In Search of Perfection at The Times

“I canceled my subscription,” Joan Walsh of The Nation and CNN announced Monday. “I know a lot of folks will tell me I'm wrong. I will miss it. But I can't keep rewarding such awful news judgment.”
 
Walsh wasn’t giving up on Fox News or Breitbart , but rather the New York Times , a decision she will likely regret but which reflected the collective freak-out that greeted a Monday night Times headline about President Trump’s response to the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton.

The headline read “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism,” an overly credulous description of his speech that failed to reflect that he had been spewing racist bile for weeks leading up to the shootings.
 
The Times soon changed the headline, but it was too late to prevent a race to the pitchforks. Cory Booker tweeted “Lives literally depend on you doing better, NYT.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it Exhibit A of her democratic socialist worldview. “Let this front page serve as a reminder of how white supremacy is aided by - and often relies upon - the cowardice of mainstream institutions,” she wrote .
 
We found ourselves defending the paper throughout the week, as Times skeptics gleaned all sorts of dark motives from a single bad headline. No matter that the paper admitted it was poor and changed it quickly. No matter that the editors spoke openly about how the mistake was made.

The degree to which many depend upon The Times to fight for them in these dangerous times was clear. “It’s not good enough for some liberals that The Times has kept a tight vigil on Trump since he announced his candidacy four years ago,” Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote . “They want every column inch of copy in The Times to reinforce and amplify their resistance values, right down to the headlines. Anything perceived as even a minor deviation from that “m ission,” they seem to think, requires the mass cancellation of subscriptions and calls for the executive editor’s resignation.”

It took a public outcry of an altogether different sort to make our point for us. On the same morning The Times story came out, the Washington Post reported that Stephen Ross, chairman and founder of Related Companies, was planning to host a $250,000 per person fundraiser for Trump at Ross’ home in the Hamptons. While it’s not unusual for a developer to support a Republican – even this Republican – few knew until that day that Related owns Equinox, Soul Cycle and other temples of sweat and affluence in this Democratic town.
 
As with The Times , angry customers reacted with fury and calls for boycotts. The difference was that Equinox, in an astonishing public relations misjudgment, chose to contort the truth. “Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of either business,” its statement read, demoting the chairman of its parent company to the role of simple bystander.
 
Meanwhile, Times editor Dean Baquet was giving an interview to The Atlantic in which he took responsibility for the offending Trump headline.
 
“The copy desk came up with a headline that was too simple and didn’t have enough skepticism or questioning about Trump and his motives, and whether or not he was qualified to call for unity,” Baquet said. “And I think I, personally, should pay more attention to the print front page, maybe, than I did yesterday…I personally don’t focus enough on it, I should focus on it more.”
 
The late Wayne Barrett , our friend and hero, used to say that journalists are the only people who are paid to tell the truth. The Times carries that burden heavily, even when it means having to admit when they’ve blown it.

Is Open Season on de Blasio Almost Over?
Bashing Bill de Blasio in the media has become a virtual cottage industry this year. Derisive headlines flash with every misstep and dismal poll result.

But with the end of the line in sight for the mayor’s presidential ambitions, the perpetual schadenfreude can only last so much longer. History may record that the phenomenon peaked with Matt Flegenheimer’s scorching profile of de Blasio in the New York Times Magazine this week. It became one of the season’s most buzzed-about articles.
 
 “The New York mayor turned quixotic presidential candidate seems sick of his city,” its headline read, “and the feeling is mutual.”
 
Here are some of our favorite lines:

      “Aides to Bill de Blasio have long observed that he seems to grow happier with each mile of distance from the city he leads”

      “A sprig of white chest hair curled skyward beneath de Blasio’s open collar as he patrolled a nearly empty library in Columbia, S.C., looking like a brand ambassador for divorced dads trying to get back out there.”

      “Much of the media, with whom de Blasio has feuded endlessly since being elected mayor, portrayed him as almost performatively hapless, an impression his campaign did little to discourage.”

      “As he spoke, he twisted his back, extended and retracted his legs and stretched his arms behind his head, as if the interview were consuming valuable gym time.”

      “‘You just got the very visceral sense that he just didn’t want to talk to you,’ Laura Nahmias, a member of the Daily News’s editorial board and former City Hall reporter for Politico New York told me. ‘I think it colored people’s reporting — because they’re people.’”

      “Charlie Rangel, the 89-year-old former 23-term congressman from Harlem, told me he had never encountered a politician as isolated as de Blasio, who managed his 1994 re-election. ‘I don’t know a goddamn person that’s his buddy — nobody,’ Rangel said. “And everybody, even Giuliani, I know who his buddies are.’”

      “Even admirers remain confounded by how little he seems to participate in the life of the city. A reporter asked what the highlight of his first term had been. He proclaimed himself stumped, before enthusing about getting to know Bernie Sanders.”

      “I think there’s a little bit of an affectation in the question of, you know, ‘is (the job) fun?’ ” he told me. “I’d never thought it was going to be in that sense.”

      Aides say de Blasio has taken much of his coverage personally. “You don’t understand,” he told a staff member once. “They hate me.”

Here and There
Kerry Flynn leaves Digiday to become a reporter for CNN Business … Andrew Taverrite , formerly press secretary at Planned Parenthood, becomes communications director for the Elizabeth Warren campaign … Kara Hughes becomes senior vice president at Kasirer after leaving her position as first deputy director of city legislative affairs for Bill de Blasio … Veronica Ng becomes vice president at Parkside Group … Samantha Jones becomes an account manager at Rubenstein after leaving Kasirer … David Shing is leaving Verizon Media … Morgan Pearlman, previously programs and membership manager at the Association for a Better New York, is heading to Stanford Law in the fall … Sarah Samuels, former Voray account manager, became ABNY’s communications and programs manager.

Quotable
“Too much of the time, what Fox and News Corp. do is try and take people’s minds off the fact that they are being screwed economically by the 1 percent.” - Bill de Blasio, to Sean Hannity.
Have a career announcement for Here and There? A Quotable quote?
Kirtzman Strategies is a strategic communications and public affairs firm that works with public officials, nonprofits, companies, tech startups and education organizations.
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