Unethical Donald Trump Quote Of The Day: Whatever It Was That He Told The New York Times “Off The Record” That The Times Unethically And Unprofessionally Allowed Its Staff To Talk About, Putting Trump In An Impossible Bind That He Should Have Been Able To Rely On A Respected News Source Not To Put Him In…


Let me be clear: The New York Times has shown itself to be partisan, untrustworthy, and no longer fit to be regarded as the flagship of American journalism. The fact that they did this at the expense of Donald Trump, an existential danger to U.S. culture and governance, in no way mitigates the betrayal of journalistic ethics the Times’ conduct represents.

From Buzzfeed:

The New York Times is sitting on an audio recording that some of its staff believes could deal a serious blow to Donald Trump, who, in an off-the-record meeting with the newspaper, called into question whether he would stand by his own immigration views.

Trump visited the paper’s Manhattan headquarters on Tuesday, Jan. 5, as part of a round of editorial board meetings that — as is traditional — the Democratic candidates for president and some of the Republicans attended. The meetings, conducted partly on the record and partly off the record in a 13th-floor conference room, give candidates a chance to make their pitch for the paper’s endorsement.

After a dispute over Trump’s suggestion of tariffs on Chinese goods, the Times released a portion of the recording. But that was from the on-the-record part of the session.

On Saturday, columnist Gail Collins, one of the attendees at the meeting (which also included editor-in-chief Dean Baquet), floated a bit of speculation in her column:

The most optimistic analysis of Trump as a presidential candidate is that he just doesn’t believe in positions, except the ones you adopt for strategic purposes when you’re making a deal. So you obviously can’t explain how you’re going to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, because it’s going to be the first bid in some future monster negotiation session.

Sources familiar with the recording and transcript — which have reached near-mythical status at the Times — tell me that the second sentence is a bit more than speculation. It reflects, instead, something Trump said about the flexibility of his hardline anti-immigration stance.

So what exactly did Trump say about immigration, about deportations, about the wall? Did he abandon a core promise of his campaign in a private conversation with liberal power brokers in New York?

Sure, I’d like to know. I’d love to know if the single issue that has made Trump the most unqualified and unfit Presidential nomination front-runner in U.S. history has been manipulated by him to gull his easily gullible, “poorly educated” supporters. Maybe the knowledge that he has no intention of deporting millions and building a wall would make them see him as the cynical con man he obviously is. That doesn’t matter, though. We shouldn’t know what Trump said off the record, and we shouldn’t  know that any off-the-record comments were made. That the New York Times’ staff is so undisciplined and unethical that it would gossip about such a session shows the paper’s commitment to principles of journalism ethics to be inadequate for a small town weekly rag.

This is a paper, and an industry, sworn to protect the identities of confidential sources that may be law-breaking government leakers, ethics violating lawyers and military officers, criminals or traitors—arrogantly protects them, defiantly protects them, citing a danger to a free and independent press when their reporters have been ordered to reveal them, even to the point of going to jail. Yet when Donald Trump—whom the Times detests— is the source whose identity and interests are at risk—and off-the-record comments are exactly like confidential information from protected sources, the Times staff feels that it’s acceptable to ignore that promise of confidentiality. This is an organizational ethics failure.

Naturally, Ted Cruz and others have seized on the revelation to demand Trump authorize the Times to reveal what he said. Now the Times is standing on principles of journalism ethics, but the damage has been done. As Cruz says, why wouldn’t Trump release let the comments be released, unless they show him to be grandstanding and misrepresenting his position? This is exactly like Hillary Clinton’s Goldman Sachs transcript dilemma, but with a big difference: nobody breached an ethical duty by revealing that the speeches were made.

The Times’ disgraceful conduct in this matter undermines the ability of all news media to argue that core journalism ethics should  be respected by the public and by the courts. The Times represents itself as a role model. It cannot assert then ignore journalism ethics at its whim. Thus…

  • The Times owes Trump an apology for breaking its promise to him.
  • Collins must be suspended.
  • A Times  investigation should identify every employee who allowed the existence of the Trump recording to reach “near mythical status” and to leak out to other media, and fire each one.

No news source should trust the Times, its journalists, columnists or reporters again until these three things have occurred.

15 thoughts on “Unethical Donald Trump Quote Of The Day: Whatever It Was That He Told The New York Times “Off The Record” That The Times Unethically And Unprofessionally Allowed Its Staff To Talk About, Putting Trump In An Impossible Bind That He Should Have Been Able To Rely On A Respected News Source Not To Put Him In…

  1. I agree with your conclusions as to what the Times “should” do; however, I think it is highly unlikely that they would resort to defaming themselves in such a memorable manner. What I think is much more likely is they will just take the temporary heat, do nothing, and just let it all melt away with the winter snow melt; after-all, the public has no stamina for actually remembering anything as trivial as an unethical breach of confidence by journalist – ethics and journalism no longer mix in the minds of the public. Plus, we all know that the political left certainly won’t hold a grudge against them for such an unethical breach of confidence when it comes to releasing something related to the words spoken by what they perceive as a “Republican”; any smear no matter how it’s handled is acceptable when smearing a “Republican”.

    The ends justify the means.

  2. Or this episode should call into question the ethics involved in “off the record” caveats…

    “Hey media, I don’t want you tell anyone this, so it’s off the record”

    Shouldn’t that be “I don’t want you to publish this, so I’m not going to tell you”

    Is the public figure friends with the journalist and engaging them *as friends*?

