SXSW

NYT Executive Editor Says Trump's Insults Help Media Keep Him Accountable

It's a historic moment for the journalism industry, according to Dean Baquet.

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Dean Baquet at SXSW 2017
Stephanie Slade

Is the press really the enemy of the American people? That was the tongue-in-cheek question that kicked off a live interview with New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi), the big annual technology and entrepreneurship conference happening this week.

Several thousand people packed into the Austin, Texas, convention center early this morning to hear what one of the most influential figures in American journalism had to say about covering the presidency of a man who has not shied away from making blunt (and often factually dubious) attacks on his industry. Baquet didn't hesitate to call Donald Trump out for his flame throwing. "I thought it was an outrageous comment—of course we're not the enemy of the American people," he said. "That one is particularly troublesome, because 'enemy of the people' is a historic term in American literature and politics, and it implies a certain attitude toward us. Hopefully it does not imply a possibility that he would actually do things" to us.

But Baquet also pointed to a silver lining from the perspective of the much-maligned "mainstream media." In the days after the election, he said, the Times was "getting criticized from the left and the right" for not realizing that Trump might win. But rather than be gracious in victory, the president-elect went on an insult offensive, describing the paper as the "failing New York Times" in a tweet that weekend. "I woke up Sunday morning," Baquet said, "and I felt like the whole tone of my emails shifted dramatically. Suddenly I started to get really supportive messages."

And it wasn't just moral support. As Baquet's interlocutor, media columnist Jim Rutenberg, put it, "Every time Trump says 'you guys suck' or 'you're the enemy,' it's like ding ding ding ding, the subscriptions go up. Then we [in the Times newsroom] talk amongst ourselves and wonder if that's a job saved or can that stave off the cuts that are coming."

It's no secret that the journalism industry is in a tough place, financially. Advertising and subscription revenue don't go nearly as far as they used to. Many outlets have had to shutter bureaus, lay off staff, merge with competitors, kill their print products, and so on. The Times itself introduced a paywall a few years ago in response to those changes.

But Trump's attacks are, perhaps counterintuitively, breathing new life into the institution, Baquet suggested. "I will say that something amazing has happened—the rise in digital subscriptions, the rise in audience, the literal hundreds of thousands of people who have decided to pay for The New York Times after the election," he said. "It has changed our economics, and has made it so that we have to cover the stories that those people want us to cover, and that we want to cover too."

Repeatedly during the hourlong session, the newspaperman said the climate Trump is fostering of antipathy toward the press has redoubled his commitment to digging in and holding the president accountable. "We are preparing for the story of a generation," he said. "I think the next two years are going to be a historic moment in the life of news organizations. The combination of the economic realities that are forcing their way in, a president who's leading a revolution in Washington and makes this the most compelling political story since the way the United States changed after 9/11, mixed in with this whole debate about what is a journalist—there are going to be 20 books written about the next two years in American journalism."

"Yes," he continued, "I have to figure out a way to manage a changing reality in newspapers, which means The New York Times is going to be a little bit smaller. But we will do nothing to cut our ability to cover this presidency."

Baquet painted this as an almost welcome shock for an industry that has been floundering around, looking for a workable business model in the new digital age: "In comes the most compelling presidential election in a generation, and in comes the election of a president who, no matter what you think of him—and my job is not to judge his politics—is revolutionizing Washington, and is making changes that have the whole country just riveted," he said. "And suddenly our mission just got really clear. It is what it has always been…The one truly independent group that investigates the government without fear or favor is the press."

That doesn't mean the paper has to be biased, or even antagonistic, in its reporting, though. "Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump," he said. "It's to cover the hell out of Donald Trump. We're supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people, and he's the most powerful man in the world."

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  1. the newspaperman said the climate Trump is fostering of antipathy toward the press has redoubled his commitment to digging in and holding the president accountable.

    Too bad the media has no interest in holding itself accountable. Were that the case, Trump’s sillier comments would find no traction. And the antipathy is more the result of those in the media bubble viewing anyone on the outside with contempt. Trump’s not “fostering” shit; he’s simply playing on what is already there, the same thing that previously gave rise to talk radio, then later to Fox, then to an alternative blogosphere, etc etc. My god, it’s like these people have zero self-awareness.

