with Russian prostitutes and cloak-and-dagger intrigue in Prague. While the FBI’s close and credulous relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS has been exposed in a series of news and official reports, media outlets have not been forthcoming about their interactions with the opposition research firm and how and why they followed its lead into the dead end of collusion.
That silence appears increasingly tenuous. In their recent book “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump,” Simpson and Fritsch make detailed claims about their influence on Trump-Russia coverage by the Times and other major news outlets while revealing themselves as collusion bitter-enders:
- Simpson and Fritsch say they met with Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and investigative projects editor Matthew Purdy in Philadelphia on July 26, 2016, during the Democratic National Convention. While agreeing to share information damaging to Trump with the Times, the Fusion pair write, they “established the ground rules for the conversation. Everything Simpson and Fritsch said would be off the record. Baquet and Purdy agreed.”
- Simpson and Fritsch say they arranged a later pre-election meeting at the Tabard Inn in Washington on Sept. 22, 2016 for interviews with Steele by select reporters including Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News, and David E. Sanger of the Times: “The meetings were organized in one-hour sessions, with breaks staggered between the rooms to prevent journalists from bumping into one another as they came and went,” they write.
- Also: “In the meetings, Steele ran through his key findings. He played down the hard-to-confirm details of Trump’s alleged nocturnal exploits during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 … ” This is a reference to his dossier’s false, but soon widely repeated, claims about the existence of video of prostitutes urinating for Trump’s entertainment on a bed in a Moscow hotel room once occupied by the Obamas.
- The Fusion pair also describe their anger over what they derisively dub the Times’s “Halloween Special” – an uncharacteristic Oct. 31, 2016 Times story headlined, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia” by Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers. The Fusion book says that at a December meeting weeks later with top Times reporters at the paper’s Washington bureau, a still-seething Simpson told them: “I think first of all you need to know what an abortion of a story you guys wrote on Halloween. You fucking blew it.” This was the meeting, Simpson and Fritsch write, when they turned over to the Times a redacted copy of the Steele dossier. With that handover coming around the time of a U.S. intelligence assessment orchestrated by CIA Director John Brennan alleging Russian election meddling, the character of the Times’s collusion coverage changed as the story reached a fever pitch in the media.
- The Fusion duo later describe their anger that an unnamed Times reporter outed Fusion as the source of the Steele dossier in a Jan. 11, 2017 article (the context points to Scott Shane), breaking the confidentiality deal they thought they had with the paper. This appeared just after news was leaked of Comey briefing President-elect Trump on the dossier's salacious claims, which BuzzFeed took as a justification to publish the full dossier. The Times article was the first time, and one of the very few times, that the paper tersely disclosed Fusion as a source deep in a story. It hasn't done so in nearly two years, well before the March 2019 release of Mueller's no-collusion finding, which likewise did not explicitly mention Fusion GPS.
There are ample reasons to read the Fusion book with a shaker of rock salt at the ready, and not just because the title “Crime in Progress” refers to the authors’ evident view that Trump-Russia collusion is ongoing or still yet to be exposed.
Still, its claims about the Times, publicly uncontested by the paper, suggest the Fusion pair had ready access to its highest echelons well before the election, never mind the start of collusion hysteria afterward -- with the relationship at times tense. Besides the meetings mentioned above, Simpson and Fritsch indicate they had major pull with other top Times national-security journalists long deployed to the Trump-Russia story, including Mark Mazzetti, Mike McIntire, and Matt Apuzzo as well as Lichtblau, Sanger, Myers and Shane.
Implicitly released from any promise of confidentiality by the disclosures in “Crime in Progress” – and explicitly released from confidentiality under traditional source ethics, given Fusion’s role in a deception of historic proportions -- the Times should not only say whether this and other assertions by Fusion are true but also detail the paper’s relationship with the opposition research firm.
As most of the key claims in the Steele dossier have been debunked – and given allegations that Fusion GPS has smeared people for money – one wonders why the paper ever considered the firm a valuable source. If it had misgivings, why then did it fail to forcefully inform readers of the problems with the Steele dossier as it lent credence to partisan government sources exploiting it in their investigations of Trump?
The Times should also disclose whether it continued to use or would in the future use Fusion GPS or anyone associated with it as a source. This is especially relevant to the 2020 election because the Fusion authors say they are involved with a well-funded successor organization, the Democracy Integrity Project, led by former Democratic Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones. One Fusion entity, Bean LLC, has been listed as a top contractor of the Jones outfit.
