The New York Times is facing an existential question over whether to allow its reporters to appear on cable news programs that are heavy on opinion and punditry as opposed to straight journalism.
“We have always had a rule saying reporters should be wary of going on very clearly opinionated shows,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told The Daily Beast by text message on Friday. “It isn’t meant as a commentary on any show, just our view that hard-hitting stories like the ones we are doing should stand on their own.”
Baquet’s exclusive comments came in response to a Vanity Fair story asserting that Times reporters—many of whom have paid contributor deals with MSNBC and CNN—are being instructed not to appear on two of MSNBC’s highest-rated programs, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell, as well as on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.
Fox News, by contrast, doesn’t have contributor deals with outside straight-news journalists.
“[W]e will still appear on television when invited,” Baquet texted. “It’s the most sharply opinionated shows that give me pause. I’m not sure which shows we will avoid. The line is increasingly blurred. Again, this is not an assault on our television compatriots. It’s my strong view that opinion and news need to be separated.”
Lemon, for one, told The Daily Beast that such a Times policy, if it’s actually being enforced, is ill-advised.
“I do not get the sense that they are banning reporters from my show. But, I don’t work for the Times so I can’t be sure,” Lemon emailed. “However, it would be extremely shortsighted if they are when journalism is under attack. We should support each other. Period.”
A senior MSNBC executive, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast: “The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and most every other publication in America have confidence that their reporters are capable of explaining and defining their journalism to many different audiences. Hopefully the Times will come to recognize that, too.”
In the Vanity Fair story by media reporter Joe Pompeo, a “highly placed source at one of the cable networks” pointed out that “a significant contributor to the success of publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post was the exposure that their great work got on networks like MSNBC and CNN. They are the beneficiaries of some very positive exposure for their journalists.”
This person called the Times guidelines “inconsistent, incoherent, and poorly conceived.”
A cable news exec who asked not to be further identified, meanwhile, predicted that the Times will eventually realize that it’s being disadvantaged by keeping its reporters off various programs because competitors such as The Washington Post continue to book journalists on those same programs.
“I have a high degree of confidence, based on their track record, that the New York Times has stumbled accidentally into this situation, and will very soon find itself forced to stumble its way out,” this person told The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast has requested comment from Maddow and O’Donnell, and will update this story if they respond.