NY Times Misses Hypocrisy in Making Its Reporters Skip WH Correspondents Dinner
As you may have heard, a solid majority of Americans loathe the media…
The polling numbers are astounding when looking out from inside the bubble: Nearly seven in ten think reporters aren’t any more ethical than the very politicians they report on. Only 20 percent of those surveyed think reporters – print and TV — are honest and ethical. That’s 65 percent lower than nurses, 50 percent lower than doctors and engineers.
It’s that backdrop that hovers again over tonight’s annual White House Correspondents Dinner, where the industry provides itself one night of glamour, entertainment and self-congratulations for a job well done. For many sitting at home, it’s an eyeroll worthy-spectacle given the salaries of many they’ll see on their screens in tuxedo or gown. But for most outside of the big national names in the business, it’s an overworked and underpaid profession, and therefore should get its evening of fun… even if means watching doing 12 oz curls from parties around DC or home. According to CareerCast, which ranks being a newspaper reporter 200 out of 200 in common jobs, “Readership has steadily moved from print publications, whether they be newspapers or magazines, in favor of online outlets. The resulting decline in advertising revenue has left newspapers — and thus, newspaper reporters — feeling the pinch.”
Almost every major outlet attends the dinner — also known as #NerdProm, quite possibly the most ridiculous nickname in history given all the celebrities and non-nerds who dominate the event — at the Washington Hilton, with “almost” existing in this sentence because of one very notable exception in the form of The New York Times. The decision to not send any of its people came from then DC-editor (and current Executive editor) Dean Baquet, who explained why in this interview with the New York Observer in 2011:
“We are not being holier than thou [by not attending], or criticizing anyone who chooses to go. “But we came to the conclusion that it had evolved into a very odd, celebrity-driven event that made it look like the press and government all shuck their adversarial roles for one night of the year, sing together (literally, by the way) and have a grand old time cracking jokes. It just feels like it sends the wrong signal to our readers and viewers, like we are all in it together and it is all a game. It feels uncomfortable.”
Actually, Baquet is being holier than thou here and depriving those who are grinding it out daily and nightly of one night of fun to make a point absolutely nobody is buying (because if you think NYT reporters aren’t already enjoying a cocktail or three on the campaign trail with adversarial political operatives, think again). Example of the absurdity: The Times‘ Peter Baker won the prestigious Merriman Smith Award handed out last year. If you follow sports, think of it as league MVP. But because Baquet couldn’t even make an exception for those who were nominated to attend to at least accept the award and bask in the praise of his colleagues for a few hours, Baker had to soak it all in from afar. And that’s just a whole bowl of wrong…
As for Baquet’s other point of having a no-tolerance policy around sending “the wrong signal to readers and viewers”… he might want to look at the way he runs his own shop first.
Exhibit A occurred very publicly last month, when off-the-record comments Donald Trump made to the paper’s editorial board were leaked to Buzzfeed. Opponents and debate moderators seized on the comments — which reportedly illustrate Trump softening his stand on his immigration policy to the point of being called (at the time) potentially devastating to his campaign — and called on Trump (who, like any other politician trusted the comments were off the record and therefore in confidence) to permit the release the transcript.
Did Baquet apologize for the leak? No.
Did he show any remorse? No.
Did he at least conduct an investigation of who leaked the comments? Of course not.
“I don’t know how it got out, but I’m certainly not going to do a leak investigation,” said a defiant Baquet. As I wrote at the time, it’s good thing Baquet wasn’t in charge during the Jayson Blair fiasco, because he’d probably see an investigation there as unnecessary, annoying and inconvenient too.
Exhibit B – Baquet’s refusal to reprimand his writers even when presented overwhelming evidence illustrating the very collusion he rails against in boycotting the White House Correspondents Dinner. Here’s a summary from my column at the time (emphasis mine):
Buzzfeed first reported that an email written by Maureen Dowd revealed she allowed Bernard Weinraub — a former Times reporter — to preview a column written about his wife–embattled Sony exec Amy Pascal — before it was published. Said emails also show Dowd assuring Pascal through Weinraub that “I would make sure you look great,” among other air kisses. In a statement to Mediaite, Dowd later denied sharing the column, which flies in the face of this stubborn quote from Weinraub, where he writes, “You cant tell single person that I’m seeing the column before its printed.”
Baquet’s response? Nothing. Dowd didn’t even face a one-week suspension nor was any statement made from Baquet condemning such behavior.
But allowing his reporters — some of the hardest working in the business despite a few ethically-challenged apples — to enjoy one great night in DC to trade war stories and take selfies with A-listers, well… that’s when the Executive Editor puts his foot down.
Because being seen in a social setting with the president and other politicians would really look bad.
Unlike, you know, sitting on your hands as often as Dean Baquet does when actual collusion occurs.
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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.