New York Times Deputy Executive Editor Matthew Purdy sounds unimpressed with complaints from the Trump campaign regarding a pair of tough stories recently published by his newspaper: “There’s nothing that has been raised about these stories that give us any pause at all.”
No, not even this killer tweet from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump himself:
That tweet came in response to a Sunday front-page article in the New York Times under the title, “Inside the Failing Mission to Tame Donald Trump’s Tongue.” Written by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, the piece sketched out a picture of a “sullen and erratic” Trump who expresses regrets about heeding guidance from advisers to tone down his act; a politician who squanders political capital in meetings with top Republicans; and who continues to get advice from former campaign manager and current CNN political commentator Corey Lewandowski.
As for Trump’s contention that the New York Times reported on meetings that “never happened,” Purdy told the Erik Wemple Blog, “Any story like this is vetted thoroughly beforehand and we feel completely confident in our reporting.” It wasn’t just Trump, however, who made the allegation about phantom meetings. In Sunday’s edition of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Trump campaign senior communications adviser Jason Miller said, “There was an article on the front page of the New York Times today that had chockful of anonymous blind quotes and sources, talking about meetings that quite frankly never even happened.”
A similar pattern played out following a New York Times investigative piece on Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Three Times reporters cited “handwritten ledgers” turning up “$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012.” The article made clear that it’s unclear whether Manafort actually received the cash.
Responding to the paper’s reporting, Manafort issued a statement that reads, in part, “Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report. The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical.”
So there’s a public performance by the Trump campaign, blasting the New York Times and otherwise plowing ahead with its campaign strategy of blaming poor polling on the media. But does the Trump campaign feel strongly enough about its public pronouncements to express them directly to the New York Times? We asked Purdy. “Best I know, we have not heard from the campaign beyond their public statements.”
Make an angry and flamboyant display publicly, while failing to mount a case directly to the offending news outlet: We’ve seen this before from the Trump people, specifically in reaction to a New York Times piece detailing the candidate’s sexist treatment of women.
Yet Trump spokesman Miller had landed on something of a hot-button issue in citing all the anonymous sourcing in the Burns-Haberman piece. The newspaper famously stumbled on two big stories that had relied on anonymous sources — one on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails, and another on the social media habits of a San Bernardino assailant. Following those breakdowns, the Times in March announced a new policy for articles that rely on anonymity. As part of that policy, any piece whose “primary news element” hinges on anonymity requires sign-off from the paper’s masthead.
In this case, Purdy did the upper-management assessment. He won’t reveal just what he suggested in his review but said, “we had a . . . series of specific conversations about sourcing.” New York Times associate managing editor for standards Phil Corbett told Public Editor Liz Spayd last month that the new policy had resulted in a “measurable drop” in anonymous sourcing.
Across the political journalism industry, there’s a great deal of decluttering to be done on anonymous sourcing. Worthless and ubiquitous are the blind quotes from this-or-that political operative whining about the party’s standard bearer in colorful terms. They mean nothing. Far more meritorious is the sourcing approach of the Burns-Haberman piece, which uses anonymity to establish fact, as in this passage:
He would have to stick to a teleprompter and end his freestyle digressions and insults, like his repeated attacks on a Hispanic federal judge. Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey argued that Mr. Trump had an effective message, if only he would deliver it. For now, the campaign’s polling showed, too many voters described him in two words: “unqualified” and “racist.”
Mr. Trump bowed to his team’s entreaties, according to four people with detailed knowledge of the meeting, who described it on the condition of anonymity. It was time, he agreed, to get on track.
That’s a textbook example of righteous anonymous sourcing.