The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Dean Baquet keeps using the same cliché

The New York Times' Wesley Morris, critic-at-large, Executive Editor Dean Baquet, Managing Editor Joe Kahn and Deputy Managing Editor Carolyn Ryan in the New York Times newsroom on June 11, after Morris was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for criticism. (Damon Winter/New York Times News Service Handout/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet on Monday issued a defense of reporter Maggie Haberman after Fox News took note that she continued writing about Donald Trump. “Maggie Haberman is one of the finest journalists of her generation. She did outstanding work covering former President Donald Trump, breaking many of the most important stories involving his administration, and will continue to be one of our lead reporters on major political news in the coming years,” noted Baquet’s statement.

Boldface inserted to highlight the reaction at the Erik Wemple Blog: Haven’t we heard that before?

*When it was announced in April that reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones would be joining the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baquet said, “Nikole Hannah-Jones is one of the finest journalists of her generation, the rare mix of major investigative reporter and big-voiced writer.”

*When reporter David Barstow left the Times in 2019, Baquet said, “David Barstow is one of the finest journalists of his generation. His name has appeared on some of the most important stories The Times has published.”

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*At the May 2018 Freedom of the Press Awards, Baquet opened his remarks with these lines: “It’s a cliché to say no one deserves any award alone. But it is particularly hard not to feel that way when you rise from a table that includes some of the finest journalists of a generation. So Joe Kahn and Matt Purdy, and my other partners at The Times, thank you for being colleagues and friends.”

*When legendary media columnist David Carr died in February 2015, Baquet said, “He was the finest media reporter of his generation.”

To take the charitable view on this managerial cliché-fest, Baquet does work with some fine journalists, including the ones above. Haberman’s work on Trump, for example, is full of scoops and enterprise. One gleaming example is the January 2018 exclusive — by Michael S. Schmidt and Haberman — that Trump ordered the firing of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, though he chickened out after White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign. The Mueller report confirmed it all.

What’s more, the Times is a happening place, where prominent journalists are often under attack, getting hired to prestigious outside gigs, leaving the newspaper under complicated circumstances and so on. Any or all of those circumstances can require a newsroom leader to pen a sterling endorsement.

To take the less charitable view: Would Baquet’s effusive redundancies make it past a New York Times editor? Would Sam Sifton, for example, allow his food writers to designate multiple chefs as once-in-a-generation talents? Would Rebecca Corbett, a master of serial investigations, allow such echoes to mar one of her magna opera?

We think not!

There’s an easy way out this predicament for Baquet: Just lay it on thicker. People expect a certain arrogance from the Times in any case, so indulge them. No need to confine Haberman’s greatness to a mere 25-year period; call her “among the greatest postwar chroniclers of governmental power.” Same idea with Hannah-Jones, “one of the best reporters modern America has seen.”

Alas, Baquet appears wedded to his formulation. When we asked him whether it might be time to toss his go-to superlative construction, he responded, “I always thought you were one of the greatest media writers of your generation.”