An example of opinion polluting journalism in the NYT

January 23, 2020 • 9:15 am

UPDATE: As evidence that the Times knew it was infecting its journalism with opinion, they’ve changed the headline in the last two hours. Here it is now:

 

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Opening my New York Times website this morning., I found this article as the banner headline, which isn’t supposed to be opinion but news (click on screenshot to read it). I was pretty appalled to find that the headline—which one might expect to find in Salon or HuffPost—was in the NYT. Click on screenshot to see the piece.

The placement:

(Representative Adam Schiff from California was the lead prosecutor for the House of Representatives, and yesterday began presenting the House’s case for prosecution in the Senate. Seven representatives assist him.)

Granted, the headline on the linked article is less judgmental (“In impeachment case, Schiff accuses Trump of trying ‘to cheat’ in election), but the characterization of “scathing case for convicting Trump” is an opinion, not an objective fact (I suspect Republicans would disagree). And, indeed, to rational people the case may have been “scathing,” but it’s still an opinion.  Instead of “scathing”, they should have used “thorough” or “well researched”, which are also subjective, but not as strong. The adjective, of course, comes from the paper’s hatred of Trump, instantiated in the paper’s ridiculously high numbers of article about the man (and I use that noun loosely) over the past few years.

“Scathing” is also repeated in the first paragraph of the article, along with “meticulous.” I would have chosen “meticulous” alone for both the text and the headline, as it’s a pretty objective adjective.

WASHINGTON — The House Democratic impeachment managers began formal arguments in the Senate trial on Wednesday, presenting a meticulous and scathing case for convicting President Trump and removing him from office on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Now you tell me: is that journalism or is that opinion? I speak as one who would, based on what I know of the data, also vote for convicting Trump, but newspapers aren’t supposed to report opinion as fact.

I’m sure some of you will, based on your own opinions, say that “scathing” is okay, but I maintain that it’s straight-up opinion, and shouldn’t be in a banner headline.

 

53 thoughts on “An example of opinion polluting journalism in the NYT

  1. Opinion

    However, I can imagine a reply – with substantial hyperbole – whereby it is acknowledged that “scathing” is opinion but *in this case* it’s a fact, but of course only because of special pleading.

  2. I also noticed:

    “Opening my New York Times >website< this morning […]”

    I appreciate the satirical (?) nature of this – it is amusing- did they publish one website for each of their subscribers? The newsstand owner, early in the morning, slicing open the plastic tie straps enclosing the pile of fresh, crisp websites. The aroma of… websites…

    I apologize I’m in a silly mood this AM. Ghosts, you know.

    1. “they’ve changed the headline”

      A new stack of websites, clasped in plastic straps, thumps on the curb. The newsstand owner rushes out, tossing all the 1-hour old websites into the recycling, and snips the straps from the fresh crisp new websites. She pauses… looks down the street both ways… should she just wait for the next editorial change? Meanwhile, everyone is taking a copy from the recycling… she draws her forearm across her brow, tilting her cap – “it’s gonna be a long day…”

  3. While “scathing” is a strong word, it means “withering scornful, severely critical.” Isn’t that an accurate description of how the Democrats have presented their case? If anything, “scathing” sort of puts the Dems in a bad light, making them look petulant.

    But how should one get across how unhappy the Dems are with Trump without making it sound subjective?

    On the other hand, “meticulous” could be seen as being more supportive of the Democrats, because it’s a much more positive word. To me, “meticulous” implies crossing all the t’s, being precise, etc.

    Difficult things, these words.

    Larry Smith

    1. I looked up the word in several dictionaries, and it also means, (as in the way I read it), “harmful”. Here’s the OED’s two definitions:

      1. That scathes or blasts

      2. Of invective, etc.: Very sharp and damaging; searing, ‘withering’, cutting.

      And from Dictionary.com:

      adjective
      bitterly severe, as a remark: a scathing review of the play.

      harmful, injurious, or searing.

    2. I think “scathing” would have been appropriate if the title could have been worded to reflect only the House Managers’ opinion instead of making it sound like an opinion shared by all.

