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The Baquet Chronicles: Top New York Times Editor Calls CNN ‘Ridiculous’

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By Ira Stoll | 3:22 pm, October 28, 2016

You might think a veteran investigative journalist and newsroom manager like the executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, would know how to conduct himself in an interview without looking foolish.

Apparently not, to judge by an interview that Baquet gave in London. The New York Times editor reportedly said CNN had played a “ridiculous” role in the presidential campaign and that its conduct was “in the long run, bad for democracy.” He also criticized CNN’s competitor, Fox News Channel.

It’s ironic, because a lot of CNN’s political coverage consists of having, on air, current and former reporters and editors of the New York Times.

An online biography of Jonathan Martin, for example, describes him as “the national political correspondent for The New York Times and a political analyst for CNN, where he appears regularly on Inside Politics.”

CNN’s “Reliable Sources” program has recently hosted the New York Times politics editor, Carolyn Ryan, New York Times reporter Suzanne Craig, and New York Times chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich. That program is anchored by a former New York Times journalist, Brian Stelter.

CNN senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny is a former New York Times reporter. New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow is another regular CNN on-air guest. Maggie Haberman’s Twitter biography describes her as “Presidential campaign correspondent NYTimes, analyst CNN.”

If there’s difference between the two outlets, it is subtle enough to be nearly indistinguishable to at least some highly sophisticated observers; the former newspaper owner Conrad Black*, for example, referred in a recent column to “the uniformly hostile press led by CNN (Clinton News Network) and the (Never Yes to Trump) New York Times, news outlets incapable of a fleeting moment of impartiality.”

The overlap raises some interesting questions. If Baquet thinks CNN is so terrible, why doesn’t he tell his staff to stop going on? Is there some magical force that makes these individual journalists credible when they write for the newspaper that Baquet edits, but not credible when they appear on a television network that he does not control?

Doubtless Baquet’s comments were motivated entirely by concern for “democracy.” A cynic, however, might be excused for at least considering the possibility of some other motivating factors. For one thing, Baquet may be sore about impending newsroom layoffs and budget cuts that have left the Times, unable or unwilling to compensate its own newsgathering employees fully, reliant on CNN to pay for some of their work time. For another thing, Baquet himself is looking to video as an economic savior of the Times’ ailing print and online products. “I think video has tremendous economic possibilities and huge journalistic,” he said recently. As the Times moves to online video and as CNN moves from cable-only to online, CNN and the New York Times become competitors rather than complementary goods.

As for “ridiculous” political coverage, anyone looking for it needn’t turn on CNN, but might simply read the New York Times, where a recent dispatch about Michelle Obama included the passages, “She had rhythm, a flow and swerve, hands slicing air, body weight moving from foot to foot, a beautiful rhythm. In anything else but a black American body, it would have been contrived… She seemed genuine. She was genuine. All over America, black women were still, their eyes watching a form of God, because she represented their image writ large in the world.”

 

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.

 

*A newspaper company Black controlled was an investor in the New York Sun, in which I was a partner nearly a decade ago.

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