How Trump Manipulated 3 NYT Journalists to Make a Campaign Ad for Fascism

In the face of Trump’s gas-lighting, journalists are struggling mightily to report Joe Biden’s accurate warnings about the authoritarian threat Trump poses.

In advance of Biden’s Valley Force speech — which the AP dubbed his first campaign speech of 2024 — AP spun Trump’s lies about January 6 as just one interpretation driven by politics.

With Biden and Trump now headed toward a potential 2020 rematch, both are talking about the same event in very different ways and offering framing they believe gives them an advantage. The dueling narratives reflect how an attack that disrupted the certification of the election is increasingly viewed differently along partisan lines — and how Trump has bet that the riot won’t hurt his candidacy.

In a WaPo story chronicling how Trump has trained the GOP to love insurrection, Isaac Arnsdorf and Trump-whisperer Josh Dawsey allowed propagandist Julie Kelly to complain about her portrayal without ever noting a number of persistent lies she tells — about which January 6 defendants are held in pre-trial detention, how they’re treated there, and the number of people charged with assault.

“I was being considered an outlier, to put it nicely,” Kelly said in an interview. “Conspiracy theorist or whack job, to put it more accurately, how I was portrayed.”

It described Tucker Carlson at length without describing the depths of his lies (nor the overproduced propaganda piece he did for the first anniversary). It referred to Nazi Timothy Hale-Cusanelli’s views as simple “notoriety for wearing a Hitler-style mustache.” The only thing it affirmatively identified as false is the claim no rioters had guns (and focuses on Darren Beattie’s “conspiracy theory” about Ray Epps rather than his fabricated claims that Thomas Caldwell’s devoted spouse was instead an FBI informant who framed him. In short, it repeated the Big Lie about the Big Lie as an interesting political development, not something it has responsibility to debunk.

Then there’s the NYTimes, in a piece by Michael Bender, Lisa Lerer and Michael Gold. It seems to be a genuine attempt at cataloging Trump’s “brazen” attempt to “cast[] Mr. Biden as the true menace,” the subhead of the piece.

But it proceeded to quote just 31 words of what it calls Joe Biden’s “forceful” speech, before it aired:

  • A 13-word false quote from Trump about his prosecution
  • 30 words of projection from Trump, attacking Biden
  • A 20-word false attack on Jack Smith
  • 11 more words lying about DOJ, quoted from a Trump fundraising email
  • Trump’s 3 word celebration of January 6 and another word rebranding convicted Jan6ers
  • 36 words from Trump’s campaign managers attacking Biden (a statement the AP also quoted)
  • In an attempt to label all this projection, Trump’s 5-word attack on Hillary Clinton
  • A 3-word attack on Biden that Trump uses in rally signage
  • 28 words of attack on DOJ from Marjorie Taylor Greene
  • 21 words from a Trump supporter at a rally

And they did so in an article talking about the import of focusing on democracy, not on Trump’s false claims about it.

Even including a 33-word quote from Josh Shapiro about how Pennsylvanians have learned to see through Trump’s bullshit and 30 words about the threat of violence, NYT still quoted Trump or his supporters’ false attacks on Biden and rule of law almost twice as much as they did true claims about Trump.

Effectively, it rewarded Trump for telling “audacious” lies. By telling them, he got three NYT journalists to quote his lies about Joe Biden and rule of law over and over and over.

The reason Trump projects his own failures on other people is because journalists never fail to reward him for it, presenting his false claims alongside true ones, leaving the impression that truth is up for debate, that professionals are helpless to discern which of these claims are true.

Trump’s goal is to degrade the very notion of truth. And this kind of journalism only helps him do that.

Update: After I wrote this, NYT changed the headline of this piece, from “Clashing Over Jan. 6, Trump and Biden Show Reality Is at Stake in 2024,” to “Trump Signals an Election Year Full of Falsehoods on Jan. 6 and Democracy.”

51 replies
  1. Nigel Stead says:

    I see a disturbingly similar approach by the BBC.

    [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

    • Marie_07JAN2024_1253h says:

      I’ve noticed that with the BBC as well.

      [Welcome to emptywheel. Please choose and use a unique username with a minimum of 8 letters. We are moving to a new minimum standard to support community security. Because your username is far too short and common (there are a number of Maries in this community) it will be temporarily changed to match the date/time of your first known comment until you have a new compliant username. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • timbozone says:

      Whatever it is, it certainly is undermining our democracy rather dishearteningly quickly. Basically, does the NYT want a free press? And if so, how does coddling dangerous liars year in and year out bring that about exactly?