  4. I’m not sure whether Republicans would disagree–some seem to think the “anti-Trump movement” is always launching scathing criticisms, however they see them as mostly without merit. Some on the other side may say these charges are not a scathing attack, but yes, this demonstrates the use of the word is heavily opinionated.

    My view is this isn’t particularly scathing, I definitely see the evidence as overwhelming that Trump did exactly what the Democrats are alleging he did. However, in the realm of scathing attacks, the Democrats could have presented a stronger case for impeachment on a number of separate items from the cases of potential obstruction Mueller cited in his report to the violation of the emoluments clause from the very moment Trump took the oath of office (this is my opinion might be the most open and shut violation of his office) to the recent attack in Iraq for which the international laws regarding imminent attacks have been entirely tossed aside, with Trump himself declaring “it really doesn’t matter.”

  5. I read “scathing” as applying to the tone of Rep. Schiff’s attack, not strength of his case.

    From the parts of Schiff’s presentation that I saw, it seems an apt description.

      1. Makes sense to take the hed down, I suppose, if people of above-average reading comprehension are in disagreement regarding its implications.

  6. You can’t watch television news, either, without knowing exactly what the anchor’s personal opinion is on the story, whether it’s on the right or left. It really bugs me, even when the anchor says, “This next story is really tragic …” because I can decide that for myself.

  7. The role of news reporting is to tell the public what happened in a complete and honest way without editorial comment. Too much of what is supposed to be news reporting nowadays is intended to tell people what they should think about what is happening. I consider that it is only reasonable to assume, given the desire to propagandize, that at the same time these media outlets are also suppressing information that would undercut their editorial stance. Is it really such an outrage that Senator McSally called a CNN correspondent a “liberal hack” given the newsitorial stance of CNN, which now has a common “news” story format of “X outrageous things Trump said” about any public utterance the President makes?

    1. CNN has been widely chastised lately for its correspondent asking Bernie Sanders if he really said that a woman couldn’t be elected president (he denied it), and then asking Warren, immediately, “So how did you react when Bernie said that?”–or something like that.

      Not good behavior from a supposedly objective interlocutor.

      1. It’s a fun game to watch, and see which candidate the different news outlets are carrying water for. I saw one (maybe two) stories saying the Bernie supporters shouldn’t be surprised at the way CNN was treating him; it’s the same way they treat Republicans.

    2. ” . . . intended to tell people what they should think about what is happening.”

      Right. NY Times and NPR, among others, like to call that “the takeaway.”

    3. The “X Outrageous Things” style is no doubt Chris Cillizza. The man is a horrible writer, and possibly a worse journalist. I ran across a story today where his opening line was, “”With 10 days left before Iowa voters, uh, vote, former Vice President Joe Biden is trying to close the deal with this message: I’m the safe pick.”

      Apparently, he missed the memo that awkward phrases one might make when speaking, such as “voters vote” need not be recreated in the written word, when one has, uh, the ability to edit before publishing…

  8. I saw the same headline with the word “Scathing last night and immediately thought that it was yet another example of the Times moving editorial into the news section.

    But this time to a very conspicuous place in the paper.

    In the last few years I have noticed so much mixing of news editorial that taking place that I essentially shrugged that “Scathing” off.

    It’s the Foxification of media.

  9. Although the impeachment of Trump by the House was a necessity to expose Trump’s crimes to the nation and world, it was clear from the start that there was no chance of his removal by the Senate. But the Senate trial does serve a political purpose for both parties. For the Democrats, it allows them to expand the audience for them to explain what Trump has done. For the Republicans and Trump, it allows the latter to bellow that he been exonerated. The political ramifications are why the Republicans are opposed to having witnesses, such as John Bolton, testify at the trial. They know that it is high likely that Bolton’s testimony would make it even more obvious why Trump should be removed from office.

    All congressional actions, even the impeachment process, are highly politicized. Both parties realize that the 2020 presidential election is likely to be very close, at least in terms of the Electoral College. For Republicans, who seek to retain power regardless of the cost to democracy, minimizing media coverage of Trump’s crimes is essential. They can’t afford to lose any votes.

