New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet: Yes, We Did Too Many Alan Dershowitz Stories
‘We are trying to increase our coverage of cranky white guys,’ Dean Baquet joked of the NYT’s Alan Dershowitz stories, adding, ‘We should have coordinated better and done fewer.’
“Four stories!” the retired Harvard Law professor, current Donald Trump defender, and delighted author of a new book crowed Monday in a phone interview from the liberal island redoubt just off Cape Cod. “You’d think it would be on ‘Page Six.’ You wouldn’t think it would be on the front page of the New York Times!”
The paper’s insanely thorough coverage of Dershowitz’s summer-vacation social angst has been going on for nearly a week—prompting shock and awe from media mavens at the camera-ready professor’s mad self-promotional skills, and a certain degree of bewilderment both inside and outside the newspaper of record.
On Monday, Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet acknowledged the weirdness of the situation in a text message to The Daily Beast. “We are trying to increase our coverage of cranky white guys,” he joked. “Seriously, it's a big place and different desks made their own plans. We should have coordinated better and done fewer.”
In all, the Times’ four Dershowitz stories of the past six days have involved four different desks, six different bylines, and a total of eight Times journalists (with two given bottom-of-story credit lines for reporting assists).
The Times’ double-bylined front-page story—by national desk reporters Julie Bosman in Chicago and Jess Bidgood in Chilmark, Massachusetts, with additional reporting by news aide Remy Tumin in nearby Oak Bluffs, was headlined “A Frosty Summer for Dershowitz on Liberal Martha’s Vineyard.”
It was published in the print edition on July 4, the morning after it appeared online the very same day that a second story, under the headline “Alan Dershowitz Says Martha’s Vineyard Is ‘Shunning’ Him Over Trump,” was posted by Niraj Chokshi of the newspaper’s digital-journalism Express Team.
The Times then posted on July 7 a lengthy Q&A with “The Dersh” (his nickname) conducted by political reporter Jeremy W. Peters on the front porch of the Chilmark General Store, where the 79-year-old controversialist described himself as a victim of liberal McCarthyism.
It was a mere four days after the paper’s initial stories detailed the professor’s claims—first alleged in his op-ed column for The Hill and then repeated in the Boston Globe—that the Vineyard’s Trump-reviling cocktail-party circuit was cutting and shunning him over his near-constant defenses of the 45th president, on Fox News and elsewhere, against the ongoing investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“Alan Dershowitz Is Enjoying This,” the headline informed readers who probably knew that already.
Then, astoundingly, the Times on Sunday published yet another double-bylined Dershowitz story—this one focused on his just-released quickie book, The Case Against Impeaching Trump, but also including a mention of his agonies on the Vineyard. The piece, assigned last Thursday, carried the bylines of publishing beat reporter Alexandra Alter and politics reporter Sydney Ember.
Dershowitz told The Daily Beast that he’s especially proud of this line in the story: “He joked in an interview that he is going to ask his publisher to release a ‘Martha’s Vineyard edition’ of the book sheathed in a brown paper bag, so that bashful but curious residents can ‘hide it and read it in the privacy of their homes.’”
Not everyone, of course, is enthralled.
“It’s unfortunate and partly the result of coincidental timing,” a Times journalist who asked not to be further identified told The Daily Beast concerning the paper’s saturation coverage. “But it plays right into the hands of the people who want most to bash us, and it distracts from all the amazing work we are doing on immigration, the presidency and big issues around the world. One Dershowitz story is okay; two is too many; three is embarrassing. For the fourth, he should be paying us.”
However, a second Times journalist took issue with the idea that the paper’s excessive Dershowitz coverage has come at the expense of more relevant journalism. “It’s possible to say we over-Dershed. But the whole suggestion that we were somehow sacrificing our coverage of immigration and other important issues to do Dershowitz stories is absurd.”
The first couple of stories were sufficiently enticing click-bait to generate healthy traffic, according to a Times insider, although reader interest appeared to have subsided by Sunday.
Former Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who has been critical of her former newspaper’s coverage decisions in recent days, sounded more amused than alarmed by the profileration of Dershowitz headlines.
“Six reporters!” she said, laughing. “That’s the only comment this needs.”
She added, however, that, inadvertently or not, the Times helped Dershowitz hype his book and invested a certain significance in “incredibly rarefied, silly gossip about someone, I might say, who has been a has-been ever since he left the Harvard Law School faculty. Alan Dershowitz is a has-been. Therefore he craves attention to get back into the spotlight, and the Times, for reasons I don’t completely understand, is giving him a great assist.”
Reached at his home in the Pennsylvania countryside, a second former executive editor, Howell Raines, told The Daily Beast: “Here in the Poconos, the Dershowitz controversy has not really penetrated.” He added: “This is so deliciously ridiculous. The idea of Alan Dershowitz saying that McCarthyism is loose on the Vineyard is the most unintentionally hilarious thing since [William] Styron, [Art] Buchwald and Mike Wallace had their old-boys’ club for wealthy depressives out there.”
As for why the Times has been covering The Dersh so obsessively, Raines said: “That’s a fair question. You know, I was known at the Times as an advocate of saturation coverage of big stories”—otherwise known for Raines’ coinage “flooding the zone.” “But now, I’m so proud of the job that the New York Times is doing on the Trump story that I’m not going to quibble about where they set the bar.”
Raines added: “I also have to say that Alan Dershowitz is one of the most brilliant self-promoters on the modern American scene. It’s no accident that he complains about getting snubbed when he’s got a book coming out.”
—with additional reporting by Maxwell Tani