The New York Times' public editor apologized for the heavily edited story on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico and immigration speech, which misleadingly portrayed Trump as “remak[ing] his image” on immigration when in reality Trump doubled down on his anti-immigrant policies.
Following Trump’s widely panned August 31 speech on immigration, The New York Times’ Patrick Healy wrote a front page article which praised Trump’s “audacious attempt ... to remake his image on the divisive issue of immigration,” drawing intense criticism from reporters who said that its author had “apparently watched a completely different immigration speech.”
Subsequently, substantial edits were made to the article without acknowledgment of the changes, prompting public editor Liz Spayd to tweet that she was “looking for answers this morning on the unexplained redo.”
In her explanation on the debacle, Spayd wrote that “For many readers, the story looked like a significant misportrayal of events” due to the fast-paced nature of the changing events. Spayd conceded that “other major news sites managed to hit the mark” and noted that “mistakes can have a genuine impact” on the newspaper's reputation. From the September 1 article:
What happened? Why did the first version seem so off and why wasn’t The Times more transparent about the changes?
I asked Carolyn Ryan, The Times’s political editor, for an explanation. “Trump acted jarringly differently in Phoenix than he did in Mexico, and we scrambled to reflect that, without obscuring the fact that he was backing away from his policy to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants,” she said. “I think readers were eager to see the fiery language and belligerent tone in Phoenix reflected quickly in the story, especially if they had just watched his appearance, and I understand that.”
What that boils down to is: We were moving as fast as we could and the story changed on us.
The flaw in hanging this simply on tight deadlines and fast-changing facts is that many other major news sites managed to hit the mark.
All of this may sound like tedious newsroom mechanics, but mistakes can have a genuine impact on The Times’s reputation among readers. In a climate where sinister motives are attached to every word and headline The Times produces, looking squarely at such episodes is a step worth taking.