Astonishingly, the bulleted book material above detailing New York Times-Fusion GPS interactions has not been mentioned at all in the Times's positive treatment of “Crime in Progress,” including a book review; a glowing column by Michelle Goldberg (advocating that it be made into a movie); and a self-serving op-ed by the authors themselves. (That’s a Times trifecta most authors can only dream of.) The Times is not alone. In the book’s publication rollout, most major media ignored the material mentioned here in generally respectful or positive reviews or interviews. For example, the Washington Post’s review, written by Quinta Jurecic, a deputy editor of the Clinton-friendly Lawfare blog, omits the authors’ claim to have played favorites with Post reporter Tom Hamburger, a former Wall Street Journal colleague of the Fusion pair, chumming out to him at the Democratic convention an early heads-up about the dossier’s “pee tape” story while holding back that historic falsehood from the Times.
On Twitter, Times reporters said Hillary Clinton-tied sources deceived them about the funding of the Steele dossier. But in print the paper has neither identified those who lied nor explained to its readers what happened.
The Times’ interactions with Fusion GPS raise another significant question: Who lied to the paper about the Democratic funding of Fusion and its Steele dossier? The Fusion authors say that when journalists pressed them on their funding, their cryptic, nod-and-a-wink stock answer was: In the beginning, there was a Republican. Then, there was a Democrat. This is a reference to Fusion’s early funding in the Republican primaries by the Washington Free Beacon, backed by billionaire Paul Singer, which ended before Steele was hired but nevertheless became a staple of efforts to imply his work was nonpartisan. (See how Goldberg leaves unclear the sequence of Steele's hiring in her column on “Crime in Progress.”)
Evidently the sketchy Fusion explanation wasn’t good enough for at least two Times journalists, who pressed the issue with the Clinton camp. When it was revealed in court in October 2017 that the Clinton campaign had used a law firm, Perkins Coie, as the cutout to hide its payments to Fusion GPS, the Times reporters expressed outrage – initially. White House correspondent Maggie Haberman tweeted: “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.” Reporter Kenneth P. Vogel tweeted: “When I tried to report this story, Clinton campaign lawyer [Marc Elias] pushed back vigorously, claiming ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’”
But the pair took a far softer tone in the subsequent print story with Vogel's byline and Haberman contributing -- a piece written presumably with the input of editors for the Times’s full readership and not the individual reporters’ smaller Twitter audiences. The pertinent passage says circumspectly: “Earlier this year, Mr. Elias had denied that he had possessed the dossier before the election.” That's a far cry from nailing anyone as a liar about funding the dossier.
As close followers of the 2016 election will recall, hacker intrusions of the Democratic National Committee revealed that Haberman, then of Politico, was viewed as a "friendly journalist" who has “teed up” stories for Clinton staffers in the past and “never disappointed” them.
What are readers to make of Haberman and the Times now, as it pulls its punches on sources whom she accuses of a year's worth of lies to the paper -- especially when Executive Editor Baquet has made it a policy in news stories to call out President Trump as a liar, using that very word? Which other Times reporters were lied to and by whom?
Given the magnitude of the deception – hiding the fact that Clinton and the DNC paid for the bogus claims that helped tie up the first three years of Trump’s presidency – the Times owes it to its readers to not only detail its interactions with the accused liars but say whether it still considers Elias or anyone else at Perkins Coie trustworthy news sources. An admiring profile of Elias written by Vogel and Patricia Mazzei in November 2018 suggests he remains in the paper’s good graces. Again, this question is particularly relevant to the 2020 election, given Elias's and his firm’s history of representing Democratic presidential candidates and his specialty in election law, which could well come into play with a move to controversial mail-in balloting amid coronavirus fears.
And if the Times were to hold deceptive sources to account, it might also clear up the claim in the same Vogel/Haberman article by an unnamed Perkins Coie spokesperson who, in the Times's words, claimed, in October 2017, that “neither the Clinton campaign, nor the D.N.C., was aware that Fusion GPS had been hired to conduct the [dossier] research.” That doesn’t square with the recent report on surveillance abuses from the Justice Department’s Inspector General, which found that more than a year earlier, in July 2016, ex-British spy Steele informed the FBI in London that the “candidate” – Clinton herself – knew about Steele’s work.
In addition, just this week comes news of Steele's sworn testimony in a British court that not only did Perkins Coie funnel Clinton and Democratic money to Fusion for its work, but one of its lawyers, Michael Sussman, actually fed the Brit's dubious research before the 2016 election -- with a since-debunked tip about a clandestine channel from Russia's Alfa Bank to the Trump Organization.
