Jonathan Weisman, Deputy Washington Editor for the New York Times, Reveals His Own Toxic Political Geography

I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.

When Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor for the New York Times, posted a tweet in the early hours of Wednesday morning scoffing at the notion that heavily-minority urban areas in the Midwest are part of the Midwest, he unwittingly revealed his own internal political geography — and that of his professional home.

The response — including from highly respected journalistic colleagues — has been thunderous, probing, distressed, and astute.

It comes, of course, in the context of the Times playing an outsized role in the political journalism community’s relationship to Trump. It is arguably the chief target of his attacks against a free press. It has roused itself to undertake outstanding investigations into his fraudulence as a person, a businessman, a candidate and a president. But it has also proven itself too timid and too addicted to access to be as critical and confrontational — in the defense of truth, pluralism, and fair play — as its role demands.

Here’s the tweet in question, which Weisman deleted shortly after 10 a.m. ET:

Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South. C’mon.

The text:

Saying @RashidaTlaib (D-Detroit) and @IlhanMN (D-Minneapolis) are from the Midwest is like saying @RepLloydDoggett (D-Austin) is from Texas or @repjohnlewis (D-Atlanta) is from the Deep South. C’mon. https://t.co/C8d8OWHu3j

— (((JonathanWeisman))) (@jonathanweisman) July 31, 2019

It was in response to this tweet from Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the highly energized progressive political action committee Justice Democrats — whose members include Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Chronologically, this all started with celebrated centrist and former (defeated) Missouri senator Claire McCaskill’s assertion in a post-debate panel on MSNBC (where she is a paid analyst) that “Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest.”

That was an encapsulation of the centrist view (some would say a racist dog-whistle) that white voters perceive government spending as going to minorities and it makes them angry.

Shahid’s point was that McCaskill’s view of the Midwest did not seem to include cities like Detroit and Minneapolis.

Weisman’s riposte was, essentially, a doubling down of McCaskill’s position. More than that, even — it was an assertion that urban areas — not just Detroit and Minneapolis, but Atlanta, and Austin — are not a part of America’s geography at all. What’s even more telling is that he obviously thought this was non-controversial — even self-evident.

Weisman’s deletion of the tweet is not best practices for Twitter — particularly for journalists. He explained it thusly:

Almost certainly, one reason was that the tweet was being “ratio’d” by the Twitter community. That means that replies (mostly negative) considerably outweighed retweets or likes (which presume a certain positivity). At last count, before Weisman deleted the tweet (and therefore all the responses) there were 2,600 replies to 122 retweets to 576 likes.

I’ll update this post as the day goes on — particularly if the Times takes some action.

To be clear, they should distance themselves from Weisman. But they can’t, really, because he is their creature.

Now I’m just going to get out of the way, and show you how Twitter responded — including high-profile writers for the New Yorker, Atlantic, Salon, New Republic, the New Republic, the Washington Post, and the New York Times opinion page.

14 thoughts on “Jonathan Weisman, Deputy Washington Editor for the New York Times, Reveals His Own Toxic Political Geography”

  1. I’ll go even further — not only does the NYT (in its political coverage) regularly go with (white) working class = real Midwesterners, instead of recognizing the diversity noted in many of the tweets above (e.g., Talib was literally born and raised in Detroit — the district she represents) but that diversity does *not* automatically mean they support Dems or liberal policies.

    A good example is the large Chaldean population in Detroit. They are Christians from the Mideast and the majority of them voted for Trump b/c they a) don’t like Muslims any better than your typical (white) working class Midwestern voter and b) they foolishly believed Trump would advocate for them and their family & friends back in their war torn areas. Then, hundreds of their relatives got deported b/c Trump doesn’t know a Chaldean from a Sunni from a Shiite.

    It’s complex. The NYT is lazy and biased, which is why their political coverage has, on a net basis, been bad for the US for decades know.

