Erik Wemple of the Washington Post criticizes the New York Times for not allowing its reporters to tell the unvarnished truth. The Times suffers from “both side-ism.” The Times’s pretense of neutrality ends up falsifying the truth and distorting reality. The reality is that the president of the United States is an ignorant and malicious tyrant who endangers our democracy, our future, and the world.

There’s a provision in the New York Times ethics guidelines that limits what a news-side reporter may say during a television interview. “Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times,” note the guidelines.

Donald G. McNeil Jr. is a science and health reporter at the New York Times. He’s been analyzing the coronavirus story ever since the pandemic started roaring. His latest stop on that tour was an interview with Christiane Amanpour of CNN, where, well, let’s just say that McNeil said things that could not appear under his Times byline:

“We completely blew it for the first two months of our response. We were in a headless-chicken phase, and yes, it’s the president’s fault, it is not China’s fault. The head of the Chinese CDC was on the phone to Robert Redfield on Jan. 1, again on Jan. 8, and the two agencies were talking on Jan. 19. The Chinese had a test on Jan. 13; the Germans had a test on Jan. 16. We fiddled around for two months, we had a test on March 5 and it didn’t work. We didn’t have 10,000 people tested until March 15. So we lost two months there, and that was because of incompetent leadership at the CDC, I’m sorry to say — it’s a great agency, but it’s incompetently led, and I think Dr. Redfield should resign. And suppression from the top: I mean, the real coverup was the person in this country who was saying, you know, ‘This is not an important virus, the flu is worse, it’s all going to go away, it’s nothing.’ And that encouraged everybody around him to say, ‘It’s nothing, it’s nothing, it’s nothing.’ I had the same problem at the Times — I was trying to convince my editors, ‘This is really bad; this is a pandemic.’ It took a while to get them, it took a while to get anybody to believe this. … Getting rid of Alex Azar was a mistake — he was actually leading a dramatic response and then … in February he was replaced with Mike Pence, who’s a sycophant.”

Later in the interview, McNeil alighted on Trump’s briefing-room riffs about disinfectant and light as treatments for coronavirus. “This is not somebody whose grasp of the science is even third-grade-level,” said McNeil.

Had McNeil attempted to write in a New York Times story that “we blew it,” his editors might have inserted: “As coronavirus wended its way around the world, the Trump administration missed several critical opportunities to blunt its impact in America, according to interviews with 56 experts and current and former administration officials.”

Had McNeil attempted to write that the CDC was “incompetently led,” his editors would have inserted: “Decisions reached by Dr. Redfield over several weeks in January and February have drawn criticism from public health experts, who point to a slow-footed response that resulted in unnecessary deaths across the country.


Had McNeil attempted to write that Pence is a “sycophant,” his editors would have inserted: “The White House swapped Azar for Pence, a leader more attuned to the president’s preferences and sensibilities, not to mention his taste for official praise.”

Then again, we don’t necessarily need to resort to make-believe New York Times writing voice. There’s actual news copy from the newspaper on Redfield’s shortcomings. On March 28, the newspaper published an investigation by six bylined reporters on how the administration lost month stumbling over itself in pursuit of a workable coronavirus test. “Dr. Robert R. Redfield, 68, a former military doctor and prominent AIDS researcher who directs the C.D.C., trusted his veteran scientists to create the world’s most precise test for the coronavirus and share it with state laboratories. When flaws in the test became apparent in February, he promised a quick fix, though it took weeks to settle on a solution,” reads the story, which goes on to note Redfield’s consensus approach and “deliberative” temperament.

In a statement to the Erik Wemple Blog, Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said, “In an interview with Christiane Amanpour today, Donald McNeil, Jr. went too far in expressing his personal views. His editors have discussed the issue with him to reiterate that his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions. We are confident that his reporting on science and medicine for The Times has been scrupulously fair and accurate.”

That mild brushback seems appropriate in this case, though a specific mention of McNeil’s call for Redfield’s resignation might have been worthwhile. Such activism, after all, is extreme even for a veteran newsman exercising his analytical muscles in a freewheeling cable-news interview.

The mainstream media’s stated goal of neutral and officious-sounding analysis from reporters has been challenged repeatedly under President Trump. That’s because when it comes to Trump, sheer recitations of fact often double as condemnations.

“Good morning, presidential candidate Donald Trump last night told CNN that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly had “blood coming out of her wherever,” a news anchor might have told her audience in August 2015.

The same dynamic emerges in a famous 2016 letter that the New York Times wrote after then-candidate Trump threatened a lawsuit against the paper for its coverage of Trump’s treatment of women. The letter from New York Times lawyer David McCraw read, in part:

“Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a “piece of ass.” Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.”

Facts, all of them — though they’re such terrible facts that they sound like biased denunciations.
Such is the coronavirus backdrop — unfathomable pronouncements of incompetence, indifference and cluelessness from the president in public appearance after public appearance. What’s an experienced health reporter to say?