BuzzFeed and the New York Times – not just the FBI or Democrats – share blame for smearing the reputation of Carter Page.
To provide an accurate account of how media outlets were used by Trump’s opponents to push conspiracy theories, the Times should also address the pivotal misinformation spread by some of its journalists before they joined the paper.
On December 9, the Department of Justice’s inspector general confirmed that the FBI never had any real evidence against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page when it dishonestly secured warrants from a surveillance court to spy on him – and by extension, many believe, the broader Trump campaign.
This exculpation followed years of media coverage of Page insinuating that he was a Russian spy or at best a Kremlin dupe – an impression formed by a seminal April 3, 2017, BuzzFeed exclusive that shaped coverage of Page for more than two years.
“A former campaign adviser for Donald Trump met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013,” the BuzzFeed article declared in its opening sentence. The next day’s Times pursued the storyline, reporting that an FBI investigation found that before he joined the Trump campaign, Page, an energy consultant, had been in contact with at least one Russian spy working undercover out of Moscow’s U.N. office in 2013.
The BuzzFeed article – written by Ali Watkins, who was hired by the Times eight months later -- was very misleading. And not just because the traitorous-sounding documents turned out later in the piece to be ho-hum energy research. As Page told Paul Sperry of RealClearInvestigations in 2018, the 2013 meeting was consequential because, right after it, he became not an FBI suspect but a bureau asset. In fact, his inadvertent contact with the Russian agent helped the FBI convict the spy in question, an account that jibes with court evidence -- and fits with a Justice Department Inspector General's revelation still to come.
Nothing like Page’s account to Sperry made it into the Times or BuzzFeed, as House Democrats spun Page’s interaction with the bureau as evidence the FBI had longstanding fears that he might be a Russian spy. Did the Times bother to ask the bureau about its interactions with Page? Was it told that he had been an asset, or not? If the Times was fed a lie about Page, by whom?
Fast-forward to December’s Inspector General report, which debunks Democrats’ dark claims about Page. To the contrary, it further burnished the impression of Page as Boy Scout, saying an FBI agent hid the fact that Page served as a CIA operational contact from 2008-2013, on top of the cooperation with the FBI that Page describes, ending in a 2016 meeting that Page claims was simply a tying up of loose ends in the 2013 spy case.
After two years of Times stories about Page -- including a snarky magazine piece casting him as a “squirrelly and inconsistent” oddball whose words “sounded like the ravings of a mad man – not to mention a narcissist” – the Times was finally forced to acknowledge the quirky Page’s patriotic side. It was buried in paragraph 27 of its story on the IG report.
Even this came only after the Times, repeating a pattern of carrying its sources’ misleading advance spin on damaging news, previewed the report about violations of Page's constitutional rights with this headline (italics mine): “Russia Inquiry Review Is Said to Criticize F.B.I. but Rebuff Claims of Biased Acts.” In that article, the duplicitous agent was identified but somehow his worst misdeed was not: hiding the fact that a Trump man long cast as Benedict Arnoldski was more like Jack Ryan. Talk about "squirrelly." Can the Times tell us who was being squirrelly here?
And as others have asked, paraphrasing a famous quote from wrongly accused Reagan Labor Secretary Ray Donovan, where does Carter Page go to get his reputation back?
Maybe the Times? Last year BuzzFeed’s editor, Ben Smith, moved to the Times as a media columnist, joining his onetime charge Watkins. Both were curious hires. Smith made the decision in January 2017 to publish the lurid and debunked Steele dossier, a move the Times would not countenance. Months after her hiring, Watkins was revealed in court to have had an affair while at BuzzFeed with an intelligence source, James A. Wolfe, in a leak prosecution apparently fed in part by FBI suspicions over how she got her Carter Page scoop. She was packed off to the Times metro desk, but not fired.
Still, perhaps those two could help the Times redeem itself on aspects of the Trump-Russia story. Does Smith still believe that "the broad outline of what Steele was writing is unquestionably true," as he told Vanity Fair less than a year and a half ago? Why did Watkins continue to write about Carter Page for the Times after telling a Times editor weeks earlier "about her previous relationships with staff members of the Senate [intelligence] committee," including Wolfe? And why did the nearly 3,400-word Times exegesis of the Watkins mess not address her Carter Page article for the Times? And what does "previous relationships" with Senate staff members, plural, mean anyhow? At the very least, a corrective restoration of Page’s reputation seems to be in order, with play higher than the 27th paragraph. Or maybe it would be in an earlier Times era.
