The National Rifle Association has developed an obsession with the New York Times — not that the newspaper’s top editor has any idea where it comes from. “I don’t even know what prompted this,” said New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. “It’s not as if we just landed a major series on guns.”
When Baquet references “this,” he means a pair of videos from the NRA accusing the New York Times of bad coverage. In late February, the NRA did a video hit on the New York Times after the newspaper put out a video promotion under the title “The Truth Is Hard.” Sure, the NRA said, the New York Times is prosecuting the truth now, during a Republican administration. But where was the truth-telling during the Obama administration? That video cycled through a number of such alleged omissions by the New York Times. In fact, the paper covered it all. “Each and every story mentioned in the NRA’s video, from Benghazi to crime in Chicago, was covered in deep and rich detail by Times reporters,” New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said, in part, in a statement at the time.
One back-and-forth apparently wasn’t sufficient for the NRA. Now the group has returned to the topic with a new video in which NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch cites stale arguments against the New York Times. “Taking on the Times” starts with Loesch recapping the drama over the “Truth Is Hard” video and mocking Murphy’s defense of the newspaper, particularly her use of “deep and rich” to describe the paper’s reporting. Exhibit No. 1 is Benghazi. “On Sept. 11, 2012, you ran with the fake news that the terror attack in Benghazi was caused by a 14-minute movie trailer on YouTube,” said Loesch, omitting mention of the intelligence haze in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. “You published that while men like Kris Paronto, John Tiegen and Mark Geist, contractors actually on the ground in Benghazi, set you straight that this was a terror attack.”*
There’s some quirky chronology in that claim: Loesch, who’s also a radio host, is citing a spot-news story that the New York Times did about the attack. Those three contractors participated in a book project, “13 Hours,” which came out years after it. Furthermore, the New York Times was the first to identify and interview the person who was indicted for the Benghazi attacks.
After some random shots at the newspaper for alleged omissions in its coverage of Chicago crime and other odds and ends, Loesch goes for a very much in-vogue authoritarian appeal: “We the people have had it,” she says. “We’ve had it with your narratives, your propaganda, your fake news. We’ve had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords, your refusal to acknowledge any truth that upsets the fragile construct that you believe is real life. And we’ve had it with your pretentious, tone-deaf assertion that you are in any way truth- or fact-based journalism. Consider this the shot across your proverbial bow. We’re going to fisk the New York Times and find out just what deep and rich means to this old gray hag, this untrustworthy, dishonest rag that has subsisted on the welfare of mediocrity for one, two, three more decades? We’re going to laser-focus on your so-called honest pursuit of truth. In short, we’re coming for you.”
Bolding added to highlight the thrust of a question to the NRA: In what manner are you “coming” for the New York Times? With more scary-toned videos? Something else? We’ve asked the NRA and are awaiting a response.
As for that language, Baquet told this blog that there’s “a little bit of veiled threat in it — I don’t think I’m reading too much into it.” According to Baquet, a colleague of his consulted with New York Times Vice President and Deputy General Counsel David McCraw about the matter. They decided not to take any action. “It’s not something we’re going to do something about, no,” said Baquet.
Two possible interpretations of this NRA campaign leap to the foreground. One is that the NRA is attempting to curry favor with President Trump by blasting an outlet that he himself commonly blasts. Lobbying via media criticism, that is. Another is that Trump’s own baseless slams at the press have so eroded the evidentiary standards for media criticism that major actors such as the NRA now have cover to do likewise. To put it another way, Trump’s tweet that certain media outlets are the “enemy of the American people” clears a conceptual safe space for a pro-Trump lobbying group to say they’re “coming for” a newspaper.
Lost in the video volleys, said Baquet, is just the thing that a democracy does. “It’s a troublesome piece of work,” said the executive editor. “It’s too bad that they’re not taking the lead in a thoughtful debate about guns in America.” Nor is Baquet impressed with Loesch’s work. “You would think in America, with so many good actors, they’d find somebody better, but that’s who they found,” he said.
*Correction: This post initially misspelled the first name of Kris Paronto (as “Chris”). Apologies to Paronto and to our readers.