      • John B.*^ says:

        That’s a really good question, and important. It’s so depressing, this excellent reporting by our esteemed hosts and noting how the 4th estate is failing us in our time of extreme need.

      • Nigel_01JUN2023_0330h says:

        I don’t think this is a problem confined to the NYT. Propaganda put out by Trump’s camp, particularly in relation to his multiple criminal problems, find their way into mainstream reporting everywhere. I tear my hair out at the BBC happily quoting Jim Jordan without providing any context of who he actually is and what his agenda is about. It seems Trump’s criminality is regarded solely in terms of how many votes it might gain or lose, nobody in the media seems to be asking why the GOP didn’t get rid of this election loser when they had the chance. Then we wouldn’t have this circus.

        [Welcome back to emptywheel. SECOND REQUEST: Please use the same username and email address each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You commented earlier at 5:15 p.m. ET as “Nigel Stead“; please revert to that name as it meets the site’s 8-letter mininum. Your name has been changed temporarily to match date/time of your first comment as there are more than one Nigel in the community. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  2. Staid Winnow says:

    It is not that the NYT journalists are gullible.

    They are willful.

    NYT has, for a long time, been a Republican loving publication.

    It’s amusing to see so many realizing this only now, and getting frustrated by it.

    • Old Rapier says:

      Allegedly Murray Kempton said the NY Times stands above the fray until the battle is over and then descends to the battlefield to shoot the wounded. The quote however seems to be of disputed origin but the point is right. That isn’t going to save NYT corp. however. 90 years of let’s call it skepticism about fascism and Nazism won’t save it when the Party starts selecting companies to fail or succeed.

    • BobBobCon says:

      While I think there are political reporters who genuinely relish their career opportunities under Trump, no matter how dumb that is, there’s a different dynamic at work for most.

      I think the large majority of the establishment press is like the French generals circa January 1940. They didn’t want Germany to overrun France, but they were hopelessly myopic about the situation before them, and even worse, incapable of imagining that they might be wrong.

      If they were alerted to a threat which fit their preconceived notions, they’d jump on it, and send out air patrols or put a sector on alert. And in occasional cases, Times reporters have quickly jumped on smaller issues of Trump’s fascism.

      But they simply cannot conceive of the possibility that their model of coverage might be flawed. They are sure if Trump posed a threat to democracy, they’d catch it.

      But for all of their insider contacts in December 2020, they completely missed 1/6/21. And I think Trump gets that nothing has seriously changed. Maggie Haberman, Peter Baker, AG Sulzberger, and so many others are still there, poking around the edges, following the leaks he sends their way, and completely incapable of changing how they operate.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The NYT will be flabbergasted at how easy it was for the Germans to work round the Maginot Line.

        • BobBobCon says:

          A more recent example would be Rumsfeld who was sure his generals and the career pros in DOD were 100% wrong about would be needed in Iraq and he was 100% right.

          Rummy wasn’t directly corrupt, he was a moron blinded by ideology, political infighting, and out of control self confidence.

          I think you can make an indirect argument to an extent about the economic influences that led him to his idiocy, but ultimately it was other factors that spawned his strategy, such as it was.

          • pluralist says:

            I’m struggling to understand the mechanisms of and reasons for this kind of reporting (perhaps we need scare quotes around “reporting”).

            I was going to ask how many people are actually mislead by this stuff. To some of us it looks so transparently twisted. Then I remembered that (for other purposes) I had recently dug up this bit from the WaPo, September 6, 2003:

            “. . .seven in 10 Americans continue to believe that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks. . .Sixty-nine percent of Americans said they thought it at least likely that Hussein was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. . .That impression. . .is broadly shared by Democrats, Republicans and independents. . .”

            [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8-letter minimum. Please be sure to use the same username each time you comment. /~Rayne]

          • HikaakiH says:

            I think the large majority of the establishment press is like the French generals circa January 1940. They didn’t want Germany to overrun France, but they were hopelessly myopic about the situation before them, and even worse, incapable of imagining that they might be wrong.

            Another instance to add to the litany of circumstances described by the widely attributed aphorism, “It ain’t what we don’t know that brings us trouble, but what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
            I always found it wryly amusing that Rumsfeld’s only undeniably true and cogent expression – his epistemological primer about ‘known knowns’, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ – brought him ridicule.
            The missing part of Rumsfeld’s epistemological analysis was the ‘unknown knowns’ which, rather than being a properly omitted tautology, is in fact a large part of our current woes – stuff that is in the domain of public knowledge but remains studiously ignored by too many people. [I only just overcame the urge to use a lot of expletives near the end of that last sentence.]