  10. In other news(papers), The Washington Times reports “Schiff cites debunked ‘Russia collusion’ in opening argument at Trump impeachment trial”.

    The NYT changed their headline after criticism; does anybody think that news outlets with a pro-Trump bias will do likewise?

    The word “collusion” appears only once in Schiff’s Wednesday opening remarks (the subject of the Washington Times article; a transcript of the opening remarks is available at https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/impeachment-trial-day-2-transcript-adam-schiff-opening-argument-speech-transcript), and it’s not in reference to Russia.

  11. Although it is commonplace for each presidential election to be described, as election day approaches, as the most important in generations. This time it is true. Indeed, it is the most important election since 1860. Nothing more than the future of democracy is at stake. At its core, the Republican Party membership consists of people who in seeking alleviation of their many grievances against parts of America they don’t like have transformed themselves into a cult that looks to a leader, who claims he can do whatever he wants, for salvation. Democracy means nothing to them. As with most cults, they view people outside of it as barely deserving to live. If Trump wins in November, he will assume a mandate to, in fact, do anything he wants. Around half the nation won’t care until their world of delusion comes tumbling down. Then it will be too late to reverse course. I imagine my feelings are similar to those of some ancient Romans who witnessed the fall of a great empire due to the reigns of a series of mad or incompetent emperors.

    So, if the editors of the NYT occasionally lose their objectivity, I can be forgiving. They are human beings acutely aware of what is at stake and are doing everything they can within legal limits to plug the dike before it collapses.

    1. Well, Rome survived the famous mad and/or incompetent emperors (Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus, Elagabalus et al) fine, the empire fell under ineffectual figurehead emperors (Honorius, Valentinian III).

      1. Would that Bill Barr as attorney general would do as little damage to the public weal as what Caligula’s horse Incitatus could have done as Rome’s consul.

        According to Gibbon, what led to the decline and fall of Rome was a loss of civic virtue (augmented by the Empire’s embrace of Christianity commencing during the reign of Constantine).

        Dunno about you, but I see a dearth of “civic virtue” in USA right now (not exclusively, but at its most obvious, in today’s GOP, which has bowed down and bent over for its corrupt, incompetent leader).

    2. That’s part of the problem; the lack of perspective on what is happening compared to what has happened and what could happen. Do you really think Trump will be allowed to do anything he wants? Do you think Trump knows what he wants? It seems to me that our constitutional regime is holding up pretty well. I think the danger is completely overblown, especially when you remember the way Reagan and Bush were excoriated. Like Climate Change, the hype is used to turn off our better instincts, and justify the traducing of all norms. The media are part of the problem.

      1. I’m afraid we must disagree. The Republicans in Congress have declined to show any resistance to what Trump wants. Here is but one example. For seventy years the Republican Party was staunchly anti-Soviet and then anti-Russia. Now they barely whimper when Trump cozies up to Putin. Lindsey Graham comes to mind.

        1. This isn’t your grandfather’s Republican Party. It was taken over starting in the late 1970s and through the ’80s by the “Moral Majority” et al.

          Even then, as in the ’50s, opposition to the Soviets was largely a reaction to “godless communism”, and the evaporation of that opposition around the same time as Orthodox Christian Putin’s rise to power is probably not a mere coincidence.

          1. How many Americans do you know that could answer the question “what is Vladimir Putin’s religion?”

            I consider myself quite well informed about the World, but I didn’t know the answer until i looked it up to check your assertion. So, actually, yes, I think it is a mere coincidence.

            1. It was while Putin was flouncing about with a huge crucifix around his neck at the Slovenia Summit in 2001 that George W. Bush said he looked into Putin’s eyes and got “a sense of his soul.”

              Politically aware Yanks who recall that incident understand the role of the Orthodox Church in the ascendancy of Vladimir Putin — as do those who understand the role religion plays in the writings of “Putin’s favorite philosopher,” Aleksandr Dugin.

