Update 5:00 p.m.: Dick Stevenson, who runs the political coverage at the New York Times, says of the paper’s treatment of the Trump story: “As best as we can tell, this was at least in part a function of, to use your phrase, the madness of this particular campaign. But while we reported what we believed to be true at the time, based on sourcing that we judged credible, the bottom line was that the information, and our stories, turned out to be wrong.”
Original story: Poke around on the Web sites of prominent news outlets right now, and you’re bound to encounter some confusion. A good example would be the New York Times:
10:37 a.m. | Updated RENO, Nev. — Newt Gingrich swept into Nevada on Wednesday trailing far behind Mitt Romney in state polls and lacking much campaign organization, but his aides were ready to boast of a flashy new endorsement: Donald Trump was supposed to announce his support of Mr. Gingrich on Thursday in Las Vegas, according to a senior campaign official.
But today came word that Mr. Trump — at least for now — was preparing to endorse Mitt Romney.
Now try Politico:
Word started leaking out in Las Vegas earlier that Donald Trump’s “major announcement” is to back Newt Gingrich, and sources supporting the former House Speaker confirmed to POLITICO that was the case. The New York Times and the Associated Press, among others, also reported the news on their own confirmation.
The Times, in fact, went first.
But by this morning, other sources said that Trump’s endorsement may actually go to Mitt Romney, who Trump has been lobbied heavily to endorse for the last few weeks. Matt Drudge, who has ties to top Romney officials, was the first to report it.
Any on-the-record sources behind all of this? Not a lot, to judge from the record. “Donald Trump will announce his support of Mr. Gingrich on Thursday in Las Vegas, according to a senior campaign official.” — that’s how the Times first phrased things.
Looks like that senior campaign official had the wrong information. Or that senior campaign official had the right information, at that very moment. The next moment, Trump may well have changed his endorsee. And then changed it back again.
The competition among our political news sources is a glorious thing to behold. Shop around on the Internet, and you get fresh news, fresh opinions, fresh tweets. As Jack Shafer said, there’s no such thing as too many political outlets:
[W]e’re living in a bit of a golden age of political reporting. At least when it comes to national politics and national government, there have never been more reporters competing to break news. Not everything on the menu tastes great, but there’s no denying it’s a feast.
The Trump stuff tastes like a container of Safeway salsa three months beyond its sell-by date. It’s an episode that reflects the unthinking depravity of the must-be-first news culture.
Though it’s always glorious to break news, let’s carve out an exception for the Donald. From now on, let there be no distinction attached to debuting information regarding this guy. None. He’s a buffoon with negative influence who clings to fabricated issues.
For news organizations looking to set themselves apart on Trump coverage, here’s a suggestion: Be last. And perhaps correct.