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Top New York Times Editor Joe Kahn: We Don’t Want to Be Biden’s Pravda!

by | May 7, 2024

By Tim Graham

Current New York Times executive editor Joe Kahn granted an interview to former Times media columnist Ben Smith at his new venture Semafor.com. Kahn surely infuriated leftists like former Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan, who want to shred any notion of objectivity against those horribly lying authoritarian Republicans. He said don’t skew the news!?

BEN SMITH: Dan Pfeiffer, who used to work for Barack Obama, recently wrote of the Times, “They do not see their job as saving democracy or stopping an authoritarian from taking power.” Why don’t you see your job as: “We’ve got to stop Trump?” What about your job doesn’t let you think that way?

 

JOE KAHN: …One of the absolute necessities of democracy is having a free and fair and open election where people can compete for votes, and the role of the news media in that environment is not to skew your coverage towards one candidate or the other, but just to provide very good, hard-hitting, well-rounded coverage of both candidates, and informing voters. If you believe in democracy, I don’t see how we get past the essential role of quality media in informing people about their choice in a presidential election.

 

To say that the threats of democracy are so great that the media is going to abandon its central role as a source of impartial information to help people vote — that’s essentially saying that the news media should become a propaganda arm for a single candidate, because we prefer that candidate’s agenda. It is true that Biden’s agenda is more in sync with traditional establishment parties and candidates. And we’re reporting on that and making it very clear.

Kahn said Trump could possibly win the popular vote in November. “It is not the job of the news media to prevent that from happening. It’s the job of Biden and the people around Biden to prevent that from happening.”

It’s our job to cover the full range of issues that people have. At the moment, democracy is one of them. But it’s not the top one — immigration happens to be the top, and the economy and inflation is the second. Should we stop covering those things because they’re favorable to Trump and minimize them? I don’t even know how it’s supposed to work. We become an instrument of the Biden campaign? We turn ourselves into Xinhua News Agency or Pravda and put out a stream of stuff that’s very, very favorable to them and only write negative stories about the other side? And that would accomplish — what?

I think editors like Kahn are trying to maintain this pose that their media outlets are independent and fact-based and not a partisan machine. The pose fails when you actually read them. But it’s like he’s lecturing his troops that this is who they want to Appear. They want to be seen as independent. They want a little finesse in their editorializing.

Trump drove them to an excess, Kahn implied, into an explicit Stop Trump mentality, especially in 2020, with the whole Tom Cotton op-ed fiasco. Smith asked “Do you think the Times let the inmates run the asylum for too long?”

KAHN: I wouldn’t use those words. I do think that there was a period of peak cultural angst at this organization, with the combination of the intensity of the Trump era, COVID, and then George Floyd. The summer of 2020 was a crazy period where the world felt threatened, people’s individual safety was threatened, we had a murder of an innocent black man by police suffocation. And we have the tail end of the most divisive presidency that anyone alive today has experienced. And those things just frayed nerves everywhere.

Kahn said “the newsroom is not a safe space.”

KAHN: It’s a space where you’re being exposed to lots of journalism, some of which you are not going to like. Don’t you feel like there was a generation of students who came out of school saying you should only work at places that align completely with your values?

 

SMITH: Don’t you think we all sort of said that to them?

 

KAHN: I don’t think we said it explicitly. I think there was a period [where] we implied it. And I think that the early days of Trump in particular, were, “join us for the mission.”

 

SMITH: Was it a mistake to say that — even to think it?

 

KAHN: I think it went too far. It was overly simplistic. And I think the big push that you’re seeing us make and reestablish our norms and emphasize independent journalism and build a more resilient culture comes out of some of the excesses of that period.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Newsbusters and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Joe Biden