The New York Times Is Tightening the Reins On Reporters Who Appear On CNN and MSNBC

Vanity Fair has reported on the actions of New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, and his restrictions on Times’ reporters appearing on some shows in which the content is not subtly enough simply too stridently partisan, and might make the Times itself look as though it might not be simply reporting All the News That’s Fit to Print:

“Inconsistent, incoherent, and poorly conceived”: as the Times clamps down on reporters going on MSNBC, is this a liberal-media war?

The Times recently yanked one of its journalists from Rachel Maddow amid concerns about cable-news “bias.” Dean Baquet “thinks it’s a real issue.” But didn’t MSNBC help rebuild the Times’s business? And aren’t they in the same Trump-era boat?

By Joe Pompeo | May 30, 2019 | 5:18 PM EDT

On Sunday, May 19, New York Times finance editor David Enrich got a request from a producer at MSNBC to appear on Rachel Maddow’s show the following night. Enrich had a red-hot front-page story for Monday’s paper, about anti-money-laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank flagging suspicious transactions involving Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, and Maddow wanted to bring him on air to talk about it.

Maddow is MSNBC’s ratings queen, jostling with Sean Hannity every night for the crown of most-watched time slot in cable news. That’s why reporters tend to relish the exposure they get from doing her show. Enrich said yes, but after mentioning the planned appearance to the Times’s communications department, he was told he would have to retroactively decline. The reason? The Times was wary of how viewers might perceive a down-the-middle journalist like Enrich talking politics with a mega-ideological host like Maddow. The producer, who was informed that the Times asks members of the newsroom not to appear on opinionated shows to discuss political subjects, was miffed about the cancellation, sources said. Enrich declined to comment. An MSNBC spokesman said, “For over a decade, The Rachel Maddow Show has welcomed the best journalists from across the country and celebrated the hard work they do, day-in and day-out. This includes countless New York Times reporters and editors. That commitment to journalism is part of the DNA of the show.”

It’s not just Maddow. The Times has come to “prefer,” as sources put it, that its reporters steer clear of any cable-news shows that the masthead perceives as too partisan, and managers have lately been advising people not to go on what they see as highly opinionated programs. It’s not clear how many shows fall under that umbrella in the eyes of Times brass, but two others that definitely do are Lawrence O’Donnell’s and Don Lemon’s, according to people familiar with management’s thinking. Hannity’s or Tucker Carlson’s shows would likewise make the cut, but it’s not like Times reporters ever do those anyway. I’m told that over the past couple of months, executive editor Dean Baquet has felt that opinionated cable-news show are getting, well, even more opinionated. Baquet and other managers have become increasingly concerned that if a Times reporter were to go on one of these shows, his or her appearance could be perceived as being aligned with that show’s political leanings. “He thinks it’s a real issue,” one of my Times sources said. “Their view,” said another, “is that, intentionally or not, it affiliates the Times reporter with a bias.”

There’s more at the original, but it would seem that Mr Baquet is right: if “it’s not like Times reporters ever do (Fox News’ shows) anyway,” then yes, that would “(affiliate) the Times reporter with a bias.”

However, I see it as a deeper problem. The problem began in 1981, when ABC’s Roone Arledge hired David Brinkley, who left NBC in a huff, and created a new kind of Sunday interview show, This Week with David Brinkley. As Wikipedia put it:

This Week revolutionized the Sunday morning news program format, featuring not only several correspondents interviewing guest newsmakers, but concluding with a roundtable discussion. The format proved highly successful and was soon imitated by ABC’s NBC and CBS rivals as well as engendering new programs originating both nationally and from local stations.

The ’roundtable discussion’ was a great thing for reporters: it put more reporters on television, talking amongst each other, supposedly offering the viewers new, inside insights. But the effect was to take reporters who were supposed to be reporting them news and turning them into people who were making the news. It was an incestuous relationship through-and-through.

There were attempts at providing differing views with some conservative columnists like George Will a frequent panelist, but whether conservative or liberal — and the panelists tended to be mostly liberal — they all came from the same heavily urbanized communities: New York and Washington, primarily, with some from Boston and Chicago and even occasionally Los Angeles. Their perspectives and their life experiences were all those of urban dwellers. This gave us television news shows, produced in urban areas, run by people who live in urban areas, hosted by people who live in urban areas, utilizing ‘outside’ commentators who live in urban areas.

The result? From Dan Rather and his crew in the 2004 election night reporting to virtually everyone in the media on election night in 2016, the television and print media were stunned, shocked and, of course, appalled when Hillary Clinton did not win the election. Guess they forgot about the existence of ‘flyover country,’ places too many coastal urbanites have viewed negatively.

Of course, the reporters love this stuff! Fox News reported that:

Both MSNBC and CNN have hired several prominent New York Times reporters as contributors in recent years, but it is unclear from the Vanity Fair report if they would be discouraged from appearing on shows deemed “too partisan.”

That means that those Times reporters were being paid to appear, and were being paid to lend the credibility of The New York Times to CNN and MSNBC. Of course, it might be cheaper for CNN to pay Times’ reporters than it is to retain full time staff: following slightly over 100 voluntary buyouts, CNN laid off a few more people. They are going from having reporters to investigate and report the news, to paying for appearances by other people’s reporters.

Not all reporters making television appearances are paid by the network, though some print reporters do have contracts with specific outlets. In those cases, the reporter will be listed as a “CNN Contributor” or something similar.  The amounts of the contracts can vary but are often in the $15,000 to $30,000 range, depending upon the individual.  That’s a pretty good deal for CNN and MSNBC and even Fox: they get additional reporters as they need them, without having to pay a full-time person.

In the end, this is bad business. If you watch CNN’s New Day with Alisyn Camerota Lewis and John Berman, you’ll frequently see the hosts seated at the clear Lucite desk, with a couple of other reporters there chatting with them. Mrs Lewis is there, her opinions having changed from conservative, when she was with Fox, to liberal now that CNN is paying her, flipping back and forth between her sexy librarian glasses and none — the glasses are supposed to make her look smarter — drawing out the opinions of the other reporters; the reporters and their views become the story, not the straight news that CNN purports to deliver. About the only positive thing that can be said is that the show isn’t quite as bad as when the thoroughly eaten up by #TrumpDerangementSyndrome Chris Cuomo was Mrs Lewis’ co-host.

MSNBC’s Morning Joe is just about as bad, but at least MSNBC doesn’t claim to be objective; they are proud to claim the liberal mantle.

There are, of course, 435 congressmen out there, congressmen who would absolutely love to get some face time on national television, but unless they happen to be one of the loonies like Adam Schiff (D-CA 28th District), they get no love on CNN. There are cabinet secretaries and undersecretaries whom the Trump Administration would be happy to make available, there are business leaders and economists who could appear — though, other than Christine Romans, there doesn’t seem to be anyone left on CNN’s in-front-of-the-camera staff who understand the first thing about economics — to try to expand the news that CNN reports. There are professors out in flyover country, at the University of Kentucky, at Alabama or Creighton or Iowa State, who would be happy to get up early for five or ten minutes of national exposure, there are mayors of mid-sized cities or even small towns in Nebraska or Oklahoma or Montana who could provide real news.

But not on CNN, with its handy rolodex of buddy-buddy reporters, happy to add a few dollars to their wallets, all saying the same things, day in and day out. That really isn’t news.

You’d think that, after CNN’s disastrous drop in viewership in April, CNN International President Jeff Zucker would make some changes, and he has; viz. the buyouts and layoffs. What he hasn’t done is make the network more of what it has always purported to be: a news channel.

Dean Baquet is doing the right thing.
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