  2. The NY Times has been giving fascism a fair hearing since fascism began. Let’s say since the late 20’s and the rise of Nazism. It is after all the foundation of Liberalism to give all sides a fair hearing. Besides, well over half of white Americans were then and still are strongly supportive of fascism, as long as you don’t call it fascism, although a large plurality have no problem with the label and plenty embrace Nazism.

  3. I applaud Weisman for his ridiculous tweet, if for no other reason that it’s the NY Times values system writ large. For far, far too long it’s just been assumed that the NY Times political coverage was guided by agreed-upon definitions and benchmark perspectives. You know, simple things like us all acknowledging and agreeing, say, a person of colour living in Atlanta is from the “deep south.”

    But now we know, clearly, there is more at play here. Having this sort of bigoted bias and nonsensical political marginalization out in the open allows readers to better assess the integrity and probity of NY Times political reportage.

    Transparency is good. Good for us, the consumers, I mean. Maybe not so good for the blinkered, myopic and destructive perspective the NY Times employs, but that’s the bed they’ve made for themselves and I guess we’re about to find out how long they’re willing to sit in their own excrement.

  4. I carried a print subscription to the the NY Times for almost thirty years to support journalism, through Judy Miller and Hillary emails and Baker and Habermann and Douthat and Stephens and everything. But since March, my subscription has been on vacation hold – I can still read online but they get no more money from me. I will be “on vacation” as long as Baquet and Bennet are there.

  5. Your Weisman takedown got reposted by Atrios, and was well received…”America’s Worst Journalists”…too right.

  6. I live in Congresswoman Omar’s district and think the NYT editor nailed it in his tweet. Sure, we are geographically in the Midwest but the Twin Cities voters are more liberal than outstate Minnesota. I am very liberal but I want a Democrats to nominate someone who can win the 2020 presidential election. This will likely require someone who is in the center left so we can get some of the rural votes.

  7. The only reason I still subscribe to the NYT is because of Paul Krugman. I email him from time to time urging him to switch to a better paper, but for some reason he pays no attention to me.

    It occurred to me some time ago that the NYT’s fixation on interviewing elderly Midwestern Trump supporters to report they still support Trump is pretty clear evidence of its institutional racism, at least in its political coverage. There was no such repeated coverage of Obama voters, nor was there hardly any coverage at all of Hillary voters. But the clear bias towards interviewing whites is simply impossible to miss, and taking Weisman’s Tweet into account it seems to be getting steadily worse, opening as it does a window into the thinking at the highest levels of the NYT.

  8. His walkback was stupid too. Oh, he was talking about the POLITICAL differences between rural and urban voters, well, that’s a fresh and interesting take — especially if you don’t mention that McCaskill is full of shit and farmers take billions in subsidies every year to, among other things, not grow things. THAT take is so old, it was lampooned in Heller’s Catch-22.

    There are interesting stories in both rural and urban America. Not that it would rouse the pampered idiots at the Times or hacks like Clair McCaskill to notice.

  9. “Free stuff from the government does not play well in the Midwest.”

    Wrong. White people LOVE Socialism for themselves* yet hate it for people a shade (or two or three) darker. Same as it always was.

    *they prefer to call it something else of course: price supports, tax credits, mortgage-interest deductions, grazing rights, agricultural land grants, VA benefits post-WW2, Social Security/Medicare, etc.

  10. I get what he’s saying though I am not surprised that some have misconstrued what he say and maybe even deliberately to score political points.

    For the record, Atlanta is not representative of the “Deep South”. It is too diverse and open and educated and comparatively liberal for the South. Those are not characteristics of the “Deep South”.

    Similarly there are scattered cities throughout the country that do not represent the general politics of the entire region. For instance Austin is in no way representative of regressive Texas politics.

    Twitter is a difficult platform to engage in meaningful discussions rather than kneejerk comments and the equally kneejerk replies.

    Nobody considers Social Security or Medicare freebies or government handouts. Such examples don’t even pass the laugh test. Recipients have paid for these benefits via life long payments and premiums. Benefits that are given in exchange for something don’t exactly fit into the freebie category, e.g., service related benefits.

Leave a Comment