The Facts of Life: Democratic politics as seen by one reporter

Back in January, I published a story about cynical journalism in the New York Times, specifically naming Times reporter Jonathan Martin.

In it, I wrote:

Jonathan Martin’s piece is a stellar example of journalistic embroidery the sole purpose of which seems to be…what? Stirring up anxiety.

What he stirred up in me was a big piss-off.

Here’s how the article begins — title and first paragraph:

“A Major Fear for Democrats: Will the Party Come Together By November?”

FORT DODGE, Iowa — Democrats have always represented a cacophonous array of individuals and interests, but the so-called big tent is now stretching over a constituency so unwieldy that it’s easy to understand why voters remain torn this close to Iowa, where no clear front-runner has emerged.

I went on to dissect every inch of the story as a way of demonstrating (oh, OK, showing off) what I learned in high school: how to read newspaper articles for the facts, even when a reporter’s style or attitude wraps those facts in provocative language designed, it seemed, to make a bunch of us nervous wrecks.

I bolded that January headline for a reason. Because, lo and behold, what did Jonathan Martin just publish about the Democratic Party? This ⇓⇓⇓:

I’m not doing this to give Jonathan Martin a smack — although he probably deserves it especially when his individual POV takes over a couple of paragraphs and he makes dubious statements. I doubt he’d learn from it anyway, in part because the Times gleefully took on the writing style developed by Maureen Dowd in the ’80s, when she took to the campaign trail.

For a while Dowd’s style seemed to be sharp and fun, different from most campaign reporting. But after a not very long while, she began to irritate me. I felt her reporting was all style, little substance. She’s never given me any reason to change my mind about her. And then someone at the Times decided that Dowd’s chip-on-her-shoulder snark was the ideal voice to juice up the Times’ reporting.

Or whatever. That’s just my guess.

But but but but. Regardless of this occasional irritation at Times style, I’ve never changed my own view of the character of politicians or other prominent figures because of the Times’ coverage style. In fact, when Times’ reporters are being most superficial, I find myself digging deeper into personalities and issues.

The Times is a great newspaper. I do not ascribe to the bizarre attacks on it and TV stations over their Trump coverage. The Times reports what Trump does and says; they report the facts. And TV news media run Trump’s whatever-you-call-them live. They have to.

For three and a half awful years we’ve had to face the disaster of his presidency. But he is the president and wiping his nonsense off front page and TV screen news coverage would be an abject abdication of the news media mandate: report the news, tell us what’s happened and what’s happening. Give us the facts of events that are newsworthy, that affect our lives.

What we think about those facts is down to us.

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