    1. Trump’s Twitter shtick would grow tiresome to the average American if the Legacy Media like the NYT weren’t such pompous assholes. The NYT doesn’t seem to grasp that it is possible for Americans to dislike Trump and hate the Media.

      The Media are like that dorky kid in school who thinks that because there is one kid dorkier than he is then that means everyone actually likes him.

    2. The obvious lesson is that licking spittle does not pay. If the NYT and the rest of the rest of the progressive media had been watching Hillary and Obama as much as they now claim to be watching Trump, their subscriptions might be in much better shape.

      They won’t learn.

  2. It’d be a non issue if they “covered the hell out of” all candidates, not just Republicans. They cannot honestly argue that they tightly covered Obama.

    1. It’s like they’re actually completely oblivious to how they acted for the past eight years. I will be happy if they honestly cover Trump and all the bullshit the administration is likely to dump on us, but that will be impossible if they cannot admit their biases and past mistakes.

    2. Ill just leave this here.

      http://www.breitbart.com/natio…..-campaign/

      1. Yeah, the whining about ‘meeting with a Russki’ is beyond tiresome at this point.
        The hag lost; get over it.

      2. You couldn’t find a NYT link for that story?

        1. I went with a credible source instead.

          1. Boom goes the dynamite.

          2. Retard.

  3. In answer to Jefferson’s bit about doing w/o gov’t or newspapers, my retort was always, “Do we have to have either?”

    1. Somalia is still your best bet. At least there won’t be many English newspapers.

      1. TUUUUULLLLLLPAAAAA…..

  4. “Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s to cover the hell out of Donald Trump. We’re supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people, and he’s the most powerful man in the world.”

    It kinda is your job to be the opposition to Donald Trump, but it was also your job to be the opposition to Barack Obama. And to Bush as well as Clinton – as you say, you’re supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people. Have you checked into what George Soros is up to lately? What about Jeff Bezos or Carlos Slim? Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg, Bill McKibben – any of those names ring a bell?

    1. No, it is not the job of the media to be the “opposition”. It never was.

      It’s job it to be an alternative voice. An outlet for political speech and viewpoints completely separate from that of the government.
      Sometimes it will agree, sometimes it will disagree, but it should not be the “opposition”./

  5. “Every time Trump says ‘you guys suck’ or ‘you’re the enemy,’ it’s like ding ding ding ding, the subscriptions go up. hen we [in the Times newsroom] talk amongst ourselves and wonder if that’s a job saved or can that stave off the cuts that are coming.”

    If NYT subscriptions are driven as means of signaling and that’s what’s keeping their journalists employed, what does that say about the quality of NYT’s journalism?

    Congratulations, New York Times, you’ve finally caught up to Howard Stern. If people love you because you rub the people they hate the wrong way, then you’re basically Howard Stern.

    1. Increasingly, the self-evident reality is that reporters have zero curiosity about anything outside of their bubble, just contempt. The irony is that if what this guy says is true, then Trump is even more of a job-creating machine than that govt report shows.

    2. The later quote is even more illuminating.

      “I will say that something amazing has happened?the rise in digital subscriptions, the rise in audience, the literal hundreds of thousands of people who have decided to pay for The New York Times after the election,” he said. “It has changed our economics, and has made it so that we have to cover the stories that those people want us to cover, and that we want to cover too.”

      Is he admitting that they’re choosing to cover the stories that the new (overwhelmingly leftist) subscribers want to see?

    3. It is a long-established pattern of partisan opinion magazines — National Review, The New Republic, The Nation, et cetera — that subscriptions go up when the Enemy is President, and the drop when that changes.

      If the people at the Times knew enough about the periodical publishing industryto notice this, they’d have realized they now have the subscription behavior of a journal of partisan opinion, rather than a neutral news source.

  6. In SF, we get this in the e-version of the (only) paper:
    “TRUMP TODAY: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW”
    http://www.sfgate.com/ (’bout half way down).

