Faced with how to write up what it called Trump’s “rambling” press conference on Wednesday, the New York Times offered its readers a grab-bag of observations. Its main story was literally headlined: “5 Takeaways From Trump’s News Conference at the United Nations” (although in the print edition, where it ran on page A16, the headline was possibly even more anodyne: “United Nations, Accusations and More: Trump in 83 Minutes.”)
The Times covered the Trump press conference as if he were a normal president, trying to tease out the biggest news and report it dutifully, stenographically, and without much context or editorializing.
The New York Times may be thriving, but here it failed.
By contrast, some subset of the Washington Post staff appears to have listened intently to the press conference and realized that there was an incredibly significant story to tell about what Trump said, and that it was almost entirely about the context. This was not a story that could be told with stenography.
And although that story did not lead the print edition — there was a bland rehash under the headline “On hearing’s eve, Trump stands by Kavanaugh” — the Post’s website led through the night and into the morning with the much more important article by Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker, headlined “Defending Kavanaugh, Trump laments #MeToo as ‘very dangerous’ for powerful men”.
And here are its memorable first two paragraphs:
President Trump on Wednesday placed himself at the center of the anguished national debate over sexual assault, suggesting in his defense of embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh that the #MeToo movement was “very dangerous” and unfairly threatened an entire class of powerful men.
Trump’s expansive argument cast doubt on the credibility not only of the three women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, but also on scores of other women who have claimed sexual abuse by prominent men, including the president himself.
Reporters at major news organizations often hold back, knowing that making strong conclusions or — even worse — taking sides could subject them to criticism from their editors, and their editors’ editors. And even the Post story didn’t go as far as I did last night, calling Trump’s comments clearly and overtly misogynistic.
But editors of both papers should ask themselves this morning: Whose readers were served better? And the answer is clear.
Was it this?
Or was it this?