New York Times journalists launched a crusade against Donald Trump during his presidency because he didn’t give them the respect and regard they were used to, a former Washington correspondent for the paper claims in a new memoir.
Robert M. Smith says Times reporters engaged in ‘spasms of adolescent pouting’ with their ‘biased’ coverage of the Trump administration because they couldn’t stand being challenged by the former president.
Smith takes a ‘critical look’ at his former employer and how he believes it ‘lost its impartiality’ when reporting on Trump, in his new memoir, Suppressed: Confessions of a Former New York Times Washington Correspondent, published May 14.
‘The suppression of news is alive and well even at the New York Times,’ Smith writes.
The media’s reaction to Trump’s contempt, he says, was like the ‘impotent anger of the little boy or girl whose weekly hot fudge sundae is denied, or whose cherished doll has been taken away.’
He also accuses Times reporters of being out of touch with working class people and blind to the appeal of the Republican president.
Ironically one of the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that his supporters loved him bashing the media – meaning the Times was being used without realizing it.
A former Washington correspondent for the New York Times says the newspaper’s ‘biased’ coverage of President Donald Trump was a display of its ‘arrogance and self absorption’
In his new memoir, ‘Suppressed’, Robert M. Smith (left) who left the paper in 1972, said Times journalists hated that the former president didn’t give them the respect they were used to
Smith, now a commercial mediator, left the New York Times in 1972 after it failed to follow up on his tip about the Watergate scandal which the Washington Post ended up breaking two months later.
According to Smith, the way the paper dropped the ball was typical of its arrogant attitude and cozy relationship with the establishment.
That also appeared to be evident in its ‘biased’ coverage of Trump which Smith says played ‘no helpful role in the crucial effort to bridge the divide.’
‘This is a persistent, obdurate part of Trump and Times…it makes both of the fighters right,’ he writes.
‘They are both profiting from pugilism – Trump politically, the Times economically….the liberal bias of the Times reached an all time high in its coverage of Donald Trump.’
Smith also highlights that Trump won the election and that win ‘may have resulted in part from his conflict with the press.’
Although Trump was not without his flaws, Smith says the president still deserved accuracy and fairness from journalists covering him’
Unlike his predecessors, Trump openly expressed contempt for the media and launched attacks against journalists and news organizations, particularly the NYT, over their negative coverage of him
‘The press, perhaps particularly the Times, seemed not to know it was being used…Trump was elected in part because of his statements about the media,’ he argues.
‘The nerve of the public! It believed Donald Trump instead of the Washington Bureau – or any bureau – of the New York Times.
‘This gave rise to a wailing and gnashing of teeth in the press gang of group therapy sessions never before seen.
‘When you have some power and are treated as if you do – the way Washington correspondents of the Times are for example – a sudden, enforced diminution in your power does more than sting.
‘It instigates a cry for revenge.’
The paper’s ‘rage’ against Trump became ‘more than obvious’ as the 2016 election campaign progressed.
Smith says that Times reporters were not unfamiliar with lies, given they are journalists, but they exhibited ‘pretend horror’ at catching those told by Trump.
Smith writes that he is ‘ashamed’ to read the Times nowadays because it is supposed to be a ‘mature, adult institution.’
Smith said the Times’ response to Trump’s attacks against the paper revealed a ‘sensitivity’ to their ‘loss of power.’ Pictured: NY Times reporter Clifford Levy reacts to Trump’s tweet slamming the paper in 2018
The Times has a ‘duty to rise above criticism and not engage in spasms of adolescent pouting and lashing out,’ Smith writes.
Such a reaction ‘reveals a sensitivity to the loss of power – an arrogance and self absorption.’
Smith highlights one report from February 2017 calling Trump’s Presidency ‘unconstrained.’
In fact at the time Trump’s ban on Muslim visitors had been struck down by a federal court, he had failed to repeal Obamacare and the funding to build the border wall was not assigned.
‘Does this seem “unconstrained?”‘ Smith writes.
Another problem story was the Times’ handling of the memos written by former FBI director James Comey about his interactions with Trump.
Smith says that it was wrong to report Comey’s memos as fact as the paper had done.
‘It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong. It may be true that Trump is a crazy, lying fascist who has lost touching with reality, but even a crazy, lying fascist out of touch with reality deserves accuracy and fairness from journalists covering him,’ the book states.
