This past Sunday, The New York Times did a piece on a conservative activist spreading snippets of false news boosting President Donald Trump. Some got picked up by internet sites and even by Fox News and radio host Rush Limbaugh. Here’s the question. When is the Times going to worry about its own incessant liberal bias and a major story of its making that was “almost entirely wrong?”
The quoted phrase comes from testimony by former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was testifying under oath about a Times article based on four anonymous sources trying to destroy Mr. Trump’s campaign team on what now seem to have been errors.
The Times said intercepted phone calls showed “Trump associates had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials” in 2015. Relying on sources who are or had been government officials and could still be guilty of felonies for leaking classified information, the story played a fundamentally important role in giving credence to the idea that the Trump campaign worked secretly with Russians in the hacking of Hillary Clinton campaign computers with the intent of throwing the election to Trump.
The story did get one thing right. It said no evidence of conspiracy had been found. Among the many things it got wrong was repeating the phony tale that Mr. Trump once said he hoped the Russians had stolen Clinton’s emails.
He did say that if they had them, they should share them. But he did this in the context of the hacking only transpiring because President Barack Obama was a weak leader. He was not talking about campaign emails, but emails on a personal server when Clinton was secretary of state. They could have shown Clinton guilty of obstruction of justice even though she said they were just about such things as yoga and grandkids — no big deal.
The Times is sticking by its story as well as with its overreaching enthusiasm for anonymous sources and printing classified information. It’s hard to imagine Comey lying under oath or being wrong in basic understandings. Anonymous sources, while sometimes necessary, cost news outlets credibility because their reliability is less sure than when going on the record. Printing classified information abets crime and can put individuals and the public good at risk, but the Times frequently puts its own judgment ahead of officials more in the know, sometimes maybe being right. And sometimes not.
Concerning the whole collusion idea, you could say the Times colluded with Russia by printing the stories it passed on to WikiLeaks during the election campaign. If the paper did not do so for the purpose of sales through sensationalism, it did so because the stories appeared to be truthful and to serve the public interest. The Russian meddling is hardly welcome but likely made next to no difference in the election outcome, while today’s exaggerated, Trump-directed fury about Russia has more to do with wanting to get rid of him no matter what than wanting to preserve democratic norms.
The Times’ own culpability, which includes writing straight news stories as if they were editorials, was made evident on its front page the day after Comey’s testimony. The paper then treated something perfectly legal as surely the end of Mr. Trump’s world. Comey testified that Mr. Trump said he hoped the FBI would quit investigating his national security advisor, viewing his request as improper. But presidents have the authority to begin and end investigations and have done so repeatedly, sometimes using their authority in various ways to the advantage of friends.
The Times actually went so far in a front-page story as to ponder the possibility of a criminal prosecution against Trump, such being the lopsidedness of the times.
A Times public editor recently made so bold as to wonder about some reportorial political excesses in emails and other matters, and now she has been fired with no replacements scheduled. The unchallengeable Times….has abandoned the greatness of its past.