In the Wake of Trump’s Third Electoral Failure, NYTimes Boasts of Hiring a Third Trump-Whisperer

His sanction-worthy misrepresentations of the Igor Danchenko indictment notwithstanding, Jonathan Swan is a good reporter. Indeed, his move to the NYT, which frees him to write like a human being rather than a McKinsey consultant (AKA Axios style), will likely be a significant improvement on his coverage of DC politics.

But it is downright insane that, at a time the GOP and Fox News are at least making noise about ditching Trump, the NYT pitched this hire — and their own political reporting — in terms of Trump.

Our insightful, authoritative and addictive coverage of the election this year drove home an essential truth: The Times’s political team is simply the best in the business.

Take our coverage of Republicans and Donald J. Trump.

We have Maggie Haberman, the dominant reporter of the Trump era, whose prolific, revealing and exclusive coverage has become indispensable to millions of readers. We have Michael Bender, whom Maggie admired as her “fierce competitor” from his days at The Wall Street Journal, and who has delivered exclusives on everything from the former president’s plans to buy Greenland to examinations of how Trumpism remade the Republican party.

And today we are thrilled to tell you that Jonathan Swan, a gifted, dogged and high-impact reporter, will be joining The Times. Jonathan, a national political reporter at Axios, is one of the biggest news breakers and best-sourced reporters in Washington.

Even if you have never met Jonathan, you know his stories. He first reported that Trump would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, that the U.S. would pull out of the Paris climate deal, that Steve Bannon would be fired and that Paul Ryan would retire from Congress.

Or perhaps you watched his riveting interview with then-President Trump in 2020, which won Jonathan an Emmy (and made his facial expressions famous.) Ben Smith, the former media columnist for The Times, wrote at the time that it was “perhaps the best interview of Mr. Trump’s term.’’

Jonathan’s nine-part written series on the final days of the Trump administration won broad acclaim, and the podcast on which it was based rose to No. 1 on the Apple charts. [my emphasis]

Again, I think the Swan hire is a net good for reporting — but aside from the degree to which Swan is an improvement over Jonathan Martin, who just moved to become Politico’s Politics Bureau Chief — that has nothing to do with the NYT.

Particularly accompanied as it is by Maggie’s multiple efforts to suggest Trump is still The One, the pitch of Swan as a Trump-whisperer — rather than simply as a very good reporter of right wing politics — this announcement commits to keeping Trump (as a politician, rather than, for example, a criminal suspect, something none of these three are very good at reporting) the center of attention.

And it comes in a piece that boasts of election reporting it calls, “insightful, authoritative and addictive,” but which had some rather spectacular failures — particularly with the Fettrman debate and a correct Kansas poll they downplay. While in August NYT acknowledged that a Red Wave might not come, their review of why it didn’t still seems to misunderstand what it means to vote to save democracy. If you wanted to understand the election, the NYT was generally unhelpful, and that’s before you consider its focus on horse race coverage rather than policy.

They think they did good a job, or at least are telling themselves they did!

Why would you boast that your political reporting is “addictive,” anyway? unless you’re proud of the way Trump used Maggie’s work to flood the zone with press clippings that had the effect of obscuring larger crimes.

The NYT’s pitch of a good reporter in terms of Trump comes as other outlets have made hires based on their shitty news judgment that there would be a Republican wave the outlet would want access into. Most famously, as early as March, CBS hired Mick Mulvaney in anticipation of a non-existent Red Wave still 8 months in the future.

[A] top network executive seemed to lay the groundwork for the decision in a staff meeting earlier this month, when he said the network needed to hire more Republicans to prepare for a “likely” Democratic midterm wipeout.

“If you look at some of the people that we’ve been hiring on a contributor basis, being able to make sure that we are getting access to both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans are going to take over, most likely, in the midterms,” CBS News’s co-president Neeraj Khemlani told the staff of the network’s morning show, according to a recording of his comments obtained by The Washington Post. “A lot of the people that we’re bringing in are helping us in terms of access to that side of the equation.”

