Several readers wrote in to ask The Times to push back, which the paper did, publishing a compilation of the attacks that the paper has covered thoroughly. It did so, however, to the chagrin of some other readers.
I was dismayed to see tonight that The Times used the valuable time and efforts of two reporters, and certainly many editors and others, to offer a story about all the terror attacks that President Trump claims “the media” ignored. By doing so, The Times is playing into his hands. Surely by now it is obvious to Times editors, particularly those who have been covering the man for decades, that he is a master of diversionary tactics. He is able to act on his heinous instincts by diverting our attention with outrageous and almost always false opinions. Why would your newspaper chase after this effort to prove Trump wrong when your resources would be far better spent reporting on the truly horrendous things this administration is actually doing?
Karl Svatek, Denton, N.C.
The public editor’s take: I am in full agreement. Playing defense is not the position The Times wants to find itself in — not over frivolous charges, anyway. If Trump or his administration challenges the thrust of a story based on anonymous sources, The Times has an obligation to explain itself to readers. Otherwise, taking such bait is just a distraction.
Trump also targeted The Times specifically this week through his favorite medium, Twitter.
This prompted several readers to ask whether The Times could take legal recourse against the president.
Given President Trump’s recent statements regarding both fake news and the accusation that journalists intentionally avoid covering terrorist attacks for mysterious reasons, does the press have legal recourse? Obviously news organizations have the ability and the voice to publicly print articles disproving Mr. Trump’s statements. However, this creates a situation where it becomes the press’s word against the president of the United States, who has the ear of his followers and a direct line of communication with them (Twitter) that bypasses the press. I’m curious. Could the press legally file a claim against the president for defamation (I suppose slander in this case) in the courts? Given the potential damage the word of the president of the United States can have to subscriber numbers, advertising dollars and general public opinion/trust, it seems the press has a lot to lose in this case by being called fake news.
Matthew Joachim, San Francisco
The public editor’s take: I went out looking for answers from a pair of knowledgeable legal hands, and here’s what I found: The president has broad immunity from civil claims arising from the performance of his official duties. There is a convoluted legal argument over how broad. The matter of whether a judge would classify “tweeting” as an official duty remains untested. I’m guessing no lawsuit from The Times is coming anytime soon. Nor should there be one, in my view. That would be a waste of resources and would cast the news organization in opposition to the president. It’s job is to cover him, fairly and aggressively.
A line in a column about Kirsten Gillibrand and the anti-Trump left raised the eyebrows of a couple readers for its perceived sexism.
I imagine this was deadline rush stuff. But the wording drove me nuts. The story reduced Gillibrand’s female supporters to women making the ultimate sacrifice — giving up their chia seed pudding! (“Young progressive women in New York who have suddenly been making activism as much a part of their daily habits as chia seed pudding have become infatuated with Ms. Gillibrand, who has long drawn the adoration of the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world — members of the celebrity-feminist corporate class that we now know women seeking the presidency cannot rely on solely.”) The women making activism part of their daily habits are doing so out of a call to action, one that is as serious and real as anything that has come before. There’s a fair amount at stake.
Sarah Schweitzer, Etna, N.H.
The public editor’s take: Hmmm. I’m alert to coverage with sexist overtones and I’ll be writing more in the future — so keep those letters coming. In this case, my antenna didn’t go off. I took Ginia Bellafante’s pudding reference as the wry commentary of a columnist — a category of journalist that enjoys more leeway.
Several readers this week also took issue with The Times’s explanation for the rating of the film “Sophie and the Rising Sun”: “Rated R for interracial sexy time.”
Is this the author’s characterization or the Motion Picture Association of America’s? The use of the term “sexy time” strikes me as unprofessional. But, even more concerning is the suggestion that it is the interracial nature of the romance depicted that warrants it not safe for audiences under 17.
Sarah Snyder, Washington, D.C.
We took this question to Stephanie Goodman, the film editor, for an explanation.
The Times has a long tradition of having fun with ratings explanations. There’s even a Tumblr devoted to our critics’ “underappreciated art of snarking” on the ratings. But it’s not all snark and there is an underlying purpose: to help readers with their decisions about which movies to see. Here’s A. O. Scott on “Marvel’s The Avengers”: “Rated PG-13. Blam. Splat. Kapow. Mostly bloodless.” You know there’ll be a lot of violence, but not the gory kind. Manohla Dargis’s description for “Sully” was more serious but equally helpful: “rated PG-13 (parents strongly cautioned). If you’re afraid of flying, consider yourself warned.”
The official film ratings come from an arm of the Motion Picture Association of America and are mainly geared to parents trying to make appropriate choices for their children. Readers might be aware that with the letter grades, the ratings board also issues a short description that can be quite formal and in some cases a little opaque. Take “The Space Between Us,” the tale of a teenage boy born on Mars hoping to connect with a girl on Earth. The MPAA rated it “PG-13 for brief sensuality and language.” Our critic’s take: “Rated PG-13. Nuzzling.” I’d argue that our one-word summary is much more helpful to parents than the MPAA’s. If it makes you laugh, all the better. Hey, going to the movies isn’t supposed to be work.
The public editor’s take: A little levity in movie ratings? Seems like a little PG-13 fun to me.
Finally, a lifelong reader of The Times passed away recently, and his granddaughter wrote in to tell us how much he appreciated the paper till his final day.
He read the The New York Times cover-to-cover every day for his whole adult life. He always told us that one could receive a college education through reading The New York Times like this. In his final days, he read until the fatigue overwhelmed him. I had the painful privilege of being with him when he took his last breath, and one of my thoughts in this moment was, “Just think of all the knowledge he takes with him, knowledge that came from the thousands of hours he spent reading.” Later that morning the newspaper arrived on his doorstep and I placed it in his chair, taking the photograph you see below.
He was deeply patriotic, having served in the war. In some of his final conversations, he feared for the integrity this great country due to the current administration’s encroachment on the freedom of the press and on the values of a liberal democracy. I write to you on his behalf to say thank you for your longstanding role in our democracy and for your journalistic integrity. I hope you will continue to be a beacon of free speech, knowledge and truth for generations to come.
Delia Shanahan, Philadelphia
Perhaps some reading indoors, in memory of Shanahan’s grandfather, would help those of us in the Northeast brave the snow.
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