sun 23/09/2018

Reporting Trump's First Year: the Fourth Estate, BBC Two review - all hands on deck at the Gray Lady | reviews, news & interviews

Reporting Trump's First Year: the Fourth Estate, BBC Two review - all hands on deck at the Gray Lady

Reporting Trump's First Year: the Fourth Estate, BBC Two review - all hands on deck at the Gray Lady

The President vs 'the enemy of the people' at the New York Times

Executive Editor Dean Baquet chairs the New York Times morning meeting

The cataclysm of Donald Trump’s election was like a second 9/11 for the East Coast elite (and not just them, obviously). It was a world turned upside down, the centre couldn’t hold, and, worst of all, why did nobody see it coming?

Nowhere was it felt more keenly than at the New York Times, lumped in with various other media outlets by Trump as "the enemy of the people" and identified as a purveyor of "fake news". As Executive Editor Dean Basquet admits, the paper didn't have its finger on the pulse of the country, and they got it wrong.

This was the opener of a four-part documentary series, made by the Showtime network in the States, which will cover 16 months in the life of the New York Times in the aftermath of Trumpageddon, and director Liz Garbus and her crew were given almost unlimited inside access. It seeks to explore how the paper struggled to adjust to this bizarre new world where the Twitter-loving President’s tactic of keeping everyone, including his own staff, perpetually off balance made every day a new exercise in chaos management. Trump’s hatred of the media, and his particular obsession with the Times (his local newspaper), posed prickly questions for the paper, especially when its reporters were being ejected from White House press briefings (pictured below, White House correspondent Maggie Haberman).

Still, watching the paper’s editors and reporters agonising over the precise wording of stories about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian intelligence, pondering Trump’s claims that his phone was tapped by Barack Obama or seeing the collective media trying to prise a sensible answer out of White House press secretary Sean Spicer carried a distinct whiff of déjà vu, since everything about the Trump presidency has been perpetually in the spotlight from day one. Though the show has been edited to look like a Hollywood thriller, with menacing music from Trent Reznor which seeks to make even the most mundane scene resemble All the President’s Men, we know that in the real world the New York Times hasn’t managed to bring Trump down yet, and probably never will.

The problem is that these days nobody takes the Gray Lady (as the venerable Times is known) as seriously as it would like to take itself, and the not-so-slow death of the Old Media is a topic that couldn’t fail to insinuate itself into the narrative. Baquet, a seasoned newspaper veteran who radiates a reassuring air of calm amid the flying shrapnel, observes that “independent honest inquiry” is what his paper seeks to undertake, but when the likes of Facebook and Google are hollowing out the financial base of print media it’s becoming a near-impossible task. Deputy Publisher A G Sulzberger (who became Publisher at the start of this year, the latest in the Sulzberger dynasty to take on the role) acknowledges the challenges, but argues bravely that “we’re not driven by clicks, we think in decades” (pictured below, Investigations Editor Mark Mazzetti).

Whether the paper will last for many more of those is a moot point, though apparently its online subscriptions are growing and it still seems able to support a remarkable number of staff. We were constantly being introduced to a steady stream of White House correspondents, investigative reporters and Washington correspondents plus their various editors. Baquet took us aside for a few moments to explain how the paper’s Washington bureau is “like its own universe”, and enjoys “a really tricky relationship” with the mothership back in New York. He should know, having been Washington bureau chief himself.

It almost made one yearn for the golden age of hold-the-front-page classics like His Girl Friday or It Happened One Night, when newspaper reporters were ruthless and brash and wore a press card in their hatband. Ironically, while Baquet and his troops kept going on about how the arrival of Trump was one of the greatest news stories ever told, the fate of the paper and its varied cast of characters in a fast-changing world has the potential to be much more interesting. 

 

Trump’s hatred of the media, and his particular obsession with the Times (his local newspaper), posed prickly questions for the paper

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Average: 3 (1 vote)

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