The Times meets Trump, and Ronan Farrow takes on the system

President Trump kicked up a journalistic firestorm Sunday morning, tweeting about an off-the-record meeting with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger. Trump claimed that the two had “a very good and interesting meeting at the White House,” and discussed “the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media.”

Sulzberger, viewing Trump’s comment as putting the meeting on the record, responded with a lengthy statement, explaining that his main reason for meeting with Trump “was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric. I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.” NYT editorial page editor James Bennett also attended the meeting, which took place on July 20.

The nature of the talk stood in contrast to the paper’s post-election interview with Trump, one that the newsroom fought to be put on the record after television anchors were criticized for taking an off-the-record meeting with the then-president-elect. While it’s easy to argue that Sulzberger and Bennett shouldn’t be agreeing to conditions from a man who has continuously demeaned the reporting of their employees, it’s also hard to imagine them turning down a chance to challenge the president on his attacks. Where Sulzberger erred was expecting that Trump would both provide an accurate account of the meeting and change his approach to the media, two things he has shown no interest in doing.

ICYMI: Newspaper staffer resigns, says publisher called story “racist against white people”

Politico’s Andrew Restuccia and Brent D. Griffiths note that “The Times has long been a convenient foil for Trump, a regular Times reader who has a fascination with the paper despite his loud criticism of its coverage. So it was no surprise that Trump would try to spin the meeting with Sulzberger to his advantage.”

Trump responded later in the day with a thread of angry tweets, accusing the media of being “unpatriotic.” He added, “The failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements — and they will never change!”

Sign up for CJR's daily email

The Times’s Mark Landler spoke with Sulzberger, who said Trump took pride in popularizing the phrase “fake news.” Sulzberger also noted that at one point he told the president that media organizations had resorted to “posting armed guards outside their offices because of a rise in threats against journalists. The president, he said, expressed surprise that they did not already have armed guards.”

 

Farrow’s latest

On Friday morning, The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters reported that The New Yorker was prepping a new investigation by Ronan Farrow, one that would report on sexual harassment allegations against on of the most powerful men in media, CBS chairman Leslie Moonves. The preview set the industry on edge, waiting for the story to land. When it finally did, later that afternoon, Farrow’s work proved even more sweeping than most imagined.

While allegations by six women about Moonves’s harassment and assault grabbed headlines, the real brilliance of Farrow’s piece is the way it tackles the entrenched culture at a major media organization. He catalogues claims against Moonves and 60 Minutes Executive Producer Jeff Fager, and writes that, “Thirty current and former CBS employees described harassment, gender discrimination, or retaliation at the network. Many said that men accused of misconduct were promoted, even after the company was made aware of those allegations.” In response to Farrow’s questions, Moonves admitted to making mistakes early in his career, but denied abusing his power. Fager denied all allegations outright.

Farrow, of course, is not the first to report on troubling behavior at CBS. Accepting a Mirror Award last month for her work alongside Amy Brittain in exposing the behavior of Charlie Rose, Irin Carmon gave a stirring call to action, urging journalists to go beyond reporting on individual behavior. “There is a temptation to think that the last few months have been about individual men, that it’s about a handful of bad apples, and if we get rid of them, it will end the cycle of harassment and abuse. But it’s not true,” she said. “The stories that we have been doing are actually about a system. The system has lawyers and a good reputation….Indeed, the system is sitting in this room. Some more than others. The system is still powerful men getting stories killed that I believe will someday see the light of day.” As Farrow notes in his piece, Fager was sitting in the audience as Carmon spoke.

RELATED: The NYT tech columnist ‘unplugged’ from the Internet. Except he didn’t

Soon after the first stories about Harvey Weinstein broke, setting in motion a movement that has seen powerful men held to account (some more than others), questions arose about how to move beyond, as Carmon put it, “a few bad apples” to reporting about the systems that allow for abuse. Pieces like The New York Times’s investigation into abuse at Ford’s Chicago plants or Farrow’s attempt to examine the larger culture of CBS provide a roadmap.

Below, more on the fallout from Farrow’s reporting.

  • Highlight quote: As the Post’s Brittain and Camron attempted to investigate claims against Fager, they were threatened with lawsuits and saw their professionalism attacked by lawyers the 60 Minutes EP retained. “The hypocrisy of an investigative news program shutting down an investigative print story is incredible,” one CBS employee told Farrow.
  • Moonves’s future: This week, the focus shifts to Moonves’s future at the network. The Wall Street Journal’s Keach Hagey and Joe Flint report that CBS board members will decide today whether Moonves should step aside while an independent investigation plays out.
  • No nefarious motives: Moonves has been battling for control of CBS with National Amusements Inc. President Shari Redstone. Responding to the suggestion that the allegations against Moonves were part of a plot by Redstone, Farrow told CNN’s Brian Stelter that he began reporting this story the day after his Harvey Weinstein exposé published, well before the current battle on the CBS board began.
  • Farrow’s run: CNN’s Stelter spoke with New Yorker Editor David Remnick and contributor Ken Auletta, who helped bring Farrow to the magazine after NBC shut down his Weinstein reporting. “That NBC allowed Ronan to get away is akin to the Red Sox trading Ruth,” Auletta said.

 

Other notable stories 

  • USA Today uses a striking, all-caps front page to refocus attention on family separations.
  • For CJR, Britni de la Cretaz reports on how newsrooms respond to on-air assaults of their reporters, a problem particularly when journalists broadcast amid large crowds outside of sporting events. “Even at companies that have taken employee well-being seriously in the aftermath of an assault, there haven’t necessarily been institutional changes to the way reporting itself is done,” she writes.
  • A UK parliamentary committee released a scathing report on its investigation into Facebook’s handling of data and privacy. “The verdict is withering: Facebook failed,” writes The Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr. “It ‘obfuscated,’ refused to investigate how its platform was abused by the Russian government until forced by pressure from Senate committees and, in the most damning section, it aided and abetted the incitement of racial hatred in Burma.”
  • Carl Bernstein has seen it all and continues to keep digging, writes The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan. Bernstein, of course, was half of the reporting duo that doggedly pursued the cover-up of the Watergate case in the 1970s, and he’s back at it in the Trump era, breaking stories for CNN about the administration. “That Carl Bernstein, at 74, would once again be right in the middle of the high drama is utterly weird—and utterly perfect,” Sullivan writes.
  • A new CBS poll finds that “strong” Trump supporters overwhelmingly trust the president more than the mainstream media to provide them with accurate information.

ICYMI: Troll steals professor’s photo for fake Twitter profile. The professor decides to message him and ask why he was chosen. He got a reply.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.