New York Times Editor Dean Baquet on the Hot Seat Over Paper’s Trump Coverage

Baquet convened newsroom meeting on Monday to address staff concerns over recent issues

Last Updated: August 14, 2019 @ 8:46 AM

New York Times top editor Dean Baquet is increasingly under fire from restive staffers at the paper as well as outside journalists disappointed by its coverage of the Trump administration.

“There is definitely some friction over, how does the paper position itself?” an unnamed Times editor “familiar with” Baquet’s thinking told Vanity Fair in a piece published Tuesday, one day after the paper’s first African American editor convened a newsroom meeting to address recent concerns. “I don’t think you could argue that we haven’t been tough on Donald Trump. There’s real debate, and some real disappointment, about how we position ourselves as an institution.”

The outcry over recent coverage — including the decision to change a headline about Trump’s post-massacre speech last Monday and whether and when to use the word “racist” to describe the president’s actions and words — has also prompted some outside journalists to question Baquet’s leadership.

Elizabeth Spiers, former editor-in-chief at the New York Observer, squarely blamed Baquet for the Times’ recent troubles — including a spike in cancellations last week over the Trump speech headline, which was changed from “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” to “Assailing Hate But Not Guns.”

“Baquet keeps demonstrating that he’s either unwilling or ill-equipped to handle the Trump era,” Spiers tweeted. “This is a leadership problem, not some institutional rot. The Times has institutional handicaps that prevent them from any kind of introspection, and that’s exacerbating the problem, but a change is needed at the top.

A rep for the Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen rejected a comment by an unnamed Times editor in the Vanity Fair story that “we’re not gonna be a part of the resistance,” arguing that the defense of journalistic impartiality “doesn’t say as much as the editors think it does.”

And former CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien followed on Rosen’s point, also referencing a Twitter spat last week between occasional Times columnist Roxane Gay and deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman: “Translation: we won’t call lies lies, we won’t give context. We’re so worried about doing ‘both-sides’ that our headline writers will end up printing verifiable bullsh*t. And also our columnists and editors will get into screaming matches with people on twitter. But don’t cancel!”

The Times faces continuing fallout over the Trump speech headline, including criticism for capitulating to the public pressure. Vanity Fair quoted one veteran Times reporter, described as “more traditional” as saying: “The headline was inelegant, it missed the point, it was poorly written, but it was not a federal hate crime, as you would think based on reactions from some people in the newsroom. The bigger issue is the culture of outrage.”

Nonetheless, the flap has taken its toll. The paper saw an increase in subscription cancellations after the reader backlash, a Times spokesperson told TheWrap last week.