  3. greengiant says:

    Just like when George Soros broke the bank of England there is a lot of money to be made by destroying the U.S.
    Anyone voting GOP is supporting that destruction.

      • HikaakiH says:

        The occasion of Soros making a fortune by betting against the BoE is not a conspiracy theory. Back in the 1992 he short sold GBP to the tune of about USD10B and made somewhere in the region of USD1B profit when the UK faced reality and dropped out of the European ERM. Here’s a short article that includes a good summary of what happened.
        Greengiant’s contention that there may be people looking to make fortunes from the chaos and instability the US government would suffer in a second Trump term should not really be considered controversial, either.
        [And just to be clear (given your sensitivity to greengiant’s comment), when I think of the people looking to profit from Trumpian US government chaos, I’m thinking of foreign powers (Russia, China and others) along with US nationals who buy into Steve Bannon’s shtick.]

        • Rayne says:

          Steve Bannon is a former hedge fund manager. So is Robert Mercer, and his spawn Rebekah likely dabbles in hedge fund management. So were a number of the persons key to Brexit, like that frog-mouthed git Nigel Farage.

          Remember this image from the night of the Brexit referendum?

          This is *exactly* what will happen if certain funds can pull off a run-up ahead of any key event like a highly-contentious election. Bannon isn’t just an anarchist (definitely not a Leninist) but a fucking financial vulture as are the rest of his ilk.

          This is one thing which should be discussed: halting trading ahead of and just after an election to take short profits out of play, because the profits can be enough to buy an election and still profit.

      • Notyouraveragenormal says:

        Isn’t Soros’ bet against the pound when Britain dropped out of the ERM well-established and not part of the conspiracy canon?

        • Ewan Woodsend says:

          He did not break the Bank of England, just like betting against subprime loans did not create the subprime crisis. So this ‘just like’ is misplaced at best. And this is not about financial mechanisms future markets, but about democracy.

        • SteveBev says:

          That Soros broke the Bank of England is perhaps an example of what Soros would term ‘reflexivity’.

          “Soros developed a critique of financial markets known as reflexivity: that far from being perfectly rational, investors based their decisions on a perception of reality. These decisions then altered the reality through a feedback loop. Soros says his belief in reflexivity meant he was able to successfully predict the 2008 global financial crisis.
          Paradoxically, though, the financial bonanza for which he is best known was when the markets behaved with clear-headed rationality. Like other currency traders, Soros thought there was an obvious tension between the determination of John Major’s government to defend the pound’s value within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) and the dire state of the UK economy in late 1992.

          Britain had joined the ERM less than two years earlier and was committed to keeping the pound within a set band against the German mark. The orthodox way of supporting a currency is to raise interest rates, but they were already at 10% at a time when unemployment stood at more than 3 million.
          The gamble Soros and his fellow speculators took was that the pound would eventually be devalued because there was a limit to how much pain the government was prepared to inflict on its own people. The gamble proved correct. After announcing that interest rates would be raised to 15% (a decision never acted upon), the government caved in and announced that Britain’s membership of the ERM would be suspended. Soros cleaned up”

          • earlofhuntingdon says:

            Shorter version is that it’s an anti-Semitic lie.

            The meme is maddening, given that he’s probably among a small number of moderately progressive hedge fund managers, for whom ethical standards is normally a contradiction in terms.

            • SteveBev says:

              Your TL:dr is absolutely correct.

              But Black Wednesday was entirely due to the economic a monetary policy mismanagement by John Major and Norman Lamont.

              It is grotesque to label Soros as at fault in any way let alone as the cause of the crisis.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The WaPo’s, “dueling narratives” is doing a lot of work; it’s a pathetic substitute for context, analysis and criticism.

    • Honeybee says:

      Funny, the timing for me. I was just today looking at some coverage of “outrages” during Reconstruction and noted that the Great Gray Lady back in the day picked up an item from a more conservative paper than the “Republican” papers of the day – most of which have not survived. More context and analysis was available in serials like Harper’s and The Nation. Also recently read a tepid climate disruption story in the NYT that had a lot of what I have heard called “whataboutism.” While temp stats look like 100,000 years ago. Wouldn’t want to alarm anybody.

