Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
The New York Times, long referred to as the “newspaper of record,” has failed multiple times in 2019 in the way it covered President Donald Trump, the 2020 presidential race, and other issue areas in its headlines and tweets. Media critics, experienced journalists, and other experts called out some of the Times’ headlines and tweets for pushing misinformation, framing the story in line with right-wing talking points, or using euphemisms in place of accurate descriptions.
The New York Times helped Trump spread misinformation about the Russia probe
On March 24, the Times posted a tweet repeating Trump’s lies verbatim that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election “was an illegal takedown that failed” and Mueller’s report was “a complete and total exoneration.” A Times headline from the same day also misleadingly claimed that Mueller’s investigation found no Trump-Russia conspiracy.
In April, the Times helped spread right-wing falsehoods by credulously repeating a claim by Attorney General Bill Barr during a congressional hearing, which he later walked back, that “spying did occur” on the Trump campaign. On July 25, the Times published a piece on the special counsel’s congressional testimony titled “Lack of Electricity in Mueller Testimony Short-Circuits Impeachment.” The headline was criticized by The American Independent’s Oliver Willis for treating the hearing like it was entertainment.
The Times pushed GOP lies on abortion and deceptively made Trump’s rhetoric appear moderate
A February 5 tweet reporting on Trump’s comments on abortion during his State of the Union address quoted a benign-sounding line from him: “Let us work to build a culture that cherishes innocent life.” The tweet failed to address Trump’s smears and lies about Democratic politicians and their support for abortion rights legislation, such as his deranged claim that a Democratic bill in Virginia would allow medical providers to “execute a baby after birth.”
In mid-May, the Times sent a tweet highlighting Republicans’ “grisly claims that Democrats promote ‘birth day abortions’ and are ‘the party of death.’” Media critic Jamison Foser told the Times that it was spreading Republicans’ lies. The Times later deleted the tweet, saying the tweet did not clarify that “some of the Republicans’ claims” were “false or misleading,” an error Foser said the Times should not have made in the first place.
The Times repeatedly failed to call out Trump and one of his advisers on their racist behavior
On July 14, Trump posted an unambiguously racist tweet when he told Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Instead of calling it as such, the Times’ headline went with: “Trump Fans the Flames of a Racial Fire.” The now-shuttered progressive news website Splinter ridiculed the headline as “another wishy-washy, bullshit reaction” from the Times, writing, “Trump is, in every sense of the word, a racist, who once again has said something racist. And once again, the New York Times has proved that it has no intention of ever stating this simple fact.” Journalists Soledad O’Brien and Ashley Feinberg also criticized the Times’ handling of Trump’s racist comment. The following day, after Trump called the members of Congress he had attacked earlier racist, the Times gave equal weight to his absurd accusation:
Following the tragic white nationalist mass shooting early August in El Paso, Texas, the Times ran a headline about a speech Trump gave that claimed “Trump urges unity vs. racism.” That headline was heavily criticized for downplaying the president’s weaponization of racial hatred.
And the Times failed again on August 18, when it described Trump senior adviser Stephen Miller, who later was exposed pushing white nationalist websites and ideas, as a “young firebrand” in a headline. Multiple journalists criticized the Times for its misstep.
The Times gave Trump the headlines he wanted regarding his Ukraine scandal and impeachment
On September 22, progressive talk radio host Michelangelo Signorile criticized a Times headline that suggested Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden committed wrongdoing in Ukraine, even though the story explained there was no evidence of it. “Exactly what Trump ordered,” Signorile wrote.
The September 26 front page of the Times also featured the headline “President Denies Pressuring Leader of Ukraine to Investigate Biden” — right next to an annotated copy of the call summary showing Trump pressuring Ukraine’s leader.
On October 4, pollster Matt McDermott pointed out the Times also gave Trump “the headline he’s been looking for” with the headline “Ukraine to Review Criminal Case of Firm Linked to Biden’s Son.” He urged the Times to do better, explaining that such a headline was helping Trump break the law.
And in early December, the Times tried multiple times to fix a problematic headline that essentially blamed Republicans and Democrats equally for the partisan nature of Trump impeachment inquiry. Lawyer and writer Luppe B. Luppen pointed out a key flaw in all versions of the headline.
The Times wrote bad headlines and tweets on other topics as well
On January 9, the Times tweeted an image that aimed to fact-check a statement Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made about Trump’s comments on an ongoing government shutdown. The fact-check made a logical leap in stating Schumer’s comment needed context. Yet the context essentially confirmed what Schumer had said.
In early March, following an unhinged two-hour rant from Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Times published a headline that focused on a “free speech order for college campuses.” Oliver Willis criticized the Times for normalizing “a madman” with its take on the president’s “delusional, embarrassing, and terrifying speech.”
The Times also made some missteps in its tweets about the 2020 election. A May 26 tweet from the paper uncritically repeated several of Trump’s insults of several Democratic presidential candidates, prompting Soledad O’Brien to ask why does the Times’ “political coverage suck so frequently and consistently.” In a mid-June tweet, the Times parroted Trump’s false justification, made during an ABC News interview, that he would accept information from a foreign government about a 2020 Democratic rival.
A September 12 Times headline about military personnel staying at a Trump resort in Scotland on the taxpayers’ dime claimed “For Military Personnel, Trump’s Turnberry Hotel is ‘Better Than a Tent.’” The headline failed to convey the story’s details that there was an uptick in military personnel staying at the hotel despite closer, cheaper options available for flight overstays.
On October 16, the paper published a headline about a meeting between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) ostensibly on Syria after Trump abandoned Kurdish allies there, stating, “Someone Had a ‘Meltdown’ at the White House. Pelosi and Trump Just Disagree on Who.” Multiple witnesses confirmed Trump’s childish behavior. ProPublica’s Jesse Eisinger chastised the Times for an “inexcusable” headline, writing, “To soften and normalize Trump’s behavior on this week of all weeks is something else.”
A November 29 Times headline asking “Would Republicans Follow Their Garland Rule for the Court in 2020” was so ridiculous on its face that TPM editor and publisher Josh Marshall simply laughed at it, while a law professor and a Supreme Court reporter pointed out that the “Garland Rule” was a Republican fabrication.
And on December 18, after Trump suggested at a rally during the House vote to impeach him that the late Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) was “looking up” from hell, the Times published a tweet and a headline summing up Trump’s rally without mentioning his disgusting comment: