During an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show last Friday, New York Times public editor Liz Spayd laid into Times reporters for tweeting accurate but critical things about President-elect Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka.
Carlson — publisher of the Daily Caller, a conservative site that ran multiple discredited stories alleging that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) solicited underage Dominican prostitutes — goaded Spayd about the reporters’ Trump tweets, saying they gave the impression that “we tried to keep this guy from getting elected.”
“Yes, I think that’s outrageous,” Spayd responded. “I think that that should not be. They shouldn’t be tweeted.”
Tucker read three tweets to Spayd that he found particularly offensive — one from Times investigative reporter Eric Lipton, another from Jerusalem Bureau Chief Peter Baker, and a third from reporter Liam Stack. Here they are:
White House as QVC. It has started. pic.twitter.com/jk0DeQJ9vV
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) November 15, 2016
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) November 21, 2016
The Electoral College was meant to stop men like Trump from taking office https://t.co/sOSV2X57PZ
— Liam Stack (@liamstack) November 22, 2016
Spayd characterized the tweets as “over the line” and said, “there ought to be some kind of a consequence for that.” But the tweets Spayd criticized are accurate.
As the New York Times itself detailed, Ivanka really did send an email blast to journalists hawking the $10,800 bangle she wore during a 60 Minutes appearance that aired shortly after the election. Trump really did turn the process of putting together his cabinet into “a Trump-branded, made-for-television spectacle,” parading potentially appointees in front of Trump-owned properties, and Stack’s tweet merely consisted of the text of a headline from an Atlantic piece he shared.
In response to Spayd’s comments, both Lipton and Stack stood by their tweets.
Anyone who didn't like this tweet: I called it as I saw it. Commercialization of WhiteHouse. Ivanka's firm apologized AFTER I raised it. https://t.co/pIjcI7kxOf
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) December 6, 2016
True story https://t.co/QTPelLLEmE
— Liam Stack (@liamstack) December 5, 2016
On Tuesday, Politico published a statement from Spayd acknowledging that her criticism of the reporters’ tweets went too far. But she stood by her point that journalists “should be careful, sometimes more careful than they are, with what they say on social media.”
— John Schwartz (@jswatz) December 6, 2016
This isn’t first time Spayd’s work as the Times’ public editor has come under harsh scrutiny since she began in that role in July. In September, she wrote a column on “fair balance” journalism where she criticized those who didn’t think the Times’ coverage of Trump was sufficiently critical for wanting “journalists to apply their own moral and ideological judgments to the candidates.”
But as ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser argued, Spayd’s position overlooked the reality that “every time we choose to cover one story, we are effectively choosing not to cover some other story that we could have focused on during that time. To make these judgments about what to cover and what not to cover, we necessarily make moral judgments.”
Following the election, Spayd wrote a review of the Times’ election coverage that completely neglected concerns many readers had about the Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton’s emails — coverage that at times echoed misleading talking points circulated by right-wing groups. Then, earlier this month, Spayd wrote a column where she admonished readers concerned about the use of the term “alt-right,” a euphemism for white nationalists, to stop getting hung up on labels.
“As for Times readers, I hope they will ask themselves what such a singular focus on labels actually achieves,” Spayd wrote. “Does it really push news organizations in a healthy direction? Most journalists, I think, find them constraining because they oversimplify ideas. They wash out the grays, which is usually where the truth lies.”
What she didn’t mention is that the man who popularized use of the term “alt-right” — Richard Spencer, head of the white supremacist National Policy Institute (NPI) — has himself said that the core of alt-right ideology is the preservation of “white identity.” As a result, ThinkProgress editors decided to stop using the term last month — more than a week before the Times distributed a newsroom memo providing guidelines that, in the words of Spayd, specify that “the term is appropriate to use — but not without defining it.”