As a confidential source, Glenn Simpson in 2016 pitched to Times journalists and others the same sort of dirt on Paul Manafort and Ukraine that was also being peddled by a Democratic operative whose efforts were disclosed in Politico by a reporter now at the New York Times. The Times hasn't explained this coincidence and much else about the Ukraine story.
A Times re-evaluation of its reporting should not stop at how and why the paper advanced the false narrative of Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 election. The newspaper is also in a prime position to detail the story of foreign meddling that it ignored – Ukraine’s coordination with Clinton operatives.
As a writer at Politico in early 2017, current Timesman Kenneth Vogel co-authored (with David L. Stern) a groundbreaking article reporting that a Democratic National Committee operative, Alexandra Chalupa, had worked with Ukrainian officials to uncover and spread allegations of past corrupt political-consulting work in Ukraine by Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s first campaign manager.
Chalupa, however, wasn’t the only Democratic operative pushing Manafort dirt originating in Ukraine. In "Crime in Progress," Simpson confirms he was too -- and, like Chalupa, he was being paid by the DNC at least part of the year. While Simpson’s funding was probably unknown then, his anti-Manafort efforts were an open secret to journalists covering the 2016 campaign, but not much reported, if at all, given his insistence on confidentiality.
Conspicuously – to me at least – Politico’s nearly 6,000-word deep dive into Chalupa’s efforts does not mention Simpson or Fusion GPS.
This raises a series of questions that the Times, as Vogel’s employer, is in a unique position to answer: Why did Simpson's well-known work feeding the press go unmentioned in the Chalupa exposé? Was Simpson an unnamed confidential source for Politico as he was for the Times and other news organizations? More important, were Simpson's and Chalupa's efforts coordinated in any way? Or were they just separate DNC-tied, Clinton-tied, anti-Manafort-dirt-dishing ships in the night on parallel courses bent on torpedoing Trump?
A comparison of the Fusion book with Vogel and Stern’s Politico article won't dispel suspicions that Chalupa and Simpson were acting in tandem. Both Simpson and Chalupa, a Ukrainian-American Democrat who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House, had long been fixated on Paul Manafort. For her anti-Manafort "crusade," Politico reported, Chalupa "provided off-the-record information and guidance to 'a lot of journalists' working on stories related to Manafort and Trump’s Russia connections." In his book, Simpson acknowledges doing the same – and one journalist whom both fed was Mike Isikoff of Yahoo News.
The Politico piece noted that Chalupa "connected" Isikoff with Ukrainian journalists at a Library of Congress gathering in Washington. In his book, Simpson boasts of telling Times editor Matthew Purdy about "a muckraking former journalist in the Ukrainian parliament" as "a source the Times might want to try" – a source who, the Fusion book says, provided the Times some of the ledger records of "illicit payments to Manafort" that, once disclosed, helped get him fired from the Trump campaign. (Curiously, the Simpson-Fritsch op-ed in the Times recounts the same exclusive with all credit to the paper -- leaving out Simpson's catalyzing role as described in the book.)
These interactions seem especially significant given the foreign meddling detailed in the Politico article – which was headlined “Ukraine efforts to sabotage Trump backfire” – and the central role that Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 campaign played in the 2019-2020 Trump impeachment hearings.
Tellingly, the Times and other news organizations still refuse to identify the Ukraine whistleblower on the National Security Council who touched off the impeachment, even though his name is widely known in Washington.
In an October article for RealClearInvestigations, Paul Sperry took on that open secret and fleshed out the biographical details of Eric Ciaramella. It turns out he was Vice President Joe Biden's point man on Ukraine, and had invited Chalupa into the White House for meetings during the 2016 campaign. Right after Trump took office in 2017, Sperry reported, Ciaramella was overheard discussing the need to "take out" or remove Trump with an NSC colleague who later turned up on the House Intelligence Committee staff of impeachment-minded Rep. Adam Schiff. That conversation took place more than two years before the public heard of the whistleblower in the pages of the Times or elsewhere.
Given the wider pattern of avoiding questions that might raise troubling issues about its coverage of the Trump presidency, the refusal of the Times – and most mainstream news organizations – to name the widely outed Ciaramella seems to have less to do with protecting a public-spirited “whistleblower” from retaliation than with creating an excuse to not investigate his motives.
In light of the above, I don't think Americans have heard the full story of Ukraine and the Trump presidency – and by extension the full story on Trump-Russia. In fact, Trump-Russia may be a misnomer. Rather than successive episodes, the Trump-Russia and Trump-Ukraine affairs seem to have been intertwined in an anti-Trump continuum from the start.
