New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet acknowledged Tuesday that his newspaper messed up with a front-page headline over its lead story on President Donald Trump’s Monday televised address.
Trump, who spent the weekend offering “thoughts and prayers” and tweeting attacks on “fake news” among other perceived enemies from his New Jersey golf club, gave his stiffly delivered speech on TelePrompTer in the aftermath of two mass shootings that have left 31 dead in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio—to which the 45th president mistakenly referred as “Toledo” at one point in his remarks.
“TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM,” blazoned the four-column headline at the top-right of the front page of the Times’ first edition—a strangely credulous framing of an appropriately skeptical story by Michael Crowley and Maggie Haberman.
It was a mistake that immediately prompted widespread criticism from high-profile Trump detractors once images of the paper’s front page surfaced online Monday night; it also provoked attacks on the Times’ political coverage generally, and even vows to cancel subscriptions.
“It was written on deadline and when it was passed along for approval we all saw it was a bad headline and changed it pretty quickly,” Baquet texted The Daily Beast on Tuesday morning as critics continued to vent their outrage on social media.
Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Washington think tank the Center for American Progress, was typical of the Times’ army of critics, implying that the paper had caved to Trump’s constant attacks on the news media.
“What makes Trump happy is the ability to attack the press in the morning, and then precisely because of his bullying, they accept his narrative that he’s fighting racism,” she tweeted. “Nothing makes him happier. Indeed, he wants media that kowtow to him to flourish.”
Tanden added: “There are really amazing reporters at this newspaper who are let down by this bullshit.”
Joan Walsh, a CNN contributor and a columnist for the left-leaning Nation magazine, announced to her Twitter followers late Monday night: “I canceled my subscription. I know a lot of folks will tell me I’m wrong. I will miss it. But I can’t keep rewarding such awful news judgment. ‘Trump Urges Unity Against Racism’ is almost as bad as their full-page Comey letter coverage just before 2016 election. Nobody learns.”
That was a reference to the Times’ flood-the-zone coverage of then-FBI Director James Comey’s late-October announcement that his agency was re-opening their investigation of then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of her State Department emails.
In a subsequent tweet, Walsh added: “A lot of people love the paper but are deeply disappointed in much of its political coverage for the last four years. I hope somebody in charge pays attention, but I probably stayed up too late in vain.”
Baquet, for his part, texted: “I understand the concern people have. Headlines matter. But I hope they read the coverage, which I will argue was strong.”
Baquet declined to respond on the record to questions concerning how this error specifically occurred, how the Times will avoid such mistakes in the future, and various critics’ claims that this is only the latest in a series of missteps in the paper’s political and Trump-world coverage.
A Times spokesperson emailed: “The original print headline was clearly flawed and was changed for all editions after the first”—the earliest edition of the ink-on-paper Times that is distributed out of state and nationally.
Syndicated columnist Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winner and wife of Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, tweeted: “The New York Times changed its headline for the second edition, but this [the original headline] is the one that landed on our doorstep & is displayed in storefronts throughout our majority-black zip code. What a betrayal, pretending this president is not the racist we know him to be.”
The revised print headline, which better captured the newspaper’s reporting, was “ASSAILING HATE, BUT NOT GUNS”—but that seemed to do little to mollify the Times’ critics.
The paper was not without its defenders, however—among them, former Executive Editor Jill Abramson, who was fired from that job in 2014 and hasn’t been shy since then about second-guessing the journalistic judgments of her successor, Baquet.
“That’s part of this culture now—overreactions to everything,” Abramson told The Daily Beast about the social-media eruptions over the first-edition headline. “What provokes the ‘going nuts’ is understandable. But it’s an overreaction. What’s wrong is the people who see some conspiracy inside the Times to be nice to Trump. That’s absurd. Or ‘Let’s be really hard on Hillary.’ That just doesn’t happen. And when it happens, it’s a genuine mistake—and they fess up to it. ‘I’m going to cancel my subscription’ is silly.”
Abramson added: “The coverage over the past couple of days has been excellent in showing the racist roots” of Trump’s attacks on immigrants via Twitter and at his campaign rallies. “I thought their coverage of [Trump’s] ‘Send them back’ [attacks] was tough and interesting, and about the Squad [the four congresswomen of color whom the president trashed]—they examined all of the racist roots of that type of language. They’ve been all over the issue of how Trump uses racist memes.”