Dean Baquet Tries to Explain Terrible New York Times Headline: 'It Was Too Small a Space'

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Dean Baquet, the executive editor at the New York Times, did not see the front page of Tuesday’s newspaper before it went to press Monday night, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. He apparently missed the creation of a headline that read like a textbook example of state propaganda: “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM.”

Editors rewrote the headline, but the Times, following two mass shootings and a clear problem of violent white supremacists in the U.S., had suggested that Trump could be against racism when he embodies it—nor did Baquet offer any kind of satisfying answer.


Baquet told Gabriel Snyder, who covers the Times as a “public editor” for CJR: “The print hub is not right in the middle of the news desk anymore. I don’t lay out the page. I don’t pick the front-page stories. I don’t think that’s the role of the executive editor anymore.”

He said it was a “bad headline,” and added: “It’s important for me to say, if anyone is at fault, the executive editor is at fault.”


Baquet blamed the character count, which did not “allow for a subtle headline,” he said. He continued,“We tied the poor print hub’s arm behind its back because it was too small a space. This is a story with some subtlety to it. It needed to do three things: convey what Donald Trump said, the reasons to be skeptical of what Donald Trump said, and white supremacy as an evident problem.”

None of these reasons address why the New York Times is unwilling to take an adversarial stance to Trump and instead employ people like Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss. The New York Times has been terrible at calling racism by its name, using weak phrases like “racially tinged.”

“I get that people see the phenomenon of someone who says inflammatory statements as a new thing,” Baquet said. “I grew up in the South. I covered Edwin Edwards.”

Then, he said:

Americans have a way of thinking that nothing like this has happened before. Picture what the newsrooms of the New York Times and the Washington Post were like when people thought the draft and Vietnam meant that they were literally going to have to fight a war. The New York Times has a strong view about its role. We are not The Nation, even though I have deep respect for them. I think it’s healthy for each generation to come in and discuss what the rules are. You have to accept that there’s something at the core of the New York Times and the Washington Post that won’t change, but there’s a lot that can change at the edges.


Depressingly, the idea that the Times would cape for the government has been around at least since 1988, when Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote the book Manufacturing Consent. The book categorized the Times as one of “the leading newspaper empires” and was one of the first things that crossed my mind this morning:


Herman and Chomsky explained how American propaganda works:

A propaganda model focuses on this inequality of wealth and power and its multilevel effects on mass-media interests and choices. It traces the routes by which money and power are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to the public.