The thing is, these shitty expectations for a Republican landslide may distort coverage going forward, because multiple news outlets paid big money to invest in access to people who lost, most of all into a guy who lost fairly spectacularly three times now.

As they did in 2020, voters gave democracy another lifeline. They voted, affirmatively, for democracy. But it’s not clear the press view protecting democracy, as opposed to protecting access, with anywhere near the same urgency.

Update: Just as I published this piece, I saw this NYT column, which not only continues to make everything about Donald Trump, fails to account for how narrow margins in both houses change this calculus (particularly with regards to its facile claim that, “party leaders are asked to declare their allegiances to Mr. Trump or other potential rivals”), and has this incredible paragraph:

 First there was Mr. Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and then the attacks on a federal judge’s Mexican ancestry, the “Access Hollywood” revelations late in the 2016 campaign, his public declaration that he trusted Vladimir Putin more than he did American intelligence agencies.More recently, Mr. Trump has waged a two-year misinformation campaign, claiming his 2020 defeat was “rigged.” His supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a violent attempt to disrupted the peaceful transfer of power. He now faces investigations into efforts to overturn the election results in Georgia, into his company’s finances and into his handling of classified documents.

It gets the chronology of the first sentence wrong. It calls Trump’s lies about 2020 “misinformation,” not “disinformation.” It claims he tried to “disrupted” the peaceful transfer of power and not prevent it. It suggests any investigation into an attempt to overturn the election is limited to Georgia. The description of the stolen document investigation as one into “handling” of classified documents misstates the crime, but it par for the course in legacy media coverage of that investigation. (And it has a typeset — with the missing space after the period — and a tense error that suggests it was not edited, even ignoring the lack of Oxford comma.)

Trump no doubt wants to keep himself as the center of attention. He no doubt will demand loyalty oaths from people willing to bet he’ll succeed. But if he does succeed — with whatever catastrophic effect on the country — it will be significantly because of editorial decisions the NYT made.

65 replies
  1. Stephen Brown says:

    Thanks for this. I agree with all the points you express so well (except I am not sure I see a missing Oxford comma).

    • Giorgino says:

      “into his company’s finances and into his handling of classified documents.”
      ^ add comma after “finances”

      However, not all style guides agree on whether to use the Oxford comma.

      • bmaz says:

        Seriously, we are analyzing whether a freaking Oxford comma was necessary? What does that nit picking have to do with the subject of the actual post? Were you able to understand the subject matter okay? I guess you were since all you have is grammar scolding.

        • earthworm says:

          Yup, admit to being a grammar nerd.
          A friend once remarked that Dr EW needs an editor. i disagree. An editor, (such as one at the NYT, just saying), might edit out the critical detail in favor of maintaining reader interest, flow, or to maintain adherence to a certain style manual. The Oxford Comma is junked frequently for such reasons.
          Being well schooled in grammar is one of the things that enables readers at Emptywheel to follow the often complicated subjects and texts; i.e., clauses, subclauses, compound sentence structure, and sentences that typically contain far more than >subject-verb-object<!

        • emptywheel says:

          I like having editors when I have them (tho unless they’re very good they often do introduce imprecision). But they take a lot more time. If I had an editor I would write far, far less.

        • Giorgino says:

          Thanks for your work; in my view, your writing on complex matters is nothing short of perfect. Imprecision is not something we need added by an editor, though the occasional typo happens to us all. I agree with earthworm’s comments on the need for good grammar.

          If I may, with commas in mind, I’d like to illustrate how a simple mis-use of punctuation can change the meaning of a statement profoundly. It’s the Parable of the Panda, from Ms Truss’ book:

          “Eats, shoots and leaves” versus “Eats shoots and leaves”

          So, is the Panda an escaping killer, having consumed some food or simply a nibbling bear species endemic to China?

