Dean Baquet admits that US mainstream media did not ask ‘hard questions’ before ‘war on terror’
Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, believes his newspaper – in company with the US mainstream media – failed their audiences after 9/11.
He told the German news magazine, Der Spiegel, that he agreed with the criticism originally made by an NY Times reporter, James Risen,
Baquet said: “The mainstream press was not aggressive enough after 9/11, was not aggressive enough in asking questions about a decision to go to war in Iraq, was not aggressive enough in asking the hard questions about the war on terror. I accept that for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times”.
Baquet, in charge of the NY Times since May 2014, was previously editor-in-chief of the LA Times. In his wide-ranging interview with Der Spiegel , Baquet also spoke about the NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, having chosen to tell his story to the Guardian.
He said he regards the Guardian as “a new competitor [for the NY Times] in the digital age.” He said: “Does it make me nervous that they compete with us and in fact beat us on the Snowden story? Yes.
The Spiegel interviewed asked him: “How painful was it as an institution that Edward Snowden didn’t approach the New York Times?” Baquet replied:
“It hurt a lot. It meant two things. Morally, it meant that somebody with a big story to tell didn’t think we were the place to go, and that’s painful. And then it also meant that we got beaten on what was arguably the biggest national security story in many, many years.
Not only beaten by the Guardian, because he went to the Guardian, but beaten by the [Washington] Post, because he went to a writer from the Post. We tried to catch up and did some really good stories that I feel good about. But it was really, really, really painful”.
It was suggested that Snowden didn’t approach the NYTimes because it had refused to publish the initial research about the NSA’s bulk collection in 2004.
Asked whether it was mistake to have held back on that reporting, Baquet pointed out, reasonably enough, that he wasn’t at the NYTimes at the time.
The magazine also asked Baquet about digital rivals, citing a leak of an internal Times document that its “journalistic advantage” was shrinking in the face of online competitors. Baquet said:
“We assumed wrongly that these new competitors, whether it was BuzzFeed or others, were doing so well just because they were doing something journalistically that we chose not to do. We were arrogant to be honest.
We looked down on those new competitors, and I think we’ve come to realize that was wrong. They understood before we did how to make their stories available to people who are interested in them. We were too slow to do it”.
Given that print still accounts for three-quarters of the paper’s revenues, Spiegel asked: “How can you establish a ‘digital first’ culture in the newsroom when your balance sheet demands ‘print first’?” Baquet replied:
“I always thought that digital first was a simplistic notion, and I am not even sure quite what it means. It should be stories first. Let’s take the Paris [Charlie Hebdo] story.
We covered it all day, we held nothing back. Everything we learned, we published online. Then, when you approach your print deadline, you have to do two things. You have to polish those stories that are online because print is less forgiving of mistakes.
Secondly, in an ideal world, you pick one thing that will feel fresh and compelling to people in the morning when they pick up the print paper”.
Source: Der Spiegel
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