Smith compares a headline about the investigation into Trump’s links to Russia, which talked about the ‘legal risk rising for the President,’ to the ‘risk’ of a river bursting its banks.
He writes: ‘Maybe. But maybe not. You may see the Potomac flooding its banks and roaring to the White House. But you can also see a dry bed.’
The Associated Press report on Trump’s views on Nato in April 2017 said his changing views were a sign he ‘prides himself on his flexibility’.
The Times called it one of a series of ‘flip flops.’
Smith also writes how he believed it was wrong to report former FBI director James Comey’s memos as fact as the paper had done in 2017
As Smith sees it, the Times has gone backwards to the 1970s when it was a mixture of news and opinion, a paper that he fled for that very reason.
Its ‘disdain’ for the poor is another area that Smith takes exception to and says it was a reason why the media in general did not predict Trump’s 2016 election victory.
‘The election showed the American people sided more with Trump than it did with the Times,’ he writes.
Smith calls the industry-wide reaction to Trump the ‘impotent anger of the little boy or girl whose weekly hot fudge sundae is denied, or whose cherished doll has been taken away.’
The only answer for the Times was to stay impartial but it continued to get into the ring.
In Smith’s view the explanation was simple: during the Trump presidency the Times paid circulation rose from 2.5million in 2016 to 4million in 2018.
Smith implores the editors to ‘retrieve its sense of humor’ and to ‘dial down the self importance.’
The newspaper has become ‘mighty sensitive and ‘mighty resentful’ but it should be more calm and balanced.
Smith grew up in the Boston suburbs in the 1940s and was the son of a letter carrier before he earned a place at Harvard and started his journalism career at the Boston Globe where he worked in the summers.
Ironically one of the reasons Trump won in 2016 was that his supporters loved him bashing the media – meaning the Times was being used without realizing it, Smith says
His journalism training proper began at the Columbia Graduate school of journalism in the 1960s
Smith recalls being taught ‘Metropolitan Reporting’ by the Metro desk assistant editor George W. Barrett, who had a trim moustache and drove a 1929 Rolls-Royce roadster.
His first full time job was with TIME magazine in 1965 where budgets were so big that during a transit strike a long black limousine sent by the office arrived at his apartment to take him to work.
Three years later he was hired by the Times as a rewrite man, who reworks the copy of others to make it fit the house style.
He began writing live stories in 1969 and was soon sent to the Washington bureau of the New York Times
Smith calls his colleagues ‘prisoners of a system of hypocrisy’ because powerful people would call their bosses and have embarrassing things taken out of a story.
While covering the Vietnam War Smith interviewed an Army warrant officer who used the phrase ‘sons of a b****’ which at the time was risqué for the Times.
Executive editor Abe Rosenthal called Smith and accused him of trying to use improper language and hung up when he protested.
Smith writes that Rosenthal saw his refusal to bow down as an ‘unblinking challenge to his owner power, authority and control over every word written in his domain.’
‘Insecurity had driven him to the top. Insecurity fueled paranoia,’ he writes.
Such an attitude explains why the Times did not report on the fact that the Soviets knew about the Bay of Pigs invasion ahead of time, and the CIA knew that they knew but let it happen anyway.
Another miss by the Times was its failure to report on Stellar Wind, an NSA program that allowed for mass wiretapping.
The Times refused to run the story because the government assured the paper the program was legal and President George W. Bush made a personal appeal to the paper’s publisher.
The Times’ failure to report on Watergate came out in 2009 when Smith’s editor at the time, Bob Phelps, published a memoir which addressed it.
‘We never developed Gray’s tips into publishable stories. Why we failed is a mystery to me,’ Phelps wrote.
Smith is not the only former senior figure at the Times to criticize its coverage of Trump.
Jill Abramson, who edited the newspaper from 2011 to 2014, says the Times made money by ridiculing the former President, even at the cost of its impartiality.
She accused the paper of being ‘unmistakably anti-Trump’ and said that the more ‘woke’ members of staff were taking the paper in that direction.
In her book, Merchants of Truth, Abramson wrote: ‘Given its mostly liberal audience, there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative: they drove big traffic numbers and, despite the blip of cancellations after the election, inflated subscription orders to levels no one anticipated.’