    Unfortunately, it’s run by interns, so we get what we “needed to know” several days ago and often enough, it’s filled with trash regarding stuff like Spicer beginning his presser with a LAPEL PIN UPSIDE-DOWN ‘CAUSE TRUMP!!!!!!!

    1. (don’t hit “enter”)
      Anyhow, if his insults did result in better coverage, I’d be all for it. Until then, it sounds like a campaign by the NYT PR and Marketing Depts.

  7. “We’re supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people”

    Well, then it’s about time you started doing your jobs — instead of acting like the unofficial press office of the Oval Office.

    1. I think they spelled “Republicans” as “people”.
      They sure as hell sat on Obo’s lap and took the milk-bones.

  8. I don’t believe one thing this dean baquet guy says “Every time Trump says ‘you guys suck’ or ‘you’re the enemy,’ it’s like ding ding ding ding, the subscriptions go up. ” yeah right and every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings

  9. FFS. Can the NYT be any more insufferable?

    “Our job is not to be the opposition to Donald Trump,” he said. “It’s to cover the hell out of Donald Trump. We’re supposed to cover the hell out of powerful people, and he’s the most powerful man in the world.”

    Too bad that “job” didn’t happen for eight years.

    I love how all of a sudden they’ve ‘rediscovered’ their raison d’?tre.

    1. “Too bad that “job” didn’t happen for eight years.”

      Trump won’t let ’em up on the couch; they’re pissed, now!

      1. Trump could have let the MSM dog sit at the table and eat filet mignon with foie gras and they still would have treated him like shit.

    2. I would be tickled pink if they just decided to start holding the White House’s feet to the fire now — despite their lack of doing so for 8 years. But they’re not really doing that. They’re going after picayune stuff like the immigration EO, the fabricated Russian “election theft”, and his advisor mentioning Ivanka’s brand on TV. Not going after his awful trade policies, interference with state MJ legalization, pissing off allies and saber rattling with PRC, etc.

    3. Too bad that “job” didn’t happen for eight years.

      Not that you are an Obama-hating, Trump-supporting partisan. Just a coincidence!

  10. ‘enemy of the people’ is a historic term in American literature and politics

    Utter balderdash! This is not a historic term in American literature and politics. It is, however, a historic term used quite often by those collectivist governments in the East that some of these guys loved so much.

    How many Americans have been killed for being an ‘enemy of the people’? How many Russian, Cambodians, Koreans, Chinese, or Cubans?

    1. Apparently he doesn’t read his own newspaper (not that I blame him):

      Trump Embraces ‘Enemy of the People,’ a Phrase With a Fraught History

      While the historical argument is about the same level as “Bert is Evil”, it goes through the historical uses of the phrase, none of which are by Americans.

  11. And it wasn’t just moral support. As Baquet’s interlocutor, media columnist Jim Rutenberg, put it, “Every time Trump says ‘you guys suck’ or ‘you’re the enemy,’ it’s like ding ding ding ding, the subscriptions go up.

    I keep hearing this claim from NYT lackeys; has it been independently verified? Do they publicly report their subscription totals?

  12. Slightly to extremely off topic: local paper this morning had a front page headline about a “top federal prosecutor” for New York getting fired. That prosecutors name? Yup, starts with a “preet” and ends with a word that rhymes with “bahrarah”.

  13. Slightly to extremely off topic: local paper this morning had a front page headline about a “top federal prosecutor” for New York getting fired. That prosecutors name? Yup, starts with a “preet” and ends with a word that rhymes with “bahrarah”.

  14. Is the press really the enemy of the American people?

    Absolutely. the Cathedral is the enemy.

  15. Is the press really the enemy of the American people? That was the tongue-in-cheek question.

    Libertarians don’t get the joke, nod their heads in agreement.

  16. His glee at finding something “useful” to do mirrors the manic coverage by local news anchors after a natural disaster. And he is treating the increase in subscribers as though it’s a poll revealing that more disasters is what people want.

  17. “Is the press really the enemy of the American people?”

    No. The press is the enemy of roughly half of the “American people”. The press supports the political viewpoints of coastal enclaves, aligns with European thought, and actively undermines the rest of the country.

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