Liz Spayd

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  • NY Times Public Editor Says Problem With Paper’s Election Coverage Is It Was Too Mean To Trump Supporters

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    In a strange move that bodes ill for the paper’s future coverage, The New York Times’ public editor devoted her review of the paper’s election work almost entirely to detailing ways in which she thought the paper hadn’t been understanding enough of Donald Trump’s supporters.

    Throughout the column, public editor Liz Spayd detailed how readers were upset about the newspaper’s election work and she quoted several of them to prove the point. She stressed that reader outpouring from “around the country” was extremely high (“five times the normal level”), and that there was a “searing level of dissatisfaction out there with many aspects of the coverage.”  

    But Spayd’s hand-selected readers led inexorably to her point that the Times had not been sufficiently charitable to Trump voters. “Few could deny that if Trump’s more moderate supporters are feeling bruised right now, the blame lies partly with their candidate and his penchant for inflammatory rhetoric,” she wrote. “But the media is at fault too, for turning his remarks into a grim caricature that it applied to those who backed him.” At every turn, the readers with whom Spayd chooses to engage criticize the purported liberalism of the Times’ coverage. The message the public editor sends is clear: the paper should move to the right to quell reader concerns.

    Yet not a single reader whom Spayd chose to include in her post-campaign analysis expressed any concern about the daily’s Clinton coverage. Nor did she feature any complaints that the paper’s coverage of Trump may have been insufficiently rigorous. Instead, criticism from the left of the paper’s general election coverage was entirely absent.

    The omission and complete lack of introspection is also strange simply because the Times’ treatment of Clinton has been the topic of an ongoing media debate, as a wide array of writers have detailed what they viewed as the paper’s patently unfair treatment of the Democratic nominee. Even the Times’ former executive editor, Jill Abramson, agreed that the newspaper gives Clinton “an unfair” level of scrutiny.

    She was hardly alone this campaign, as numerous media observers and readers alike criticized the paper’s treatment of the Democratic nominee, calling the coverage a "biased train wreck" that indicated "a problem covering Hillary Clinton," who was "always going to be presumed guilty of something."

    Yet gazing over all of that commentary and all those detailed complaints, Spayd saw no reason to address progressive criticism of the paper. It really does appear that the Times-wide denial is complete.

    But so what about the Clinton treatment, some might say. What’s done is done and Trump is the pressing media issue moving forward. I agree. But I also see a direct connection between the Times’ unfair and accusatory Clinton coverage, and what appears to be its increasingly passive reporting on President-elect Trump.

    And it stands to reason: If the main lesson the Times newsroom is being taught from the election is that the paper was too tough on Trump, too mean to his supporters, and that readers think the paper’s “liberal” bias is evident, guess what kind of coverage that produces?

    It produces the kind of coverage where, one day after Trump’s attorney announced the newly elected president was settling a huge $25 million consumer fraud lawsuit filed against him (an unheard-of development in American politics), the Times published a mostly-upbeat, front-page Trump piece that portrayed him as “confident,” “focused,” “proud,” and “freewheeling.” (To date, the Times has published exactly one news article about the Trump University fraud settlement.)

    Right below that article on the front page the same day appeared another puff piece, this one an admiring look at Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, described by the Times as a “steadying hand” with “driving confidence” who might serve as a “moderating influence” with Trump. This, just days after Trump appointed a white nationalist as his top advisor.

    Meanwhile, the Times’ response to the kerfuffle that recently broke out when Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by audience members while attending “Hamilton” on Broadway was oddly passive and defensive. At least two Times staffers, including one reporter currently covering Trump for the newsroom, seemed to denounce the boos as being disrespectful. And in its news report on the incident, the Times noted Trump tweeted about the booing, but failed to inform readers that Trump’s tweet was completely inaccurate: Cast members were not “very rude” to Pence. (It was audience members who booed, not the performers, who thanked Pence for attending and asked that he work on behalf of all Americans.)

    That’s not to say the Times hasn’t published any worthy news articles during the early stages of the Trump transition. On November 19, the newspaper reported on the morass of looming conflicts for the new president:

    President-elect Donald J. Trump met in the last week in his office at Trump Tower with three Indian business partners who are building a Trump-branded luxury apartment complex south of Mumbai, raising new questions about how he will separate his business dealings from the work of the government once he is in the White House.

    Where did the potentially damaging piece appear? On page 20.

    The Times did follow up two days laterwith a front-page examination of Trump’s pending conflicts. But the question still lingers: Did the newsroom learn the wrong lessons from the 2016 campaign?

  • NY Times Public Editor Apologizes For Discordant Coverage Of Trump's Immigration Speech

    Blog ››› ››› NINA MAST

    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.

  • A simple question for the Washington Post

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    For months, I've been trying to get key Washington Post journalists to answer a basic question: Does the Post think it is sufficient to occasionally debunk falsehoods, or does the paper believe it should do so every time it prints those falsehoods?

    It's a simple question, but nobody seems to want to answer it. I've submitted that question to countless "Live Q&A" sessions hosted by Post media critic Howard Kurtz, executive editor Marcus Brauchli, and managing editors Raju Narisetti and Liz Spayd. But none of them have ever answered the question. Kurtz's refusal to do so is particularly glaring, as he ducked the question once by demanding an example of the Post failing to correct a falsehood -- and has subsequently ignored questions that contain such an example. (Here's some background.)

    Narisetti is conducting a Q&A session at 1 PM today, so I'm trying yet again to get an answer. Here's the question I submitted earlier this morning:

    This is roughly the 20th time I have submitted a variation on this question to Live Q&As held by you, Liz Spayd, Marcus Brauchli, and Howard Kurtz, so I hope you'll answer it: Does the Washington Post think it is sufficient to debunk false claims once, or does the Post think it should debunk false claims every time it prints them?

    Mr. Kurtz has praised the Post's handling of the "Death Panels" lie -- but the Post has printed numerous articles that refer to "death panels" without making clear that the charge is false. (E.g.: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/27/AR201002...)

    So, again: Do you think it is sufficient to debunk a false claim once, or should the Post do so every time it prints that claim?

    If you'd like to submit your own version of this question, you can do so here.

    UPDATE: Narisetti just wrapped up, and didn't see fit to answer my question, though he did find time to say the Post should have covered the bogus NBPP story sooner, to comment on the frequency of Live Q&A sessions, and to answer a subscriber's question about an undelivered newspaper.

    I honestly have no idea why Posties would be so afraid of answering this simple little question.