  5. Yankee in TX says:

    The problem is that the R’s can’t decide what the main focus of their campaign should be. Should it be their Mendacity or their Hypocrisy? Should it be the the Cupidity of their “Leaders” or the Stupidity of their Followers? Should it be the Venality of their “Leaders” or Veniality towards the J6 rioters? TFG seems to be going for “All of the Above.”

  6. Maryelle says:

    “Then there’s the NYTimes, in a piece by Michael Bender, Lisa Lerer and Michael Gold. It seems to be a genuine attempt at cataloging Trump’s “brazen” attempt to “cast[] Mr. Biden as the true menace,” the subhead of the piece.”

    Sadly, that’s NYT’s goal.

    It’s noteworthy that Michael Bender is married to Trump whisperer, Ashley Parker, from the WaPost.,Mazarine%2C%20born%20in%20November%202018.

    [Thanks for updating your username to meet the 8 letter minimum. /~Rayne]

  7. fatvegan000 says:

    I’m still pissed about the George Will article in WaPo this week titled:

    “A Constitution-flouting ‘authoritarian’ is already in the White House.”

    • Spencer Dawkins says:

      I’m old enough to remember when George Will was coherent. One has to be at least 45-50 to say that, though …

      • Rayne says:

        Will may have been more coherent but he’s always been a conservative douchebag carrying water for the right-wing. He just hasn’t realized the right-wing used the Overton window so hard for so long they’re now full-on unrepentant fascists.

    • Konny_2022 says:

      Thanks for the link. WaPo and NYT should reread their own articles and opinions they wrote after Trump’s election in 2016, and their insights they had then about their covering of the 2016 campaigns. Now they are repeating what they (or at least some of them) had detected as not-so-good journalism back then.

      My WaPo inclusion is based on their article “Trump mocks Biden over stutter” by Matt Viser and Isaac Arnsdorf ( Neither Trump’s mocking nor Biden’s stutter (that he mostly overcame but still happens occasionally) is news. Trump’s gaffes, non-sensical remarks, slips of the tongue, however, are mostly overlooked by the MSM.

      • RitaRita says:

        The Washington Post recently had an article that explained Trump’s policy proposals. Since Trump has no policy proposals just sound bites, the staff writer took some of his sound bites and fashioned policies. It is what the media has done for Trump for a long time: “He said [this] but here is what he meant.”.

        The media desperately wants to treat Trump and the modern Republicans as a conventional candidate and a conventional party so it can cover election contests in the way that it always has.

        • Ginevra diBenci says:

          Yesterday the Post had a headline saying Trump “Sharply Attacks” Nikki Haley. I know the writers don’t write the headlines, so I did not blame this on the journalist, but it was laughable to me that anyone would describe Trump as doing anything “sharply.”

          That headline, however, will convey to casual/lazy readers that he possessed a focus he singularly lacks.

      • BRUCE F COLE says:

        Actually, that WaPo stuttering article nails Trump for his schoolyard bullying shtick, and it contrasts that with Biden’s much more humane rhetoric.

  8. Barringer says:

    “All the bait that’s fit to click”. These NYT “journalists” are more concerned about maintaining access than informing readers. They have formed their own little centrist bipartisan echo chamber.

  9. Sportingdog says:

    From Dan Balz at WaPo -“ Trump has used the three years since the Capitol attack to double, triple and quadruple down on his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him — that it was marred by widespread fraud, which has never been proved, and that Biden’s victory therefore is illegitimate.”
    At what point does WaPo admit that false claims without foundation can simply be labeled as lies? Trump lies consistently and it’s regular mischaracterization by the press as something about which reasonable people might disagree undermines the work of facing up to facts.

    • BobBobCon says:

      I think a deeply troubling indicator of the mindset of the political press is in their treatment of the Trump fraud case and the E. Jean Carroll case.

      Both of them involve substantial evidence that was proven in court. Judges have not just suggested that Trump may have done the things he was accused of — they have ruled he did.

      But to borrow from Jay Rosen, the asymetry between Trump and Biden fries their circuits. Their crazy framework of “balance” means that they default to a broken vision that fairness somehow means not changing their ledes and headlines to treat facts as facts.

      He has already lost, badly, and with that goes away the responsibility of the press to prioritize his defense — it has actually flipped now so that Carroll and the taxpayers of NY are the viewpoint that matters.

      But it’s going to fake concerns about balance and fairness as the courts keep moving forward.

