New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet appeared today on CBS This Morning, days after BuzzFeed EIC Ben Smith broke a story about the substance, as it were, of a meeting between Donald Trump and The New York Times’ editorial board.
According to Smith’s sources, the off the record portion of the conversation revealed that Trump isn’t as militant on his anti-immigration position as he plays in public.
Baquet isn’t part of the board, but ended up at the meeting because Trump is a siren no one can resist and we’re still waiting for someone to play the part of Odysseus and ask to be restrained in order to avoid Siren Trump’s lure.
“I usually don’t go,” Baquet tells Charlie Rose. “I asked to go this time. I asked to go, frankly, because I had not seen Donald Trump in 20 years. I thought it would be interesting to see him. So [editorial page editor] Andy Rosenthal in his good graces let me go.”
Baquet goes on to explain why the conversation was largely off the record: “The reason, for the record, why these are off the record–candidates come in and pitch the Times to endorse them. They’re open, free-wheeling conversations–by the way this is the only one I’ve ever been to–and the reason I think this one leaked out, which to be frank is unfortunate, because off the record conversations should be…”
“We assume they came from somebody at the Times?” Rose interjects, asking about the source of the leak.
“I have no idea, to be honest,” responds Baquet. “There were like 30 people in the room, including Donald Trump’s people. It got talked about in the newsroom; that’s probably not a good thing. I may have even talked about it, to be frank. That’s probably not a good thing. On the other hand, I think it’s much ado about nothing.”
Rose tries to get Baquet to talk about whether or not Trump’s wall talk is real or for show. This distinction is in some ways important, but in others almost irrelevant, considering the levels of xenophobic vitriol that stance has encouraged.
Unsurprisingly, Baquet is mum. “I’m going to pass on what was said in the room.”
“That’s the point,” says Rose, referring to the importance of determining Trump’s true stance.
“I know,” says Baquet, “but I’m going to honor the off-the-record that the editorial board put in place.”
Norah O’Donnell asks Baquet about what it would take to get the Times to disclose the conversation. “So to be clear,” she asks, “if Donald Trump were to say today to put the whole thing on the record, would The New York Times comply?”
“That would be Andy Rosenthal’s call,” replies Baquet.
Baquet closes on the subject with some retrospect. “If I had to do it over again, by the way, I probably shouldn’t go to meetings like that. I went to this one, to be frank, because I’m a journalist, and I was dying to hear what he said.”
“I wanted to go to the meeting to see the show. I’m a journalist…I wanted to go to the meeting to see what Donald Trump looked like in front of the editorial board of The New York Times, which he has a love-hate relationship with. On the one hand, he’s a New York figure, and like a lot of New York figures, he trashes the New York Times in public, but he’s deeply respectful of the New York Times in private. I wanted to see that show.”
There’s certainly one Trump-related wall that seems impossible to construct: the one that separates what is farce and entertainment from legitimate coverage of an American election. With Trump, everything is a show, but the consequences do not remain contained to a television set.