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.
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.