              1. @jeremy pereira:

                You mean to your question, “How many Americans do you know that could answer the question ‘what is Vladimir Putin’s religion’”?

                My answer is: all politically aware Americans, which, unfortunately, constitutes a minority. Such information is certainly readily available in the public domain, and sufficiently relevant to world events, for US citizens who care enough to pay attention to such matters.

            2. > How many Americans do you know that could answer the question “what is Vladimir Putin’s religion?”

              Many, but that’s the wrong question. The issue is “why the rather sudden (in historical timeframes) 180 degree reversal of GOP attitudes to Russia?” And anybody who has bothered to look into it knows about Putin’s conservative religious views, which align with those of Pence, Franklin Graham, et al., as well as the history of the takeover of the GOP by evangelical Christians (which has been clear since the late ’70s). Anybody who has paid any attention to the news in the past decade or more will have seen the signs; as with Project Blitz and other conservative Christian influences that have affected American politics, so have Putin and his associates affected Russian (and to some extent, by way of interference and intervention abroad, global) politics, with visible effects across a range of political and social issues. Here are a few resources:
              https://www.newsweek.com/how-evangelicals-are-looking-putins-russia-save-christianity-godless-west-1115164
              https://www.cnn.com/2013/01/03/world/europe/vladimir-putin—fast-facts/index.html
              http://theconversation.com/why-putin-is-an-ally-for-american-evangelicals-101504
              https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/to-russia-with-love-why-the-religious-right-is-rootin-for-putin
              https://washingtonmonthly.com/2019/12/09/trumps-supporters-dont-see-putin-as-a-threat-they-admire-him/
              https://www.ncronline.org/news/politics/russian-connection-when-franklin-graham-met-putin
              https://www.salon.com/2019/05/04/russias-lasting-grip-on-christian-conservatives_partner/
              https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/how-russia-became-a-leader-of-the-worldwide-christian-right-214755
              https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesrodgerseurope/2018/10/13/church-ruling-challenges-putins-newly-religious-russia/
              https://time.com/5751224/jehovahs-witness-russia-persecution/
              https://thinkprogress.org/history-of-christian-fundamentalists-in-russia-and-the-us-a6bdd326841d/

              Let’s be frank: coverage in mainstream media (CNN, Time, Newsweek), in financial media (Forbes, The Economist), from rights groups protecting separation of church and state (au.org), media covering political and social issues (Salon, Politico), even media covering religion (National Catholic Register) is such that one would practically have to be deliberately ignorant not to know about Putin and his connection to the conservative evangelical Christians that dominate the GOP. Even those deliberately ignorant folk who use Fox News as their sole source of information will have heard:
              https://www.foxnews.com/world/power-of-religion-with-putins-help-russian-church-grows-as-political-force

              1. As I said above, I am not deliberately ignorant and I did not know Putin’s religion. I think most Americans will be just as unaware as I am, especially those who support the GOP.

      2. Do you really think Trump will be allowed to do anything he wants?

        Pretty much.

        Do you think Trump knows what he wants?

        He wants money and recognition as the greatest emperor – sorry, president – in the history of the USA. If he could rename the USA to the UST, he would.

        It seems to me that our constitutional regime is holding up pretty well

        There is incontrovertible evidence that Trump is corrupt and has broken US law. He attempted to extort personal favours out of a foreign government. He assassinated an official of a foreign government. He diverts public funds into his private businesses. He lies continuously. He is stacking the US judicial system with right wing cronies who are under qualified to be judges. He has shown himself to be utterly unsuited to the post of president and yet, the so called checks and balances will allow him to be completely unaffected by any of the above. The US constitutional regime is not holding up. In fact, it has already collapsed.

        1. I’m with you. I don’t know what DrBrydon has been watching/reading…maybe not watching or reading.

          I suggest he read Lewis’ slim book The Fifth Risk for a tidy summation of just how much of this “constitutional regime” has been thwarted, subjugated and destroyed. And that was just in the first 2 years of this abomination of an administration.

          And more than money or fame, Trump craves power…especially the power people like Putin and Jung Un and Erdogan enjoy.