          Thank you for allowing me this short but important diversion.

        • bmaz says:

          Because a panda had a gun to shoot? People cannot reason that out without hyper-technical grammar corrections? What is so “important” about this “diversion”?? We have been here a very long time, with all kinds of editing errors among all involved here. And, yet, the common grammar scolds have mostly only been in the last couple of years.

        • GWPDA says:

          I would like, very much, to have additional information about bears with guns. Also, the correct use of the subjunctive tense as expressed in the majority of ‘news’ articles published by the New York Times.

        • ahansen says:

          Gun-toting pandas: Dyslexic misreading of the second amendment– although one prefers the more prurient interpretation involving a panda and a bordello.

        • HikaakiH says:

          An old Australian joke: nickname for the boyfriend who’s afraid of commitment (edit: after the dinner date) – “possum” because he eats, shoots and leaves. [My apologies for lowering the tone.]

        • Ken Muldrew says:

          Possibly they are not intending to scold at all, but rather wish to contribute in some small way. The bar to challenge, or add to, technical content here is usually very, very high, but people still want some way to show the writer that they are engaged and paying attention.
          The downside is a lot of scrolling through (mostly) unhelpful comments; especially hard on those who use a phone to read.
          Perhaps the recent increase is due to the curse of the ubiquitous “like” button.

        • bmaz says:

          “Contributing in some small way” is not helpful if all you are doing is making the principals here wonder and worry about stupid minor grammar issues. If it is not game altering in a post, why?? You just want minor grammar whining to take up the limited time of people here? If so, why is that anybody’s goal?

          There are very few people here at EW that have the pleasure of opening the site up to see what is going on, 24 hours a day, to approve or bounce comments as necessary and generally curate the place. There is enough to deal with already without constant grammar policing about a missing comma or something stupid that nobody is affected by.

        • Commentmonger says:

          I think it is good to point out that writing is becoming less moderated (edited), and more often I am finding sentence constructions that I end up not being sure of the meaning (not here, but in places like NYT and WaPo, etc. FYI. The NYT style guide omits the Oxford comma unless it is ‘confusing’ without it.

          >>>Style guides for book and academic publishing generally would insist on another comma, the so-called serial comma or Oxford comma. But news writing has traditionally omitted the serial comma. We do use the additional comma in cases where a sentence would be awkward or confusing without it: Choices for breakfast included oatmeal, muffins, and bacon and eggs.<<<

        • bmaz says:

          Again with the pissant commas? This is seriously what discerning people here are suddenly worried about?,,,,,,

          I used to think EW was about substantive content. I guess I missed when it became a stupid style guide discussion forum. And to think, people used to whine about me/us talking about sports, and here we are just a grammar whining forum.

        • Rayne says:

          There’s so much of it in this one thread it’s beginning to look like a form of concern trolling intent on DDoSing discussion of the topic.

          Why would anyone want to prevent discussion of NYT’s trebling down on access journalism to the detriment of the public’s need for usable knowledge?

        • Giorgino says:

          No one is trolling, the discussion went where it did. A question was asked, and was answered. Marcy said that she put it out there. We respect all the work you all do; no-one is trying to prevent discussion, foment grammar policing or waste your time.

          A more useful discussion would have been about dis- vs mis-information; disrupt vs overturn; stolen vs handling, as per the post. And there has been some. But grammar helps with the accurate reading of this dense content. Thank you for getting us back on topic, Rayne.

        • bmaz says:

          Uh, yes, there is some trolling. The “discussion went where it did” because some people, almost always, like you, newbies, think that pointing out and whining about even the most minor of grammatical faux pas, is/are important. A “more useful discussion” would be to stick to the actual topic and not tell us what to do.

  2. Kevin Collins says:

    Nothing will make these people happy until they have Trump getting re-elected from federal prison, with Roberts giving him the oath in his cell, after which he signs his own pardon and walks free. Great test case to litigate the self-pardon.

