The Rank Stupidity Of Snark (In Savaging The New York Times)
And yes, I’m talking about my snark and my stupidity here. This is one of those pieces you have to write occasionally because you’ve shortchanged the subject you’ve written about, you’ve shortchanged your readers, and you’ve shortchanged yourself in the process. I’m talking about the column I wrote on the day after Christmas that was headlined "Pretending To Have A Scoop, The New York Times is Again Failing Its Readers."
The subject of the column was a story in the Times published that day: “How Trump Plans to Wield Power in 2025: What We Know.” I shortchanged the story’s authors, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage, and Jonathan Swan, by saying that “The Washington Post did this story before, in early November: ‘Trump and allies plot revenge, Justice Department control in a second term,’” basically implying that the Times writers recycled a story done by the Post two months ago.
As Charlie Savage said in an email, the piece they wrote in the Times was not derivative of the November story in the Washington Post because “we have been writing a series of articles about Trump's 2025 plans since June, and the WP piece you are lauding as the original was, in fact, a one-off attempt to catch up and was heavily derivative of our series.”
In fact, in June, both papers had major stories about Trump’s plans to misuse the Justice Department if he was elected president, both of them published just after remarks Trump had made at his Bedminster golf club. The Post story, “Trump centers his campaign on prosecution, vilifying legal system,” was published on June 14. The Times story, written by Swan, Savage and Haberman, “The radical strategy behind Trump’s promise to ‘go after Biden’,” was published on June 15. Both stories discussed Trump’s promise to appoint a special prosecutor to get retribution on Biden, although the Times story went into greater detail on Trump’s, and a group of conservative supporters of his, plans to gut the DOJ and FBI and make both more responsive to the White House if Trump succeeds in his campaign to return to the Oval Office.
It is true that the Times, in the persons of Savage, Haberman, and Swan, have stayed on the story of Trump’s plans to seriously alter the way the U.S. government runs, including misusing the DOJ, going after the Civil Service, imposing more radical and nasty immigration policies, and misusing the military for domestic purposes. I was wrong to imply that the Times December 26 story was in any way a “scoop.” Stupidly, I was trying to snarkily imply that the three Times writers were “pretending” it was a scoop. They weren’t. They based their story on reporting they had done over the last six months.
The Washington Post had also reported since June on the same Trump plans and strategy to subvert the U.S. government for his own purposes and use elements of his administration, if he became president, to get revenge on his perceived enemies.
But the point isn’t which paper beat the other paper to various parts of the Trump strategy for retribution against Biden and his other plans to misuse the government.
Savage’s complaint about my post-Christmas column was correct that I had mischaracterized their story on December 26. I did, and that I did it in a ham-handed attempt to be snarky about the “troika of Trump whisperers” was stupid and wrong.
I stand by my comments that the Times coverage of the campaign in general is often wrongheaded in its emphasis, not adequately focused on Biden’s accomplishments, and often pays too much attention to claims made by Trump about Biden that are bogus in the extreme. Too much of the Times coverage is “on the one hand this, on the other hand that” when it comes to Trump. Just today, the Times had a story, “Assessing Claims by Trump of Bias Against Christians.” The “bias” claimed by Trump wasn’t just against Christians, it was that “Biden” or the “Biden administration” was discriminating against Christians, but that was not reflected in the headline. In the body of the story, the Times quoted various Trump claims which they found to be “false,” or “misleading” or “needs context.” The entire story ended up amplifying Trump’s bullshit against Biden, while taking pitty-pat shots at how false Trump’s whole subject of “bias” was.
But this is not the fault of Charlie Savage or Maggie Haberman or Jonathan Swan. It’s the fault of Times editors and their frequently misplaced ideas of what is a “fair” way to cover a man who is unfair about practically everything with every breath he takes.
Sometimes when trying to write about the state we have reached with what amounts to a criminal mastermind at the head of one of our two political parties, it’s easier to take out your anger at Trump and the Republicans by taking shots at targets like the New York Times for the way they cover him. Well, the shot I took on December 26 was sarcastic and stupid and it missed. I let you down as readers, and I let down the Times writers, and I’m sorry. I’ll pick my targets better next time, and I’ll leave out the snark, and I’ll take aim before I shoot. I promise.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.