New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt scored a half hour “impromptu” interview with President Trump on Thursday, and while the president made news with his comments on Robert Mueller and the Department of Justice, Schmidt’s handling of the conversation has also drawn attention.
Commenting on Twitter, writers were split on how the veteran journalist handled the interview: some thought Schmidt should’ve pushed back and asked more follow-ups, like when the president said he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Others felt Schmidt had done his job by simply letting Trump talk, leading to nuggets like the president saying he thinks special counsel Mueller is “going to be fair” in his investigation into Russian collusion. Michael Shear also had a byline on the Times article.
Fellow NYT reporter Maggie Haberman was immediately pulled into the fire, after defending Schmidt’s approach to Trump.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com replied to Haberman, saying he thought the interview could’ve been “a lot *more* interesting if there had been a follow-up question or two.”
Sure. I'd take that quote as an example of something that was certainly interesting–in the way a lot of POTUS's tweets are interesting–but could have been a lot *more* interesting if there had been a follow-up question or two.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) December 29, 2017
Vulture writer Mark Harris pushed back on Haberman’s framing of the interview, saying it was “revealing” because it gave Trump’s “unfiltered thoughts.” This line of thinking didn’t satiate Harris, who said he liked the interview, but “asking questions is not interrupting.”
Asking questions is not interrupting. I like this interview, but the "Let's just hear Trump's unfiltered thoughts" approach has not exactly been underrepresented in NYT pieces.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) December 29, 2017
Author Molly Knight chimed in with a similar take. “Asking him to explain basic details of, say, his health care bill would be instructive,” she tweeted.
Cross examining every little thing he says is obviously counterproductive. But asking him to explain basic details of, say, his health care bill would be instructive.
— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) December 29, 2017
Jerry Saltz, senior art critic at New York Magazine, was more blunt in his critique, saying Schmidt’s interview was “not journalism.”
Why so defensive? People are only struck by lack of follow-up and accepting what he says as all you really wanted. Not journalism. In your heart you know people have a real point – especially when you put yourself back in that room again. It is fairly clear.
— Jerry Saltz (@jerrysaltz) December 29, 2017
Seth Abramson, journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire, didn’t pull punches, either. “Maggie Haberman blithely defends the NYT ghosting on journalism in its recent one-on-one with President Trump is as 2017 as 2017 has been so far,” said the professor.
Mainstream media losing its mind over the popularity of independent journalists on Twitter while Maggie Haberman blithely defends the NYT ghosting on journalism in its recent one-on-one with President Trump is as 2017 as 2017 has been so far.
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) December 29, 2017
The belief Schmidt’s interview was a “softball” for Trump has gained traction in the aftermath, as one popular reply to Haberman showed.
Maggie Haberman receiving Twitter feedback about the NYT’s softball interviews… pic.twitter.com/RQOJskVHiH
— The Hoarse Whisperer (@HoarseWisperer) December 29, 2017
Still, Schmidt had plenty of supporters, too. NYT reporter Adam Goldman backed up his colleague, saying he “did what all good journalists do: Listen. More people, and not just good journalists, should try it.”
— Adam Goldman (@adamgoldmanNYT) December 29, 2017
This was a common refrain from many others in the journo world, including from Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic. “[Schmidt] did what he was supposed to do, which was to get the president talking, and keep him talking,” tweeted Goldberg.
IMHO, @nytmike did what he was supposed to do, which was to get the president talking, and keep him talking.
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) December 29, 2017
Washington Post correspondent Karen Tumulty said the interview revealed the value of newspaper interview by revealing “things about the subject (which his did).”
Criticism of @nytmike misses what the value of a newspaper interview is. It is to reveal things about the subject (which his did), not provide street theater.
— Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) December 29, 2017
Jake Sherman at Politico said it was a “damn good job” by Schmidt, considering it was an unplanned interview.
For not really knowing he was about to interview the president of the United States, that was a damn good job by @nytmike. He got news out of him.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) December 29, 2017
Chris Geidner with BuzzFeed news said he wouldn’t have handled every question in the same way, but that Schmidt “got us a lot of information… so, kudos to him.”
Would I have handled every question how @nytmike did? No. But, I think he got us a lot of information — out of what sounds like was a totally unprepped interview that happened on basically no notice. So, kudos to him.
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) December 29, 2017