  3. Giorgino says:

    Thanks for your detailed analysis, and for my morning smile:

    (And it has a typeset — with the missing space after the period — and a tense error that suggests it was not edited, even ignoring the lack of Oxford comma.)

  4. RMD says:

    The NYTimes withheld publication of a massive surveillance operation on every citizen in the United States conducted by Bush’s administration. Effectively killing the story during an election year.

    ….and only publishing after Bush won a second term.

    If that doesn’t qualify as ‘two hands, a foot and an ample ass’ on the scales of truth in reporting….I don’t know what does.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    Loved your “McKinsey style of writing” metaphor for Axios
    Wasn’t McKinsey the brains behind Enron’s business model?
    Mr McKinsey was one of the smartest guys in the room

  6. ed mueller says:

    Marcy, I look forward to your posts every day. You have convinced me to cancel my NYT daily paper delivery after being a subscriber for a few decades. Maggie’s “transcription service” is simply unacceptable and is the last straw. Thank you and your team for all of the hard work!

  7. joel fisher says:

    Here’s the thing that is being missed: Trump is in the midst of the lord’s work, that is, the utter destruction of the GOP. You may recall them as an evil group of scum who–thanks to Trump–control 40% of the electorate, none of whom read the NYT–new reporter, there’s a yawner–or are in any way influenced by it except to the extent that they pretty much conclude the opposite of NYT stories and OP/EDs These scum are more than 2 times more numerous than any of the other groups: Manchins, lefties, moderates, undecideds, and former GOP never Trumpers. The problem: they only turn out when their orange god is on the ticket.
    We’ve got 16 glorious months of Trump vs DiSanctimonius; I’m looking forward to plenty of red stuff on the canvas. Some we’ll hear about in the NYT; I don’t care who’s writing.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      You should care. Judith Miller traded a string of misleading articles for access and significantly helped get us into war.

      And Trump very much cares. His obsession with the Times has been lifelong; they know it and cater to it; and the impression of conflict between the “fake news” NYT and Trump (or other GOP candidates) aids both sides while mostly hurting the public.

      • posaune says:

        The NYT has deferred to the Trumps for decades, now. Their policy is completely hands off any critical look at the real estate development sector in NYC. And historically, there was just too much advert money to do so.

        • Bombay Troubadour says:

          NYT struggling with the algorithms of access, advertisers, and truth. We know which of those three gets least weighting in editorial decisions.
          Trump, (with Maggie’s help) the epitome of the phrase, “Bullshit can get you to the top, it just can’t keep you there”.

        • bjet says:

          That’s not really true, there have been a steady stream of informative articles about the real estate ‘market’ that are not pollyanna about problems they describe, and that is not to mention Gina Bellafonte’s in depth, usually weekly (Sunday column) gems about that situation, or Susanna Craig & her crew’s well-deserved Pulitzer 18 month enterprise investigative series (much thanks to Mary Trump) on Trump’s properties & creative accounting which resulted in prosecutions, or the fantastic series on what private equity funds have been doing to towns across the country, and I could go on.

          The problem is that with the exception of Craig’s work, these are not the journalists’ whose stories MSNBC & CNN care to repeat.

  8. Patrick G. says:

    Long time lurker, first time commenter. Great post – just wanted to agree with Marcy about the distinction between dis & mis-information. Mis-information is accidental, dis-information is deliberate. This is a well-known distinction among internet researchers, yet NYT & other media outlets who should know better keep insisting on using “misinformation” implying an honest mistake, which is clearly untrue & confusing in many cases. No excuse for constantly getting this wrong, imo.

  9. MisTBlu says:

    Speaking of nits to pick, the thing that bugged me about the Lerer and Epstein piece is this: “…Democrats cast the election not as a referendum on the current, UNPOPULAR* President Biden…” I am SO tired of that trope. It was used to devastating effect against HRC and seeing it’s revival for Biden rankles beyond words.