  12. I find that one of the biggest casualties of such routine editorializing is that it makes me trust the news source less and less over time…which leaves me with a very limited number of resources. I agree completely with PCC(E) here.

  13. I see a different problem with this headline and one shared by CNN and probably all MSM outlets. Their title portray the impeachment as Democrats vs Republicans. Why shouldn’t it be “House Presents Scathing Case for Convicting Trump”. Once the House has voted, the impeachment is owned by the entire House. While most of the votes have been along strict party lines, this is not how it is supposed to work in theory. In fact, Schiff and associates are called “House Managers” in the impeachment trial proceedings, not “Democrats”.

    While the Dem vs GOP headlines might be technically true, they inadvertently push Trump’s wish to portray the impeachment as a strictly partisan political effort rather than a attempt to convict the President of constitutional wrongdoing.

  14. I agree that “scathing” is “straight-up opinion,” but this is pretty much par for the course for the NYT.

    Personally, I would have characterized the Dems’ presentation of their case as “hysterical,” as in “derived from or affected by uncontrolled extreme emotion.” I’m thinking specifically of Michael Gerhardt’s claim that “If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable.” What does this even mean—that Gerhardt can’t imagine a worse crime that a president might commit?

    Clearly, the Dems have stopped even listening to their own rhetoric. We can only hope that American voters have stopped listening as well.

    1. ““If what we’re talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable.” What does this even mean—that Gerhardt can’t imagine a worse crime that a president might commit?”

      I respectfully submit that you’re misinterpreting this statement. I believe it means that Trump’s behavior fits the description of a crime worthy of impeachment perfectly. It could serve as the type specimen for the impeachable crime category. In a sense, it isn’t the worst impeachable crime but the best.

  15. scathing skā′ᴛʜĭng

    adj.
    Bitterly denunciatory; harshly critical.
    adj.
    Harmful or painful; injurious.
    Damaging; wounding; blasting; scorching: as, scathing irony.

    I don’t see a problem with NYT’s use of the word. They did present a harshly critical case against Trump.

    1. I agree. Jerry is just virtue signalling again. Showing how “anti-woke” he is. His political instincts are extremely weak.

      1. LOL, what a mushbrain we have here in Mr. Ho. Did you see that the paper eliminated that headline? Now why did they do that if everything was copacetic?
        And it’s not considered a “virtue” on the Left to criticize the NYT. Your critical thinking is extremely weak, in fact, you’re expelled from school.

    2. a. Whether it was “wounding” or “injurious” is a judgment call that doesn’t belong in straight reportage.

      b. If the NYT was using a correct headline, why did they decide to eliminate it? Apparently the PAPER ITSELF saw a problem with the use of the word, no?

  16. Objectivity, as understood by journalists from the mid-20th century through today, is a mug’s game. It invites aggrieved parties to work the refs, until what the media are willing to report fits the world views of the powerful and the well organized complainers. Gonzo journalism has a much better chance of getting to the news, as defined by Katherine Graham: “News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising.”

    Back when the First Amendment was being written, newspapers typically had a point of view and made no bones about it. They routinely vilified opposing politicians. The Founders’ reaction? This stuff is vital to democracy! And that was the right call.

    1. Oh, I largely agree. As Hunter Thompson, the dean and founder of gonzo journalism, wrote in his “scathing” obituary of Richard Nixon:

      Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

      The problem arises, however, when subjective, opinion journalism masquerades as objective journalism — something Hunter and the best of his ilk never dissimulated to do.

  17. Funny thing about adjectives, they are all interpretations of an event or process witnessed by the entity or individual uttering them. Interpretations are descriptive and therefore subject to opinions, depending on perspectives of reality of each individual. Unfortunately, there are extremely divergent interpretations and opinions of reality today. Even the definitions of many words have become disputed or twisted 180 degrees, to appease and support feelings of deep resentments, fears, hatred, and singular perspectives of the “truth” which have been rebuffed progressively by generations of Americans most visibly beginning in the 1960s.

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