Journalists in the past two weeks have come down hard on a website for, in their view, publishing too much information about President Donald Trump and Russia. This week, The New York Times’s public editor criticized the newspaper for, in her judgment, publishing too little.
Liz Spayd wrote on Friday that “a strong case can be made that the Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had” in the weeks before Election Day. She was referring to “several critical facts” the paper knew — that “the FBI had a significant and sophisticated investigation underway on Trump, possibly including FISA warrants” and that “investigators had identified a mysterious communication channel” between Trump and Russia.
For Hillary Clinton’s aides and supporters, Spayd’s critique adds fuel to their contention that the outcome of the election might have been different, had there been more coverage of Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin.
The Times ultimately did publish some of what it knew about the FBI’s investigation, one week before the election — but only after other publications ran their own stories. According to Spayd, The Times “had the goods” weeks earlier.
“It’s hard not to wonder what impact such information might have had on voters still evaluating the candidates,” Spayd wrote, considering what could have happened if The Times had published sooner. “Would more sources have come forward?”
She added this:
“If you know the FBI is investigating, say, a presidential candidate, using significant resources and with explosive consequences, that should be enough to write. Not a ‘gotcha’ story that asserts unsubstantiated facts. But a piece that describes the nature of the investigations, the unexplained but damning leads, with emphasis on what is known and what isn’t.
“Running every detail of the dossier, as [a website] did, would have been irresponsible. Writing about a significant investigation would not.”
Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told Spayd that he believes the paper published as much as it could, as soon as it could, while being journalistically responsible. Spayd also reported that “conversations over what to publish were prolonged and lively.”
Clearly, this is a matter on which good journalists can — and did — disagree. And there is no way to truly measure the effect on the election.
But anyone who watched Trump’s inauguration while thinking Clinton should be in his place now has another reason to ponder what might have been.