  10. Nessnessess says:

    Trump is a father figure of a certain kind. Father figures strike deep. This accounts for much of what we are seeing.

    • Rayne says:

      Much of that image can be attributed to his role in The Apprentice where he was cast as a successful billionaire business manager and father. All of which now we know was highly-produced fakery. It’s no wonder we’ve been denied access to outtakes from that series.

      • wa_rickf says:

        Exactly. Trump as a canny, experienced entrepreneur willing to break things to get the job done is a fictitious Hollywood creation that “The Apprentice” show-runner Mark Burnett concocted.

        For eleven years, British show producer Mark Burnett beamed this Hollywood-made for TV character of a savvy, strong business leader into willing American homes every Thursday night.

        In reality, the host of the show was a failed, weak, and morally flawed businessman with six business bankruptcies under his belt even then. Trump as a successful businessman is a Hollywood reality TV-show concocted fakery that Rightwingers thought was all true.

  11. duderix says:

    I am not a student of media or journalism history. Perhaps some of you know about this: How did the mainstream media of Germany covered Hitler prior to his arriving at the apex of Germany’s government? Did their reporting change in character when he was clearly gone and a new government formed? I just wonder how the journalists of that era “framed” and “reported” on the events of the day…was there a point where you can say, “this is where German journalism became complicit?” Were they into “what-about-ism” when covering what they saw? Were they acting like they prized access more than a comprehensive presentation of facts?

    But specifically regarding the NYT, I was listening a few weeks ago to “On the Media” (I think) about newspapers generally . The gist of the story was: NYT has succeeded in print-journalism while other papers, large and small, have withered and died. NYT adapted to social (digital) media quicker. They kept their paywall, they said, and show a profit despite it. They decided to produce and distribute their own digital reporting. So, whatever the critique of their reportage, it is a part of larger formula and I don’t imagine they will change their business model any time soon.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username and email address each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You have published comments here recently as “duderino” and “Duderino” (letter case matters). Please pick one of your former names to use going forward as they comply with the site’s 8-letter minimum while “duderix” doesn’t. Thanks.

    Further, a paragraph break was added to your overlong block of text to improve readability. Paragraphs of 100 words are optimum. /~Rayne]

    • Honeybee says:

      A good question, duderix. While I’m no expert on Goebbels’s propaganda genius, I have read that hundreds of newspapers in Germany (including some centuries old) ceased publication after the Anschluss against Truth beginning in 1933. There is also historical evidence that in the UK press before Churchill, wealthy news owners flattered fans of Appeasement. As in, those Nazis won’t be bombing here in London.

  12. vegeholic says:

    My conclusion from all of this feckless “news” reporting is that students in J-school learn too well the lesson that their mission is to report the facts and leave advocacy to the editorial page. That mission works well when disputes arise over good faith differences in policy preferences. But when the dispute is between truth and lies you have to become an advocate for truth. How is this not obvious? We are running out of time for an overhaul of what it means to be a journalist. As others have suggested, maybe the reporters know exactly what they are doing as it serves their immediate interests. I hope not.

  13. duderix says:

    “They decided to produce and distribute their own digital reporting.” –what I meant here was they have other original “features section” reporting adapted for digital consumption. Maybe they do editorial things as well.

    [Moderator’s note: see comment at 12:07 in this thread. / ~Rayne]

  14. Duderino says:

    Got it. Thanks.

    [Moderator’s note: I assume this is your response to note left at 12:07 in this thread. /~Rayne]

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Excellent piece by Rick Perlstein.

      To paraphrase, Democrats are obsessed with winning votes. Republicans are obsessed with winning political power, and they’re willing to get it through extra-political means, including force of arms. Journalism hasn’t caught up with that, and possibly can’t, because it would mean staring into the abyss. Democrats have a similar problem. He describes the participants this way:

      In one corner, a party consistently ratcheting toward authoritarianism, refusing as a matter of bedrock principle…to compromise with adversaries they frame as…evil and seek…to destroy.

      In the second corner, a party that says that, in a political culture where there is not enough compromise, the self-evident solution is to offer more compromise….

      And in the third corner, those…elite political journalists, who frame the Democrats as one of the “sides” in a tragic folie à deux destroying a nation otherwise united and at peace with itself because both sides stubbornly … refuse to compromise.

      As if a nation defined by racial and economic tensions was ever what Norman Rockwell’s wartime illustrations hoped it would become: “a nation otherwise united and at peace with itself.”

Comments are closed.