    *emphasis added, obviously

    PS – Marcy, it feels that I’ve been aware of you for a long time before 2007, the earliest date in your bio. Were you posting as emptywheel in the late 1990s? Maybe on Salon? Anyway, glad to know of this.

    • Rayne says:

      The same flaws in polling election outcomes are nearly the same flaws in polling for presidential approval rating — the persons polled are not representative of the population.

      The analysis of the presidential approval rating is also flawed because it made assumptions about the left, particularly youth. They haven’t approved of Biden because he hasn’t gone far enough left nor aggressively, but that’s not an assessment of whether they’d vote for him given pro-gun, pro-forced birth MAGA alternatives.

      We should get better analysis from NYT instead of their persistent facile bullshit fed to them by the usual suspects.

      • Marinela says:

        I don’t trust polling anymore. The ones I was asked to answer, at the time I thought they were were propaganda masquerading as polling.
        This while Trump was President. They went like this:
        “Knowing that , would you support President Trump agenda on keeping the borders safe?

        The way the question was asked, it made you look unpatriotic if you said that you didn’t support Trump and still support democrats. A lot of bias in the “polling”. This is why I dismissed it as propaganda. But now I am thinking the poll outcome was pre-determined. The lady got frustrated with me, not getting the answers she wanted and she hang up on me. Can only imagine what was next if she got the answers she wanted and she already knew my phone number.

        About Biden’s approval. I don’t believe his approval is this low. 2022 election proved most voters are way more sophisticated. Maga type voters are not changing regardless of what Biden does, but they are still a minority.

      • DrDoom says:

        I agree fully with Rayne. The majority of the NYT failures are framing issues. They adopt framing that is chosen to support the GOP narrative. Casting the election as centered on economic issues rather than survival of democracy or bodily autonomy was willful misreading of the electorate. I do not know WHY the Gray Lady chose to do this, but suspect that it is a reflection of AG Sulzberger’s desire to have the GOP prevail. Baquet was a doofus as E-i-C and nothing I’ve seen so far from Kahn makes me believe he’s any better. Agree with Ginerva DiBenci regarding who’s worth reading there and how dangerous a bad reporter like Judith Miller can be as well.

  10. Unabogie says:

    Great points all around, as usual, but for me, the worst thing about media coverage of elections is the complete refusal to cover policy and their implications for people’s lives. It’s much more exciting to cover John Fetterman’s stroke and language problems at a debate than to break down Mehmet Oz’s proposed ban on abortion, or Fetterman’s tax proposals. Those are concrete issues that actually affect the daily lives of people from that state.

  11. Unabogie says:

    Great points all around, as usual, but for me, the worst thing about media coverage of elections is the complete refusal to cover policy and their implications for people’s lives. It’s much more exciting to cover John Fetterman’s stroke and language problems at a debate than to break down Mehmet Oz’s proposed ban on abortion, or Fetterman’s tax proposals. Those are concrete issues that actually affect the daily lives of people from that state.

    Of course, one of the worst examples is the 2016 election, in which we spent the entire campaign talking about emails or Trump’s latest tweet. By the time the election was over, no one had a clue what either candidate would do in office. Jay Rosen has the best prescription for fixing this, but no one is listening.

    https:/___/ Link broken by advisory.

    • Christenson says:

      @bmaz, @rayne, clicking on the link above to led to a support/virus scam that took over my screen. Feel free to handle this post any way you see fit, including deleting it or dropping it.

      • Rayne says:

        I’m not certain what caused your experience. I’ve gone to electionsos . com and obtained the page with Jay Rosen’s video without problem. We’ll leave the previous link deactivated for now. I suggest you have your machine checked for malware ASAP.

        For everyone else, the page offers NYU’s Jay Rosen in this video: The description of the video at YouTube:

        Jay Rosen has been defining a different reporting model for newsrooms to use for their elections coverage for decades. It’s called: The Citizens Agenda. When newsrooms have listened and applied it, it’s worked tremendously well.

