A few days before the one-year mark of Donald Trump’s presidency, The New York Times devoted their entire opinions page to supporters of the President. By doing so, the Times once again knowingly elevated falsehoods into what was supposed to be a space for informed discourse.
The editors of the United States’ “national newspaper of record” attempted to justify their decision: “The Times editorial board has been sharply critical of the Trump presidency, on grounds of policy and personal conduct. Not all readers have been persuaded, in the spirit of open debate, and in hopes of helping readers who agree with us better understand the views of those who don’t, we wanted to let Mr. Trump’s supporters make their best case for him as the first year of his presidency approaches its close.”
“Open debate” is nowhere to be found on those pages. It seems that the Times’s true goal was not to educate their readers on the positions of Trump supporters, but rather they have been attempting to perform a type of masochism — subjecting themselves to publishing things they despise in order to punish themselves for underselling Trump prior to the election.
“Instead of defining public service as the battle against evidence-free claims, they will settle for presenting the charge […] and leaving it there,” Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, wrote about a USA Today piece in 2017. He continued to say that by giving a fact check-free platform in this instance, USA Today was “justifying […] a “both sides” logic that has nothing to do with truth[-]telling and everything to do with protecting themselves against criticism in Trump’s America.” The Times committed the same mistake mid-January this year as USA Today in 2017.
The Times continues to run profiles and letters from a vocal minority, elevating their misunderstandings, without providing any pushback or fact checking. A correspondent at The New York Times, Charlotte Alter, wrote on Twitter, “these NYT letters from Trump supporters are actually very revealing and well worth your time.” Revealing of what, that Trump supporters support Trump?
Ashley Feinberg of The Huffington Post wrote a piece titled “What I Learned From Reading All The Media Safaris Into ‘Trump Country.’” Her analysis revealed such bombshells as, “Trump supporters support Trump,” “Racist Trump supporters support Trump because he is racist,” “Trump supporters, though unhappy with the president’s tweets, still support Trump,” “Hesitant Trump supporters still hesitant[-]ly support Trump,” et cetera. We are not learning; these letters are not “revealing.”
Feinberg goes on to point out that these types of highlights of Trump voters continue a mainstream media trend. American media is infatuated with “indexing the American political narrative to the sanctified yearnings of a narrow slice of white voter. Reagan Democrats, independent voters, the undecided, soft Republicans — no matter how small their number, no matter how wide the electoral margin, these groups always become the axis on which the story of every election turns,” Feinberg explains.
The Times claims that this editorial decision was to counteract their critiques of President Trump. They have fallen into the same false equivalence issue that arguably gave us this presidency in the first place.
Eric Alterman in The Nation Magazine puts it succinctly as a subtitle, “the media’s need to cover ‘both sides’ of every story makes no sense when one side has little regard for the truth.” The Times is one of the worst offenders of this habit.
The Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School found that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s “coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone.” That, despite an incredibly uneven spread of flaws between the two of them. As Erik Wemple of The Washington Post stated, “the media somehow produced an equivalent amount of negative stories regarding Clinton would appear to cement its dedication to the proposition that they’re all bastards.”
Creating a false equivalence between bipartisan political pundits and Trump supporters is obviously just the most current iteration of the Times’ attempt to court the latter group into their readership. The consequence of the Times giving a page to Trump to whine about how they aren’t heard are not trivial. They used this space to, as their beloved president does, spread falsehoods, misleading statements and outright lies.
Take this letter for example. The Trump supporter wrote:
“Donald Trump has succeeded where Barack Obama failed. The economy is up, foreign tyrants are afraid, ISIS has lost most of its territory, our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem and tax reform is accomplished. More than that, Mr. Trump is learning, adapting and getting savvier every day.”
First of all, according to The Washington Post, one should never be given sole credit for an economy. But even if one excuses that, saying “the economy is up” under Trump ignores the majority consensus that job growth in the first year is largely from carryovers. Similarly to the economy, ISIS retraction can and should be attributed to Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. Lastly, the embassy moving caused international uproar — rightfully so. This letter, and the Times by their decision to amplify it, is misleading the public, something which is unethical according to the Society of Professional Journalists.
The New York Times is not a bad publication overall. Their work in terms of investigative reporting has been integral to the public discourse. Their reporters are doing great work. Yet their desires to pander to Trump supporters is pointless. Trump voters will not like the Times unless the president says they should. Trump won’t endorse the Times unless they stop reporting negatively about him, and the Times shouldn’t do that. The truth about Trump is that he is bad for America. Attempting to sugarcoat that by spreading falsehoods is already being done by official White House communications team, and they don’t need The New York Times’ help.