A Hypothesis About The NY Times Political Reporters

The motivations of the NY Times political reporters have always baffled me. They’re not left or right in any meaningful sense of the word: I get where The Nation or The National Review are coming from, but the NY Times mystifies me. One example is Maggie Haberman’s attempt to convince followers that Jane Sanders, wife of Sen. Bernie Sanders, supports rightwing racist and disgraced Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio (boldface added):

Whether you’re a Sanders fan, opponent, or just meh on the guy, forget that this was about Sanders for a moment. Haberman makes no sense, but it’s even beyond ordinary stupid… In other words, Jane Sanders literally spoke truth to power and bore witness against Arpaio’s policies, yet Haberman insinuates that Sanders supported Arpaio.

If you want to claim that Sanders’ visit was a cynical attempt to shore up support from Latinos, fine. Given Sen. Sanders long-time support for Latino migrant workers, that’s a stretch, but political motives are never entirely pure. But there’s no way even a rather dim person could conclude her visit indicates support for Arpaio. At best, she’s trolling; at worst, there is something very wrong with a NY Times political reporter whose work appears on the front page. And if you think this won’t affect other Democratic candidates, initiatives and the like, you’re sadly mistaken.

I have a pretty good intuitive understanding of how the Republican right works, how they reach the conclusions they do. But political reporters in the vein of Haberman baffle me. They can’t be stupid, yet their ideological motivations, such as they are, are completely alien to me. I don’t mind bias, as long as I can figure out the bias. Something is going on with Haberman, I just can’t figure out what exactly (or at all).

Recently, Heidi Moore shed some light on this in response to a bad interview by NY Times reporter Peter Schmidt (it’s from a tweet thread, so I’ve reformated and emphasized points for clarity):

There are journalists imprisoned or dying or dead in Mexico, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Turkey for asking questions. And these journos at NYT see “asking questions” as some task separate from their role in society. It is not. Democracy is losing as their ambition sells us all out.

The game for these journalists is to get a book deal, preferably about Trump, so he is in fact their meal ticket. Journalism isn’t. Even the prestige of the NYT brand isn’t enough to convince them that this job is about democracy and not about getting off on power. This is how we got Judy Miller. Judy Miller is how we got the Iraq War…

And they’re okay with that! They see it as entertainment. They’ve got theirs, after all.

They are the classic Trump voter profile

The fact that journalists think they’re working for their sources, or their subjects, and NOT their readers is a sign of corruption. It’s a kind of decadence. And it really lets down journalism, and lets down democracy. Ask the president questions. It’s literally the job. Consider what a privilege it is that the worst Trump can do to a journalist is leave, or have them escorted out of the room. Like, journalists in Mexico must be like, “that’s what you’re worried about? That he’ll leave and tweet his thoughts instead?” …And here you have careerist [journalists] resist asking questions, it’s all over. worried that Trump will just…ramble to someone else. That’s the disincentive to ask for evidence?

Trump can do literally nothing to you except ask you to leave the room. That leaving the room is the worst these journalists can imagine shows how much they define themselves by their courtly proximity to power, and not as an independent check on power… These journalists, of course, don’t see themselves as corrupt. They think they’re in the room, so they’re where they should be. But journalism is not having the job. It’s *doing* the job. It’s asking the questions. When [journalists] resist asking questions, it’s all over.

…It’s journalism to find the things he will not tweet: why he loves Russia so much, to start. What evidence exists for anything he says… Remember that this job is not about your book deal or your Twitter followers or showing off for your flack friends in government.

One of the press corps’ knocks against Hillary Clinton is that she was always on the make, always trying to get more power, more money. Yet most of them can’t even recognize these impulses in themselves, or else they foolishly believe they aren’t corrupted by such things. Maybe there isn’t an ideological bias at all, but simply a mundane, careerist explanation–with some potentially lucrative side effects (after all, selling books and joining the high-end speaking circuit can be very lucrative!).

No grand conspiracy, just mundane corruption, along the lines of the Congressional Retirement Plan™.

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2 Responses to A Hypothesis About The NY Times Political Reporters

  1. You Marxists think everything is about money! To understand journos, you need to see why the highest compliment the pay each other is, “he’s well sourced.” It has nothing to do with making money. In fact, it’s a direct consequence of the ethical requirement that journalist shall not try to sell newspapers.

    The currency of reporters is very similar to academia: the respect of their peers. The reason you don’t understand is you don’t respect the same things reporters do.

    Reporters are stuck in a cognative dissonance trap created by Ethics written in the late 50s and early 60s for a business model that existed then. That model: monopoly rents for newspapers and money-losing PR for TV. The audience was theirs to lose, not to win. When people have no choice, and revenue comes from ads, the clear mission is to be inoffensive.

    But that sounds terrible!

    No worries. That’s what journalism schools are for: back rationalizing the day-in, day-out work of inoffensive journalism—press conferences, balanced stories with quotes from both sides, etc—as the best way to serve democracy. It’s just a simple tautology: what mid-Century journos did is fixed as the definition of “serving democracy.”

    The monopolies are long gone, but the ethics are unchanged. That’s why the motivation of NYT reporters are inscrutable: they have to be! It’s a matter of living up to their ethics. To be scrutable is to be offensive to some group.

    Worse, they now have to compete for audience but are still strictly forbidden from competing for an audience. The are dogs named “No,” twisted in absurd knots by fundamentally impossible goals. So they obsess over metrics unrelated to truth: “gets” and “scoops” are objective. So is access.

  2. Mnemosyne says:

    “The currency of reporters is very similar to academia: the respect of their peers. The reason you don’t understand is you don’t respect the same things reporters do.”

    As a long-ago newspaper stringer, I have to agree with you here, and it’s also why the Beltway reporters are losing their shit right now: all of these top journalists just got scooped by Michael Wolff, a freelancer for a HOLLYWOOD TRADE PAPER. He’s not their peer. He’s their inferior. And he just pantsed them in front of the whole world. He showed them up on a PROFESSIONAL level and they. are. pissed. 😂

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