        This talk blends a powerful philosophy with the practical and tactical ways of shifting the power for what politicians talk about to the public.

        Rosen has been writing for years now about the problems with newsrooms offering traditional horse race coverage of elections, now an emergency when journalists ignore the nature of the horses — pro-democracy versus fascist authoritarianists — concentrating instead on getting their bets right, and on clicks for engagement and ad sales, rather than the existential nature of elections this last handful of years.

        • HikaakiH says:

          That is definitely worth a read. Thank you for the link. We are some years down the track since it was written and the only bit I would really fault is the final conclusion as to why horse-race coverage still dominates election reporting: “The only answer I have is: political journalists wanted it this way, and their bosses permitted it.” I believe it’s the inverse with media proprietors/management wanting the horse-race coverage and the reporters following that imperative.

      • tmooretxk says:

        Symantec gave a blocked site message (Malicious tech support site) the first time I attempted it, but went through the next.

  12. e.a.foster says:

    It is beyond me why some news outlets hire former trump employees, associates, whatever to explain his actions. Its not reporting news, its interpretation of events from their view point, which is not helpful at times, well most of the time. people need to be provided with facts and they can make up their own minds. Hiring some of these people is simply rewarding them for their awful actions working for trump. Now they want to be seen as insightful or whatever.

    Who cares at this point what trump does or says. He is no longer President. He is being investigated as a criminal. He is just as poisonous as the dealers peddling fent.

  13. Tim L. says:

    Marcy, how do you know it’s not just “mishandling” classified docs? The Great Deliberator Merrick Garland hasn’t even decided whether it’s a crime yet!

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      LOL. Mishandling might apply to documents one was legally entitled to possess. Possessing, using, and handling documents one is not entitled to possess is something else entirely, as noted in the criminal statutes cited in the DoJ’s search warrant.

    • Rayne says:

      You do understand there was a search warrant for presidential records including classified documents, yes? You do understand what is required to obtain a warrant a federal judge would be willing to sign — specifically probable cause?

      Don’t do this petty stuff here.

  14. FlyMe2theMoon says:

    Dear Dr. Wheeler, Please keep banging this drum. Trump is a symptom, NOT the problem. The Christian nationalists and their policies are the problem. Of course, may the GOP mis-spend much time and energy during the next 2 years casting out the Trump speck from their eyes, perhaps blinding themselves in the process (this curse is only temporary, of course ;-).

    If any of the NYT powers-that-be read this site, they should flycast in your direction, Dr. Wheeler. When they hire you, I might stop climbing over their paywall….

    Sign me: I <3 the Emptywheel (even the prickly-pear prosecutor)

    • bmaz says:

      Who is the “prickly pear prosecutor”? If you are referring to me, I have never, ever, been a prosecutor and always only a private defense attorney.

      • FlyMe2theMoon says:

        My bad, bmaz! I got carried away by the alliteration of “prickly pear prosecutor”, which was supposed to be you. Sorry. Hugs and kisses.

  15. Savage Librarian says:

    Sheik, His Moneymaker

    Sheik, his moneymaker
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    He’s gotta sheik, his moneymaker, yeah
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    He’s gotta sheik his moneymaker
    And then

    He’s got a pal who works up on the Hill
    He’s got a pal who works up on the Hill
    Says she’ll let him roll her,
    but he don’t believe she will

    Sheik, his moneymaker
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    He wanna Rolls too, he keeps beggin’
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    And then

    He got a pal and he just won’t be true
    He got a pal and he just won’t be true
    Won’t let him do the one good thing
    he tells him to

    Sheik, his moneymaker
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    He’s gotta sheik his moneymaker, yeah
    Sheik, his moneymaker
    He’s gotta sheik his moneymaker, yeah

    “Elmore James – Shake Your Moneymaker”

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