    Then friendship ethics should apply- can you trust your friends to oblige their duty towards you?

    • As you know, I detest anonymous everything. Then again, this an important tool of news reporting and always has been, and promises should be kept, even promises to keep the confidences of people who broke promises when they talked to you. This is a utilitarian area, and one of the easiest to justify.

      • Jack, this is what I don’t get. Confidentiality is an important tool of news reporting, but, here, the news IS what they are not supposed to report. If someone IN the Trump campaign said , “don’t name me, but Trump plans to cave on his immigration plan,” that is one thing. There, confidentiality serves the public good. Here, confidentiality keeps the story out of the public view, which betrays the function of the press.

        I am not saying your analysis is wrong, but I think you need to connect the dots better. Because, yes, confidentiality is vital to the press’s ability to REPORT the news; it should not be hijacked by Trump to make the press complicit by their FAILURE to report.

        Put another way, confidentiality is usually used to GET reportable info, not confidentiality for its own sake.

        Again, I am not saying you are wrong, I am just not convinced. I don’t know the specific ethical principles implicated, or their explicit purpose, but covering up the truth does not seem to be the mission of the press.

        • “If someone IN the Trump campaign said , “don’t name me, but Trump plans to cave on his immigration plan,” that is one thing. There, confidentiality serves the public good.”

          This is exactly the same thing, though! Exactly. If that person, a female, is asked “How do we know you have any reason to know that Trump’s lying?” and she says,

          “OK, I’ll tell you, but you can print any of this, ever” and they say yes, and she then says, among other things, “I am a special assistant to Trump who was transferred from the Clinton campaign, which is secretly coordinating with Trump. I got into this because Hillary Clinton and I are part of a gay threesome with an illegal Iranian immigrant. Here. I’ll show you a picture from my wallet of me doing a rim job on Hillary—the photographer is Bill, by the way. It turns him on.”

          The Times had to guard that confidence, or reveal it and go out of business.

          • Yeah. Elaborating a bit, the first case is off-the-record as in not-for-attribution. The Times can say that somebody said it, and maybe even characterize the source as something like “a source inside the Trump campaign,” but they can’t ethically identify the source.

            The second case is off-the-record as in you-can’t-repeat-this. In Jack’s lurid example, the off-the-record part is being used to establish the credibility of the source, but the information shouldn’t be published, not even without attribution, ever. This kind of off-the-record material can also be treated as a news tip. Nothing about the agreement would prevent an intrepid reporter from asking Bill Clinton if he’d let them look through all the photos on his phone.

          • Exactly? Exactly? Again, you need to connect the dots. Because Windypundit just drew a distinction you don’t explain.

            You have different people complaining about different people (Trump complaining about himself v. Someone working for Trump complaining about Trump. How is that “exactly” the same.

            Again, I am not saying you are wrong, I just don’t follow your argument.


            • In both cases, a news source says “I’ll tell you this, and in exchange you get information you can’t write about. Deal?” Maybe that information is the source’s name and position, and maybe it’s deep background, but either way, the paper promises to protect the source’s confidential info, whatever it is.

              If a newspaper takes the position of, “well, we can tell if we decide its newsworthy or important,” then that publication/reporter forfeits trust forever. Its is akin to a lawyer ratting on a client. You can do it if conscience demands, but you can’t stay in the profession.

              • Okay, I “can’t” trust your inability to avoid typos. Is “can” in your first sentence “can” or “can’t”. Because, it sounds like there was no quid pro quo. I don’t get the purpose of this off the record bit. Maybe I am not understanding this scenario.

                If a politician is looking for an endorsement, why keep the reason a secret.

                Maybe you are right and this structure is BS. For its endorsement, the press is agreeing to hide the reasons for its endorsement. In that case, the structure itself is bad.

                Then, the question would be: how is it bad to reject the strictures of a bad system. It would be ethical not to let that persist (much like the ethical stance of a Whistleblower).

                • Sorry. It wasn’t a typo, but the sentence is clearer with “can’t.” The point still is, the source trades some information for a promise not to use other information. It is a quid pro quo, and one which, if newspapers and reporters violate at their whim, can’t ever be made.

                  It’s a system with unavoidable ethical downsides, but it is the only way investigative reporting can exist, and essential if anyone is ever going to blow a whistle.

      • I have been in high profile cases and have been asked to comment by the press as have a lot of people. I’m not special in that regard. But I follow a simple rule: I never speak to the press, at any time, for any reason. It has never steered me wrong.

      • Something tells me that, though it be unethical to reveal “off the record comments”, an ethics breach has already occurred when journalists go off the record with political candidates to discuss political topics for the purpose of engaging in political behavior. This reeks of collusion and dishonesty and closed door secret meetings between the powers-soon-to-be and those that ought be *fully* independent of those powers cannot be read as anything but soft-core propaganda or worse, outright corruption.

        Nope. The ethics breach occurred much earlier in this episode.

  3. Reading Ben Smith’s story and Gail Collins piece, it’s not clear to me that Collins revealed something said off the record. What she says is clearly phrased as speculation, I’m willing to be that other people have said similar things about Trump in the past, and Smith explicitly says Collins didn’t say anything to him. It’s clear that somebody at the New York Times was leaking off-the-record information to Smith, but I don’t think we can pin it on Collins.

  4. As I said to a friend today who wanted to get my thoughts on a NY Times article, “I don’t read the NY Times anymore.”

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