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More Infallible Than the Pope

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There might be encouraging signs about 2020, but there is also reasons for concern. Will the GOP be able to demonize the 2020 Dem nominee again? In the very likely event that there’s another ratfucking campaign, while political desks see the Republican-supported ratfucking itself as a major scandal, or will they once again assume ex ante that if material about Democrats is in private correspondence it must be important and spend weeks covering the most inane bullshit as if it was a major scandal?

The ability of professional cover-up artist Bill Barr to spin the Paper of Record right round baby right round like a record baby with a memo that didn’t quote a single full sentence from the report he was purportedly summarizing was not encouraging. Has the Times engaged in reflection about why it got fooled yet again? Hahahaha no:

The headlines were wrong. The big one, “Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy,” which defined the front page, was disastrously and obviously wrong at the time. The real story on the morning of March 25 wasn’t Mueller’s conspiracy finding—which should have been, for accuracy’s sake, “doesn’t find Trump-Russia conspiracy,” rather than “finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy”—but the fact that the attorney general was running interference for the president. Other newspapers were able to get the headline right. The Times blew it. 

So the Times was trying to make the case that the headlines didn’t matter, which was a shameless and insulting case for the Times to make. Headlines and packaging are the essence of what the Times does. It is a machine that exists to collect, prioritize, and summarize everything that happens in the world. A person could fill up on news—on some assortment of sundry facts and events collected from here and there—just fine, every day, without the Times. The job the Times has taken upon itself is to say what matters, either by breaking the news nobody else has broken, or by reading events as they happen into the record, in order of importance. “We are covering the Trump presidency as we cover all presidencies: for our current audience as well as for history,” Purdy wrote.

Purdy gave an example of the words he wanted the readers to have considered, from the top of the clouds-lifted story, “by Peter Baker, the most experienced White House correspondent in Washington”:

For President Trump, it may have been the best day of his tenure so far. The darkest, most ominous cloud hanging over his presidency was all but lifted on Sunday with the release of the special counsel’s conclusions, which undercut the threat of impeachment and provided him with a powerful boost for the final 22 months of his term.

There are still other clouds overhead and no one outside the Justice Department has actually read the report by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, which may yet disclose damning information if made public. But the end of the investigation without findings of collusion with Russia fortified the president for the battles to come, including his campaign for re-election.

This was clearly a foolish story the day it was written. It was both arrogant and pointless, an attempt to write authoritative-sounding conclusions about events that had not been concluded. It referred to a few truncated quotes from the Mueller report, supplied by the attorney general, as “the special counsel’s conclusion,” and it declared the president the winner of the whole struggle. 

Yet this was what Purdy pointed to immediately after claiming that the paper had “communicated the nuances of Mr. Barr’s actions”: a passage that didn’t even mention Barr. It did include some of the nuances, if you read it backwards. But for the Times to suggest that the second paragraph of a story was more important than the first, or to disavow the importance of its front page headlines, or to argue that if, on balance, you absorbed everything it published, including the online versions, you ought to have been able to figure out the news yourself—this was the New York Times denying it was the New York Times.

Or, worse, it was the New York Times arguing that whatever it did was definitionally correct. That was why Purdy admonished the readers that Peter Baker, who declared the dark cloud lifted over the Trump administration, was the most experienced White House reporter in the country. Who he was was more important than what he wrote; who he was was the only meaningful standard of reference for what he wrote; no mere reader, reading the Peter Baker story and noticing that it was clearly contrary to the available facts, had the standing to criticize him.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because the Times offered basically the same defense of the even more disastrous “nobody knows what Russia was trying to do when it was ratfucking the 2016 elections” Oct. 31 2016 story. “Sure, the headline was completely wrong, but if you read carefully the story was somewhat less wrong, so in conclusion we made absolutely no material mistakes.” Ain’t that just grand.

Excited to see the next Times/Steve Bannon collaboration sometime this fall.

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