Maybe the New York Times can enlighten us as to whether this is the case or not, with the help of Vogel. As Baquet told the Washington Post, "I believe Ken has done amazing work on this story."
The 'Woke-ing' of the New York Times
As much as I hope the Times will continue its distinguished tradition of correcting its mistakes, I doubt it will regarding its Trump-Russia coverage. The departures from journalistic norms just look too purposeful.
Having worked as an editor at the Times for 28 years before leaving (on good terms) in early 2016, I know that the flaws in that reporting are not an outlier. They flow, instead, from an evolving culture that abandoned the let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may ethic of traditional journalism to one that embraces partisan and results-oriented agendas.
The clearest recent example of this transformation is another high-profile, deeply flawed effort, the 1619 Project.
Published last August, the series of 18 articles and 15 artistic contributions dates the founding of the U.S. to the introduction of slavery in the American colonies in 1619. Its lead essay by Times reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones asserts that the ideals of liberty and equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence were a “lie” to the founders who birthed them but ultimately realized by African Americans who fought for them, largely alone. Viewing all of U.S. history through the lens of race and subjugation, the 1619 Project is less a work of revisionist history than advocacy -- one already being used to change the teaching of American history with related course materials distributed widely to schools. Hannah-Jones has acknowledged that "1619" intentionally dismissed the contributions of white people toward racial healing while admitting she wants the project to energize the call for reparation payments to African Americans.
Agree or disagree, that is not the journalism of A.M. “Abe” Rosenthal, the Times executive editor of the 1970s and 1980s who, as his epitaph says, “kept the paper straight,” or tried to.
But the 1619 Project itself did not appear out of thin air. It is the result of the long diversity push within the newspaper and of the left’s wider recent embrace of progressively byzantine identity politics, including among “woke” upper-middle-class whites who are the foundation of the paper’s business model.
As British writer Douglas Murray writes in his recent book “The Madness of Crowds,” this trend showed up in the Times with a studied emphasis on stories concerning race, gender and sexual identity, "perhaps making up for lost time, or perhaps just rubbing things in the faces of those not yet up to speed with the changed mores of the age. Either way something strange and vaguely retributive is in the air."
Once one concludes that it is right and good to shape the news to advance the ideological ends of diversity, it is a small step to do the same in coverage of a president whom most of your readers loathe.
Don’t take my word for it. The newspaper admitted its departure from traditional journalism on Aug. 16, 2016 when it ran a front-page column outlining a rationale for abandoning objectivity toward Trump “in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment.” Dean Baquet’s predecessor as Executive Editor, Jill Abramson – no conservative she, nor an ardent Baquet fan – in her recent book “Merchants of Truth” ties the change to the rise of a new generation in the Times newsroom. “The more ‘woke’ staff thought that urgent times called for urgent measures,” she writes. “The dangers of Trump’s presidency obviated the old standards.”
This approach informs Baquet’s decision to allow his reporters to call Trump a liar in supposedly objective news stories as well as opinion columns. It’s also evident in the abandonment of norms regarding anonymous sourcing outlined in this essay. Such detours from journalistic practice have won the paper both plaudits and opprobrium. But in a highly polarized country, with a relentlessly toxic Internet culture toughening skins, the incoming fire is tolerable damage. The Times's well-heeled core audience is its salvation from digital extinction as readers have rewarded it with a subscription and ad-revenue boom.
For me, the issue is journalistic integrity. Ideology and journalism do not mix because ideology wants an outcome and good journalism does not. Ideology dictates a blatant double standard for coverage of sexual misconduct charges -- think of what Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh endured in his confirmation hearings and the Times's deferential treatment of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
And ideology leaves you prone to ignoring or denying or rationalizing problems that arise from it. The paper in 2018 brushed off as non-fireable offenses the viciously anti-white past tweets of a newly hired opinion writer, noting that this “young Asian woman” had been victimized by online bullying. It did this just months after hiring, then quickly firing, another editorial page contributor, a white female and self-described queer activist, who committed what appears to be the more egregious diversity sin of invoking black and anti-gay slurs in several tweets.
Against this problematic and bizarre fixation with identity politics, any re-evaluation or corrective regarding the 1619 Project seems as unlikely as any mea culpa involving the Trump-Russia coverage.
The “woke” pseudo-history of the 1619 Project and coverage of Donald Trump, the antithesis of wokeness, are two sides of a coin that the Times is not about to let out of its grasp. Should the 1619 Project win Pulitzer acclaim next week, the Old Gray Lady’s admirers can celebrate a fairy tale ending for woke journalism -- not the emperor’s new clothes, but the empress’s new facts.