The New York Times logo on a newspaper rack at a convenience store in Washington. (Alastair Pike/AFP/Getty Images)
Media critic

On Tuesday’s edition of the Fox News noontime show “Outnumbered,” Elizabeth MacDonald teed off on New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. “He is the wrong guy in this leadership position right now,” said MacDonald, a Fox Business host. “He is basically saying to the world, ‘I am biased. I’m going to basically set the tone for the coverage of the presidency instead of just letting the reporting … and the journalism do it.' ”

What could have set off MacDonald on such a rant? Had Baquet been caught on a hot mic declaring his hatred for President Trump? Had he contributed $100,000 to Democratic causes?

No, the kindling for this little liberal-media bonfire was supplied by a Slate-disinterred transcript of a staff meeting at the Times under Baquet’s direction. In particular, “Outnumbered” highlighted this excerpt from Baquet at the meeting:

I think that we’ve got to change. I mean, the vision for coverage for the next two years is what I talked about earlier: How do we cover a guy who makes these kinds of remarks? How do we cover the world’s reaction to him? How do we do that while continuing to cover his policies? How do we cover America, that’s become so divided by Donald Trump?

Yeah, fire that man! Fire him for placing tough questions before his journalist colleagues!

The meeting took place on Aug. 12, following flare-ups in which the newspaper demoted an editor for embarrassing Twitter remarks and faced backlash over a naive headline: “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism.” Baquet fielded questions about when the newspaper should use the word “racist” to describe the president’s actions, editing processes, error rates and so on. It’s clear from the back-and-forth that the meeting was tense and probing.

And it was scandalous, if you buy the interpretations of certain people on Fox News, who gave Sen. Ted Cruz’s tweeted thoughts on the matter a fair amount of recirculation:

Among those outraged by the transcript was Fox News host Sean Hannity. On his Monday night program, he railed:

And even the Times is now admitting that they went all in on the collusion delusion with an executive editor, Dean Baquet, telling employees that once the Russia hoax unraveled, the story became “trickier,” before adding “we’ve built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well.” No, they didn’t. Now - they were proven wrong. They were disappointed by Mueller.

‘Now we have to regroup, shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story.’ Oh! What does that mean -- a different story? It means they spent years pushing their conspiracy theories. Their Russian lies, misinformation, propaganda, all to help the Democrats, and they failed miserably with their lies and conspiracy theories.

With that blast, Hannity was criticizing these Baquet’s remarks from the transcript:

This is a really hard story, newsrooms haven’t confronted one like this since the 1960s. It got trickier after [inaudible] … went from being a story about whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia and obstruction of justice to being a more head-on story about the president’s character. We built our newsroom to cover one story, and we did it truly well. Now we have to regroup, and shift resources and emphasis to take on a different story. I’d love your help with that. ... It is a story that requires deep investigation into people who peddle hatred, but it is also a story that requires imaginative use of all our muscles to write about race and class in a deeper way than we have in years.

Hannity was at it again Tuesday night, saying of the newspaper, “Tonight, we do have clear proof that is nothing more than a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party, with one and only one singular focus: a smear campaign to bludgeon President Trump, a duly-elected president that they tried to take out.”

On Wednesday morning, hosts Jon Scott and Sandra Smith welcomed former Times executive editor Jill Abramson to chat about it. Scott said: “Essentially he told reporters and staffers that we started trying to cover the Trump-Russia collusion narrative, and that has gone away, so now we’re trying to cover President Trump as a racist. Is that essentially what he said — would you agree with that?”

No, said Abramson, she wouldn’t agree with that. “It was not telling people to get ready to cover a racist administration,” said the former executive editor.

A couple of points here: The May 17, 2017, order authorizing the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into the possibility of Trump campaign involvement with Russian meddling wasn’t signed by Baquet. It was signed by Acting Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, a political appointee in the Trump administration. The Times responded to the news by assigning many reporters to it.

That was a good strategy, considering that the resulting Mueller report vindicated story after story by the Times. As for the move toward covering race: President Trump this summer instructed four female congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from. That racism came right off the thumbs of the president, not from Dean Baquet.

But if Hannity is talking about it, then Trump is talking about it. In a Q&A session on Wednesday outside the White House, Trump said, “Well, I think the New York Times now has totally lost credibility,” he riffed. “They’ve given up on the Russian collusion delusion and now what they’re doing is they’re trying the racist deal, and that’s not going to work because I’m the least racist person ever to serve in office, okay. I am the least racist person. But the New York Times — they’re trying everything they can.”

Yes, the Times is even trying the practice of editorial restraint! Check out this exchange between a staffer and Baquet, on this very question of Trump’s racism:

Staffer: Could you explain your decision not to more regularly use the word racist in reference to the president’s actions?

Baquet: Yeah, I’m actually almost practiced at this one now. Look, my own view is that the best way to capture a remark, like the kinds of remarks the president makes, is to use them, to lay it out in perspective. That is much more powerful than the use of a word.

Another point made by Baquet in that staff meeting is that Trump poses challenges. “This is a really hard story,” said the executive editor. “This is a story that’s going to call on like all of our muscles, all of our resources, all of our creativity, all of our empathy.”

At Fox News, though, it’s a pretty simple matter, to judge from the conversation on “Outnumbered.” After showing Baquet’s comments about how “we cover a guy who makes these kinds of remarks?”

“There’s so little self-awareness. When you hear those comments — ‘How do we cover someone who makes those remarks,’ " said “Outnumbered” co-host Melissa Francis, who offered her solution. “Print the remarks.” Stenography, in other words. By the way, Francis repeated Trump’s tweet on the paper …

… without bothering to point out that it’s nonsense.

Read more:

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Jennifer Rubin: Trump shows us again what he thinks of Jews

Eugene Robinson: Trump’s escalation of racism means one thing: He’s worried about reelection

Gary Abernathy: Trump is not a racist. His voters aren’t either.

Jonathan Capehart: Trump can’t decry racism and white supremacy if he is their chief promoter