For a period of time Wednesday evening, The New York Times was subject to as much Twitter fire as Donald Trump and his unsoftened/rehardened/exercise in scapegoating of an immigration speech. The criticism was for the Times’ coverage of the speech, specifically this article, whose initial version depicted half of Trump’s day of discussing Mexico–the muted first half in which he delivered careful remarks in Mexico City.
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) September 1, 2016
That @patrickhealynyt story is a systematic failure. How does he write that? How does an editor let that pass?
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) September 1, 2016
Shorter New York Times: PIVOTING TO CENTER ON IMMIGRATION, DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN
— Jeet Heer (@HeerJeet) September 1, 2016
It led some to wonder whether the initial version was published accidentally.
— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) September 1, 2016
It was the kind of incident that would surely end up as the subject of a NYT public editor column, and indeed, Liz Spayd weighed in yesterday.
“For many readers, the story looked like a significant misportrayal of events,” she wrote. “Anyone coming to the Times site around 11 p.m., over an hour after Trump’s speech began, saw a story that seemed blind to the angry, aggressive rhetoric that Trump delivered to his voting base along the border.”
Spayd sought answers to both the reasons for why the story read like it did, and for the subsequent stealth edits, an issue former public editor Margaret Sullivan discussed in March.
Times political editor Carolyn Ryan‘s explanation, which Spayd summed up as “We were moving as fast as we could and the story changed on us,” was insufficient for Spayd. As she pointed out, other publications like Politico, The Washington Post and The Arizona Republic managed to depict reality as it was, working under similar deadlines.
This is Spayd’s ultimate conclusion:
Given the complications of the story — an unpredictable candidate, brutal deadlines — it seems the newsroom was not in position to deliver a strong coverage package. None of the main political writers were on the scene in Mexico City or in Arizona and Patrick Healy, writer of the lead story, drew the short straw of producing both the version for the print edition and for the web. In this instance, Healy would have greatly benefited from being relieved of writing the print story in order to concentrate on the web. That might have given him some extra time to absorb the news in Phoenix and make sense of the changing rhetoric.
We would still like to see an explanation, however, for why the Times has made no note of the edits on the article page.