If you can’t trust New York Times with facts, why trust that op-ed?

Published 6:53 am Friday, September 21, 2018


Louisville Courier Journal

If they will lie about the curtains, why should I believe them on the anonymous op-ed?

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That was the first thought I had last week when The New York Times published a “news” story on the curtains hanging in the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

“Nikki Haley’s View of New York is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701,” the original headline blared. The story, which featured a huge picture of Trump’s UN ambassador, gave readers the impression that Haley herself had misspent taxpayer money on extravagant drapes.

Buried in the story was an important paragraph indicating the curtains were purchased in 2016, during the Obama administration. Haley, back then, was still governor of South Carolina.

It was the sort of clickbait rocket fuel on which liberal social media runs. Ready to believe anything negative about the Trump administration, his most ardent opponents, who sustain themselves on daily outrage, sent the story soaring for hours.

Conservatives instantly recognized the egregious cheap shot and began tweeting about it, along with some journalists from other outlets. The New York Times, several hours later, was forced to walk back the story and change the headline:

“The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used. The article and headline have now been edited to reflect those concerns, and the picture has been removed.”

That’s a long walk. And it made me wonder how something so erroneous could have cleared a supposedly unbiased journalist and presumably a couple of layers of supposedly unbiased editors. The mistake was instantly recognizable and did a tremendous disservice to the other journalists working at The New York Times who now must live with reporter Gardiner Harris’ mistake.

Which brings me back to the anonymous op-ed published by the Times several days ago, purportedly from a “senior” Trump administration official who slammed the president and claimed to be part of a resistance inside the administration subverting Trump’s agenda.

If we can’t trust the nation’s newspaper of record on something trivial like curtains, why should we trust them on the anonymously written opinion piece? How “senior” is this person, exactly? When the op-ed first ran I thought that there is no possible way the Times would print something like this unless the author were truly in close proximity to the Oval Office. But now … color me skeptical.

The New York Times has long been a piñata for conservative politicians who hold it up as the gold standard of liberal bias. Voices like mine on the right plead for understanding— there are two sides of the house! The news side and the opinion side are separate! Don’t get them mixed up! I recognize that my cries fall on doubting conservative ears, but I persist because democracy demands a credible, trusted free press.

But now, in the wake of the curtains fiasco, my confidence is shaken. Judgment is the issue. Since none was exercised on the journalism side of the house, why should we assume it is any better on the opinion side?

It pains me to write this. As a former journalist-turned-conservative operative and commentator, I’m constantly pleading with fellow Republicans to give the media a chance to regain the trust it has lost over the last several years. Most journalists are honest, hardworking souls earnestly trying to deliver information that informs our citizenry.

But then this curtains story comes along and I realize we still have a long way to go. Last week was a tremendous setback for those who long for reconciliation and understanding between conservatives and the American media establishment.

The Times journalist exhibited terrible judgment, but he is not fully to blame. There is clearly a bubble culture in which no one who reviewed the story during its journey from notepad to publication looks at the world through conservative eyes. I agree with former George W. Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher, who tweeted: “Newsrooms would benefit if they thought more like America.”

If media people want conservatives to trust them, whether on their journalism process or on unusual items like the publication of the anonymous op-ed, they must commit to more ideologically diverse eyeballs in their buildings. I don’t begrudge any media person for holding personal political views, but bad products invariably emerge when a single point of view exists unquestioned. The New York Times should consider hiring a conservative ombudsman to offer perspective on pieces like the curtains story.

Rebuilding trust among Americans and their news media is vital. We are at rock bottom, with nowhere to go but up.

Scott Jennings is a CNN Contributor and Partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at scott@runswitchpr.com or @ScottJenningsKY on Twitter.