Former NY Times editor says Fox took her book out of context
NEW YORK (AP) — Jill Abramson, the former editor of The New York Times, said Thursday that Fox News took her criticism of the newspaper’s Trump coverage in her upcoming book “totally out of context” for a story that appeared this week.
The Fox story, headlined “Former NY Times editor rips Trump coverage as biased,” quotes from Abramson’s book, “Merchants of Truth.” She wrote that although current Times executive editor Dean Baquet publicly said he didn’t want the newspaper to be the opposition party, “his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump.” With a mostly liberal audience, “there was an implicit financial reward for the Times in running lots of Trump stories, almost all of them negative,” she wrote in the book.
Abramson was executive editor of the Times from 2011 to 2014 before being fired following a dispute with Baquet, one of her deputies. She said in an email interview with The Associated Press that the Fox article’s author, “Media Buzz” host Howard Kurtz, had ignored compliments that she had for the Times and The Washington Post.
“His article is an attempt to Foxify my book, which is full of praise for The Times and The Washington Post and their coverage of Trump,” she wrote in the email.
Kurtz said in a phone interview with the AP that he was “sorry to see Jill back away from her own words” and that his report was accurate.
“I would have written this story the same way if I were working for any news organization,” said Kurtz, a former Washington Post media columnist. “Her sometimes harsh criticism of her former paper’s Trump coverage leaps off the page and is clearly the most newsworthy element in the book because of her standing as a former executive editor.”
Their dispute is yet another example of a polarized media environment in the Trump era. Abramson’s book talks about that at length, and criticizes Trump for trying to undermine reporting about him. Shortly after Kurtz’s story was posted on Wednesday, it was picked up by several news outlets popular with Trump supporters, including Breitbart News, NewsMax, the Washington Times, the New York Post and the Hill.
Abramson wrote that the more anti-Trump the Times was perceived to be, the more it was mistrusted for being biased.
The late publisher Adolph Ochs’ promise to cover the news without fear or favor “sounded like an impossible promise in such a polarized environment, where the very definition of ‘fact’ and ‘truth’ was under constant assault,” she wrote in the book.
Eileen Murphy, spokeswoman for the Times, also echoed Ochs in saying that every administration complains about press scrutiny.
“We take pride in our long history of journalistic independence and commitment to covering the news without fear or favor,” she said. The Post declined comment on Abramson’s assertion that its news coverage was also anti-Trump.
The plain-spoken Abramson has drawn attention in the past for criticizing her old newspaper, recently chiding the Times for not doing reporting that could have foreseen the rise of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s also offered praise, saying in her book that Baquet’s decision for the newspaper to bluntly call some of Trump’s remarks a lie was “brave and right.”
In her email, Abramson notes that Kurtz ignored her passage in the book saying that under Baquet’s leadership, the depth and intensity of its accountability coverage of Trump “was masterful. On most days it outshone the Post’s. The news report as a whole had never been stronger.”
In his story, Kurtz wrote that Abramson “defends the Times in some ways but offers some harsh words for her successor.”
Abramson said Kurtz never called her for comment before writing his story. Kurtz said he relied on her written word, and that most authors don’t give interviews so far in advance of a publishing date (“Merchants of Truth” goes on sale Feb. 5). He said he informed the book’s publisher that he was writing about it and agreed to their request to delay his story for a few weeks.
The book, subtitled “The Business of News and the Fight for Facts,” looks at challenges faced by the Times, the Post, BuzzFeed and Vice.
Her discussion of the Times’ 2016 campaign coverage criticizes extensive attention paid to Hillary Clinton’s email issues, while also discussing a late-campaign story that many Trump critics believed minimized the seriousness of the Republican campaign connections to Russia.
“The biggest problem of all was the relentless pace of the political news cycle, which required snap decisions and constant reactive stories,” she wrote. “The imbalances were most glaring when the coverage of Clinton was compared to the coverage of Trump. The Times misstated the seriousness of the government’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.”
She also writes with discomfort about some of the ways business considerations have infiltrated the Times’ newsroom. She writes of an “emerging divide” in the Times newsroom between younger members trained in digital and not traditional reportorial work, and an old guard that operated under strict guidelines of fairness.
“The more ‘woke’ staff thought that urgent times called for urgent measures; the dangers of Trump’s presidency obviated the old standards,” she wrote. “They saw Twitter, Facebook and other social media feeds as platforms for free exchange, not to be monitored or censored by editors.”