NY Times headline: NPR C.E.O. Faces Criticism Over Tweets Supporting Progressive Causes Katherine Maher, who took over the public network last month, posted years ago on Twitter that “Donald Trump is a racist.”The journalistic malpractice shown above is routine for right-wing media, which amplifies tendentious talking points designed to discredit anyone who opposes the Trump cult and its retrograde campaign to take America back decades in social and economic justice.

The malpractice is also routine at the New York Times, at least on its political desk and in stories that are political at their core.

The story I’m pointing to above, about Katherine Maher, NPR’s new CEO (and a friend), is an example of how the Times normalizes extremists’ BS while harshly challenging liberalism. In this case, the news organization eagerly jumped on a what should be a non-controversy because, well, that’s what it does.

The piece mashes together two essentially unrelated things, into a murky mess.

One central element is a rehash of the argument surrounding the anti-NPR screed a now-former employee published on a right-wing newsletter. That piece is full of complaints — and a number of falsehoods — about coverage and events that preceded Maher’s move to NPR.

The other, “new” element, is the “discovery” of Maher’s years-old tweets in which she had the temerity to speak the truth about Trump and his extremist cult. The sub-head shown above, quoting her plain-truth assertion that Trump is a racist, is turned into controversy for what reason, exactly? Trump is a racist, a blatant one. But telling the truth about him is problematic — that is, when right-wing trolls say it is.

Reading (not far) between the lines, it seems that the source of this non-scandal is Christopher Rufo. Relevant section:

Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, called attention to many of Ms. Maher’s posts on X and shared a response from Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, who had responded to one of Ms. Maher’s posts that Mr. Rufo highlighted, saying, “This person is a crazy racist!”

“If NPR wants to truly be National Public Radio, it can’t pander to the furthest-left elements in the United States,” Mr. Rufo said in an interview. “To do so, NPR should part ways with Katherine Maher.”

There is absolutely zero context here. Rufo is an right-wing activist who has turned his bad-faith trolling into a career. At the very least, the Times readers should have been told about this sleazy character’s track record.

There’s more about this article I could pound on, but you get the point. The reporter failed here, but so did his editors.

If this was a rare occurrence in the Times’ coverage of political issues — and the attacks on Maher (actually attacks on NPR) are purely political — I would chalk it up to what happens in a deadline-driven business. But the Times’ political coverage does this kind of thing all the time.

I love the Times for a lot of the other things it does so well; it truly is a great news organization in other ways. But I loathe it for the way it consistently — and, let’s face it, deliberately — helps the people who are trying to wreck our democracy.

2 thoughts on “Again, NY Times amplifies right-wing trolling, omits vital context

  1. Dan, here’s a serious suggestion: When you object to one of these articles, befitting your position, it might be useful to *rewrite* it, to demonstrate How It Should Be Done. That is, “show, not tell”. Perhaps not the entire piece, but say headline, first paragraph, lead sentences of subsequent paragraphs. I’m tempted to make some jokes here, but that’ll probably be a distraction (oh, I can’t resist one – “always refer to Trump as “fascist threat to democracy” on first reference”).

    Note these days I’m a getting dubious of the idea that everything should be in the ranting polemical TURNED UP TO 11!!! style which is the attention-mongering game of social media. That is, the _Times_ has a certain idiom, there’s deep problems with the “civility” concept – but I’m worried that the alternative has a bad failure mode of spiraling into more and more outrage-baiting. The theory is that there’s a sweet spot of maximum accuracy, but I’m not seeing it in practice.

    In that idiom, it seems to me that someone like Rufo is a person they go to convey something like “here’s what prominent right-wingers believe, we didn’t make it up”. For example, for Republicans, someone like “Republican National Committee” representative can be quoted. For literal Taliban, there’s “Taliban press minister” or something. But there’s no formal “Right-Wing Ranters Association”. Thus they make do with stuff like “fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute”. What should they say to convey this, *given* their constraints that they need to use some sort of real title? If the answer is, don’t use a real title since that sounds too “normalizing”, but rather apply a pejorative characterization of the politics (“bad-faith trolling”), well, that’s basically going back to dumping the idiom.

    By the way, these aren’t “non-controvers[ies]”. This comment is too long already, but there’s real issues here, if being discussed very badly. To take one, descriptively, “Donald Trump is a racist” goes right to a HUGE fault-line in US society. In this context, to progressives “racist” means something like “allied with structural racism aka white supremacy”, versus elsewhere “personal hatred of different skin-colored people”. (this is muddied by the way progressives take the former to presume the latter, but that’s just redefinition). Whatever your views on the topic, that difference is real and matters enormously.

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