Seven Takeaways From the Times Journalists Who Cover Trump

Seven Takeaways From the Times Journalists Who Cover Trump

“He’s a 71-year-old man,” she said, adding that she doesn’t expect him to change.

2. This might be the most transparent presidency ever.

All three panelists agreed: Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed offers a remarkably transparent window into the president’s thinking.

“In this way, at least,” Peter said, “it’s the most transparent presidency we have had in our lifetime — and maybe ever.”

“It’s like watching Robert Caro unfold in real time,” Dean added.

And while we’re on the subject of Twitter …

3. No, ignoring the president’s tweets is not an option.

“Oh come on,” Peter said, responding to a question from the Facebook Live audience. “So, if The New York Times didn’t write about the tweets, the 40 million people reading them — and the other millions more who would be retweeting — would suddenly not pay attention, or not care?” he asked.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Peter continued. “What he does, for good or bad, is the most central part of our coverage of the government.”

Maggie added: “That’s the definition of bias: If we decided not to cover the president of the United States.”

(Maggie, usually prolific on Twitter, is in the middle of a weeklong hiatus from the platform. “It’s a cleanse,” she said. “I’m doing the Twitter juice diet.”)

4. When it comes to anonymous sources, transparency with readers is paramount.

Anonymous sourcing has been a key component to The Times’s coverage of the Trump administration, which has been plagued by a steady flow of internal leaks.

But, as one audience member noted, readers often feel ambivalent about articles that use anonymous sources — especially readers who are not familiar with The Times’s guidelines for the practice.

“First of all: We try not to use anonymous sources,” Dean said. “And I feel very strongly that anonymous sources should not be able to have quotations,” and should only state facts, he said.

For the most consequential White House stories, Dean himself has to approve the use of anonymous sources. “And when we do more routine anonymous source stories, whether it’s from the White House or not,” he explained, “senior editors have to know the names of sources, and the circumstances.”

The protocol is strict “because we can’t afford to get it wrong,” he added. “And I think we should probably be transparent with people about that.”

(Interested in learning more about our guidelines regarding anonymous sources? Read on.)

5. Leak investigations are a real threat.

For journalists who cover the president, his heated rhetoric against the press — while sometimes alarming — is generally tolerable. “I don’t care about the name calling,” Peter said. “We’re big boys and girls; we can take it.”

“What would be disturbing,” he added, “is if that then trails into actual changes in our ability to do our job.”

One such potential change? The threat of leak investigations, which Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reported are increasing dramatically.

It would be “beyond the pale,” Dean said, if the Trump administration had subpoenaed phone records, or had gotten secret warrants for phone records, of New York Times reporters — or if they were wiretapping phones.

But it’s not out of the question, Dean conceded.

“The previous administration did things that made us very uncomfortable, despite their saying more positive things about the press,” he said. “So this administration makes me nervous in that regard.”

6. Personal opinions have no place in the news report.

Fun fact: Peter hasn’t voted since he first joined the White House beat, four presidencies ago. “I stopped doing anything that could be perceived as taking a personal position,” he said.

As to the charge that The Times has a liberal bias, Peter drew a distinction between the paper’s news report and its opinion pages.

“If it were up to me, we wouldn’t have editorials, because I think it confuses readers into thinking we’re a liberal paper,” Peter said.

“I don’t consider myself to be a liberal,” he added. “I don’t think that most people I work with consider themselves to be particularly ideological.”

“The only editorial page I read is The Wall Street Journal,” said Maggie, “and it’s because I just want to understand what is in the mind of Rupert Murdoch, who advises the president.”

“I think we try to play this straight down the middle,” she added.

7. The media bubble is real, and it’s important to step outside of it.

What to make of the so-called “media bubble”? Is it a legitimate threat to understanding and reporting on the Trump administration?

In short, yes.

“I think we spend too much time in New York,” said Dean, adding that, after the election, The Times increased the number of reporters in the Midwest and set about hiring reporters with a broader range of backgrounds and experiences.

“It just so happens that the best media, the most powerful media, are on the coasts,” Dean said. “And we have to be careful.”

“I think it’s a myth, by the way,” he added, “that we’re all New York elites.”

“I grew up in Louisiana. I think my late mother — who did not graduate from junior high school — would be shocked to hear that people think of me as a leader of the media elite.”


Watch the full discussion here:


Full Video: Times Journalists Discuss the Challenges of Covering Trump’s White House

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The New York Times, joins the White House correspondents Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker in a TimesTalk about covering President Trump. The Times’s media columnist, Jim Rutenberg, will moderate.

Publish Date October 12, 2017.


Watch in Times Video »

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