The Faustian bargain the NY Times and Washington Post have made in their biased coverage of Trump

By Dave Andrusko

Jill Abramson

The last time we mentioned former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the first woman ever to hold that prestigious position, was when we reposted a story by Newsbusters’ Tim Graham. In it, Graham quoted from a column she wrote for the left wing, pro-abortion newspaper, the Guardian last Spring in which Abramson waxed poetic about “Are we seeing signs of a Democratic wave in the primaries? It’s thrilling to see signs of a Trump rebellion – it could lead to winning control of the House, and maybe the 2020 election.”

What understandably got all the attention was this gem:

It’s easy to look at what’s happening in Washington DC and despair. That’s why I carry a little plastic Obama doll in my purse. I pull him out every now and then to remind myself that the United States had a progressive, African American president until very recently. Some people find this strange, but you have to take comfort where you can find it in Donald Trump’s America.

“I carry a little plastic Obama doll in my purse”? Yikes.

Presumably her forthcoming book, “Merchants of Truth,” was largely, probably entirely, completed by then. To state the obvious in advance, the criticisms she levels at the Times and Post are front and center in her own Guardian piece. Does she not even see this? Or would her lame response be she is now free to vent her spleen?

According to Publishers Weekly, in her book Abramson is profiling the ups and downs and convergence of two old geezers—the Times and the Washington Post—and two newbies—Buzzfeed and Vice. We read

Buzzfeed and Vice edged into award-winning prestige journalism, yet have struggled financially; the Times and Post mastered internet eyeball-grabbing strategies while amassing lucrative online subscriptions for their authoritative reporting; the price for all four, she notes, was an ethically queasy blurring of lines between paid advertising and news (the author’s tense narrative of her Times editorship and controversial firing centers on this issue).

Howard Kurtz
Photo: David Shankbone

Enter Howard Kurtz, host of Fox News’ “Media Buzz,” who commented yesterday on “Merchants of Truth” under the headline, “Former NY Times editor rips Trump coverage as biased.”

Kurtz describes the book as an “extraordinary rebuke” of the Times. (So, too, for the Post.) Kurtz said Abramson was “calling out the paper in no uncertain terms for its coverage of the President,” describing it as “unmistakably anti-Trump.”

Quoting from the book, Kurtz writes

“Though [Dean] Baquet [Abramson’s successor] said publicly he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump,” Abramson writes, adding that she believes the same is true of the Washington Post. “Some headlines contained raw opinion, as did some of the stories that were labeled as news analysis.”

What’s more, she says, citing legendary 20th century publisher Adolph Ochs, “the more anti-Trump the Times was perceived to be, the more it was mistrusted for being biased. Ochs’s vow to cover the news without fear or favor sounded like an impossible promise in such a polarized environment.”

Collectively the comments seem to suggest that the rivers of negativity toward President Trump represents primarily a confluence of the animus of younger staff (whom she dubs the “woke”) who are so aghast at Trump that they believe the old standards, such as objectivity, have been “obviated”; and money. Kurtz observes

Trump claims he is keeping the “failing” Times in business—an obvious exaggeration—but the former editor acknowledges a “Trump bump” that saw digital subscriptions during his first six months in office jump by 600,000, to more than 2 million.

“Given its mostly liberal audience, there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative: they drove big traffic numbers and, despite the blip of cancellations after the election, inflated subscription orders to levels no one anticipated.”

This is the Faustian bargain the Times and the Post have made. Oodles of new digital subscriptions (a kind of financial life jacket) at the expense of being “caught up in constant negativity,” Kurtz says which “hurts their credibility in ways I don’t think they fully appreciate.”