The Tom Cotton Op-Ed Controversy at the New York Times; Or, the Challenge of Covering Trump, Part 2

There’s been a big controversy over the publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton, most notably among the Times staff–so much so that the op-ed managing editor and deputy managing editor have stepped down. This incident is part of a bigger, complex issue that doesn’t have any clear and easy solutions. I want to put in my two cents. I’ll do that in the first comments section. (I should say that I consider this post closely related to the thread, The Challenge of Covering Trump.)

Four Pieces of Writing That Must Be Read in the Trump Era

I really enjoy the experience of coming across a new idea that changes my perception or understanding in a significant way. I’ve been thinking about four pieces of writing that did that for–all of them crucial, I would say, to Americans. I list those articles, with a brief description, in the first comment. (Note: The title is more of an attention-getter than something I literally believe.)

Idea for News TV Show: The Accountability Board

General idea:

The show will feature a panel of journalists and pundits that represent at least the left and right. Panelists, lead by a moderator, will discuss issues, giving everything from general remarks analysis, predictions, etc. Some of these remarks will be summarized at put on a large board–picture at table with the top row with the name and picture of each pundit per column. In the rows below will a list of questions or issues. In the pundits column we will see some of their comments and/or a summary of their comments.

One of the main effects of the show I’d like to see is the reputations of pundits becoming linked to the degree to which their analysis and comments are reasonable, logical and fair. Ultimately, the rewards should come in the form of improved reputation and status, while punishments should have the opposite effect–e.g., the reputations of those who make outrageous comments, lie, etc. will take a big hit.

One format I’d like to use on the show is to present at least two types of narratives or theories about an individual or situation. For example, with Trump, the great dealmaker who Washington hates because he’s crude outsider that has made them look foolish, might be one theory. The other theory is that Trump is a conman, who only cares about enriching himself. Pundits will all stake on their positions on each theory. As new information comes in, the pundits can adjust their position. In these reviews, the moderator can bring up previous comments made by the pundits–both positive and negative. One variation is the entire panel can also vote on whether an individual pundit is being reasonable, operating in good faith, etc. And these comments can also be put on the accountability board as well. Basically, the idea is to hold a pundit accountable for their public statements.

Alternatives to Horse Race Coverage of Elections

In case you haven’t seen. My thread with reactions and pushback from journalists who cover politics. ⚡️ “Election coverage in 2020 is on track to be even worse than 2016” by @jayrosen_nyuhttps://t.co/NtQ07El3lF— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) February 10, 2019


This thread is to discuss alternative ways to cover a presidential campaign–specifically avoiding emphasis on the horse race, which candidates are ahead versus behind, and the analyzing the strategy and tactics the candidates employ to win the contest.

Rosen mentions going to voters to find out what they want to hear the candidates adddress, and build the coverage around these concerns. I like the idea, and I will respond to some of the other concerns that Rosen raises, but I want to start by discussing an approach that I’ve longed favored.

In addition to covering the the issues that the candidate and voters care about, including the policies favored by the candidate, I’d like to see the press evaluate whether the candidates have the attributes that good president’s possess. To do this the press should first identify the qualities that most good presidents seem to possess, seeking the help of historians, former presidents, white house aides, etc. Once the press identifies these qualities, they can then seek ways to analyze the candidates based on whether they have these attributes or not. Here, the press would work like an employer doing research on a potential employee.

One way the press could do this is creating a chart for each candidate. As the campaigns progress, the journalists can gather information and fill in the chart. Maybe at the start of campaign there will be many unknowns about the candidates–the journalists may be uncertain about certain attributes–e.g., knowledge, character, leadership, negotiating skills, etc. Over the time voters will see these charts fill up as journalist collect more information.

On a related note, part of the candidates’ profiles can include the overall governing philosophy of the candidate. What is their political philosophy and ideology? How was it formed? What are some expressions of this philosophy? I care about this as much, if not more, than their specific policy proposals.

News Meeting Groups

I believe I’ve talked about the following concept several times before, but I can’t find my posts or thread(s) on it, nor do I know if I even started a thread. Because of that, I’m starting a thread on this topic now. The basic concept is as follows:

    1. A group of people, preferably one that is preferably diverse in terms of their politics, ethnicity, gender, age, etc., meets periodically (maybe weekly, monthly, or quarterly), to receive, analyze, and discuss the most important information about current events and news.
    2. Preferably, a news agency (e.g., Start-Advertiser, Civil Beat, or even the Atlantic magazine) could oversee, lead, and facilitate these meetings, but a non-profit group (such as, the league of women’s voters, Common Cause, etc.) could also do so as well. The facilitators and leaders should represent different parts of the political spectrum, especially the left and right

Here’s another idea that I may not have mentioned before. Continue reading “News Meeting Groups”

What Would Get You to Consume More Local News?

I had a conversation with a local journalist recently, and during the conversation I brought up that I didn’t really consume a lot of local news, explaining that I didn’t really care for like the coverage. The journalist asked me what I’d like from the coverage, what things would get me to consume local news. This is a thread to brainstorm and discuss some of those ideas. Here’s some ideas, off the top of my head, to kick things off: Continue reading “What Would Get You to Consume More Local News?”

The Nature of Free Speech in the 21st Century Information Environment

I would like Mitchell (and Don or anyon else) to discuss the following Wired article: It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech. I think it touches on some of the issues that Mitchell and I have been discussing, while bringing up insights that we may not have specifically and explicitly addressed. Here are some passages that stood out for me: Continue reading “The Nature of Free Speech in the 21st Century Information Environment”

The Challenge of Covering Trump

Even though the press coverage of Trump frustrates me at times, I also recognize and believe that Trump poses unique challenges to the press, challenges that aren’t easy to overcome. Ideally, I should take the time to write a more organized post, listing and describing some of these challenges. However, I just saw a tweet that made me think of one of these challenges, and I want to comment on this before I forget. Here’s the tweet: Continue reading “The Challenge of Covering Trump”