I was struck this morning by the presence of yet another Donald Trump-related headline and story on the front page of the New York Times. The phenomenon really is remarkable. The man currently holds no elected position; there is no campaign he is currently involved in; he has been banned from social media (no mean tweets or typos to mock!) and the last public incident he was even tangentially involved in was more than three years ago. In the Times’ features, op-eds and news stories, the paper does everything it can to minimize his importance; for example, the Times review of Bill Barr’s book describes Trump as “an ostentatious, thrice-married reality television star who bragged about grabbing women’s genitals.” (No bias there!) Why is such trivial figure still daily front page news?
I wish I had been counting the number of Trump-bashing stories and reports the Times has published over the period since he left office. Like the current House of Representatives witch hunt to try to find a way to prosecute Trump for a riot he neither directed nor called for (and that couldn’t have possibly benefited his interests), the Times’ choice to keep negative news reporting about him front and center can only be called obsessive partisanship and unethical journalism.
But that isn’t what’s most interesting about the story, headlined “How the Manhattan D.A.’s Investigation Into Donald Trump Unraveled.”
When Dean Baquet slipped into unintentional transparency and told an interviewer that the Times mission was “to come out with the best version of the truth,” it accurately, if damningly, described what any objective observer should have discerned without the Editor-in-Chief’s confirmation. On The New Reform Club blog, legal scholar Seth Barrett Tillman fingered this story as a near perfect example. He writes in part that the report supposedly explains…
…why Alvin Bragg, the elected Manhattan District Attorney, is not seeking an indictment against Donald Trump for allegedly having inflated the value of his properties when he sought bank financing.The March 5 article tells the same tale that it had reported in its February 23, 2022 article. Not just the same tale, but the same tale by the same three reporters, “‘2 Prosecutors Leading N.Y. Trump Inquiry Resign, Clouding Case’s Future.” The basic thread of both New York Times stories is that two dedicated, experienced frontline prosecutors—Dunne and Pomerantz—albeit both holding temporary appointments in the Manhattan district attorney’s office—were ready to seek an extension from the judge having supervisory authority over the soon-to-expire Trump-related grand jury. They wanted to extend the life of the grand jury in order to continue the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation. According to the three New York Times reporters, the newly elected Bragg stopped the two prosecutors from seeking an extension; instead, Bragg will allow the grand jury to expire absent any indictment against Trump.
The problem with theTimes’ story is that the known facts are equally consistent with the opposite story. The alternative view is that the frontline prosecutors realized that they had no case, and they were unwilling to seek an extension from the judge having supervisory authority over the grand jury. Bragg may have ordered them to seek an extension or be fired. Having no good faith basis to seek a judicial extension of the grand jury proceedings, the prosecutors chose to resign.
In sum, given the choice between two equally plausible interpretations of the same set of facts, the Times reporters and editors settled on the one that suggested that Trump had committed criminal acts, and that the course of justice (once again!) had been perverted to allow the villain, the cur, the monster, to escape. The Times chose the “best version of the truth,” the one that suited the “Get Trump!” agenda the mainstream media flagship has pursued, Javert-like, since late 2015.
An ethical, trustworthy, unbiased approach to the story would be to explain both interpretations to readers. But that, as Baquet’s admission showed, would be contrary to the goals of “advocacy journalism,” aka. “unethical journalism.”
But wait! There’s more: Tillman also points out that the reporting itself flagrantly violates journalism ethics standards…
Rashbaum, Protess, and Bromwich and The New York Times would have us believe that it is Bragg, along with some of the permanent staff prosecutors in Bragg’s office, that are holding up the investigation and a Trump indictment. But these three reporters do not explain how they arrived at that conclusion. The three New York Times reporters don’t explain who their source is or who their sources are, or how many sources they have, and who they work for. Or what interest they may have for anonymously communicating their information to the media. Because the reader does not know who the sources are, the reader cannot evaluate the sources’ potential biases. Was Bragg a source? Someone on Bragg’s staff? Were Pomerantz or Dunne sources? Or one of their underlings or associates in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office? A grand juror? Or someone in a supervisory role over the grand jury? The judge?—or, someone on the judge’s staff? We don’t know, and three New York Times reporters won’t tell us. There is not even a vague statement by the three New York Times reporters along the lines that the reporters’ findings were “confirmed by multiple highly placed sources in the District Attorney’s office.” Indeed, the three reporters’ March 2022 article has no discussion of sources at all.
All the better to let the Times push the version of the truth it prefers, which makes it “the best version.” The gaslighting defenders of the Times can gnash their metaphorical teeth all they want to deny that the Times is as biased and sinister as it is. The paper itself rebuts their fantasy virtually every day.