On question of ‘lies’, NPR and the New York Times square off

That was a fascinating segment on NPR’s Morning Edition today when an NPR host, who works for an organization that steadfastly refuses to say that Donald Trump lies, quizzed the boss of the country’s most influential newspaper, who works for an organization that has no such qualms.

  1. Listen New York Times Editor: ‘We Owed It To Our Readers’ To Call Trump Claims Lies’

    September 22, 2016

“It would almost be illiterate to have not called the birther thing a lie,” Dean Baquet, the New York Times’ executive editor, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

Read between the lines on that one. That’s Baquet likely calling NPR “illiterate.”

Inskeep quoted his boss’ recent letter to the NPR audience which insisted it’s not a news organization’s job to say someone has lied.

“We should not be telling you how to think. We should give you the information to decide what you think,” Michael Oreskes said in his letter.

“Is the New York Times following that standard when it calls Trump a liar?” Inskeep asked.

That’s a pretty interesting question because it suggests that the Times should be following that standard, which is clearly a debatable point. It was also the point at which it was obvious a guest in the discussion was missing: Oreskes.

“I think I’m using the same standard, I’m just using a different word,” Baquet said to Inskeep. “I think I’m using a more accurate word.”


At that point, Inskeep moved on to a predictable question: “Has the paper said Hillary Clinton has lied?”

“I don’t think Hillary Clinton, to be honest, has crossed the line the way Donald Trump did with the birther issue,” Baquet replied.

That, too, is a debatable point. Which is why a debate on the question of what the news media’s role is in covering this campaign should be the topic of a long and healthy debate somewhere. Soon.

Related: Lies, Lies, Lies (On the Media)

When Donald Trump Lies, Reporters Should Say So. Even If It Makes Them Look ‘Biased.’ (NY Magazine)

  • Rob

    I’m with NYT on this one. When someone knowingly asserts a falsehood, especially in regard to a substantive issue, that’s called lying. NPR is copping out with its contention that calling a lie a lie is tantamount to telling its listeners what to think.

    • Will

      There were clear cases of Hillary lying on her email issues as Comey pointed out. Do those lies warrant the term “liar” being used?

      • Rob

        You’ll note that my post doesn’t say a lie is a lie only when it emanates from Trump’ s mouth.

        • Will

          Good, so you clearly see the hypocrisy in not calling Hillary a liar in reference to the email scandal.

          • Rob


  • MikeB

    Hopefully these discussions will lead to changes in political journalism. The media savviness of politicians overcomes journalistic conventions of covering politicians. PR and communication strategies are designed as such. False claims should be called out, or at least not repeated.

  • Will
    • Rob

      It isn’t name-calling when you state that someone who lied about something was lying about it.

    • I can’t look at the names NPR and NYT called Romney because I’m not familiar with them to compare. Link?

      • Will

        Good question, as per my link above there was this retort made by debater Mr. Domenech :

        The media elites, at least on the left, made this possible, in part, by over criticizing people who didn’t deserve it. If — the things that were printed about Mitt Romney in 2012 in the New York Times by Paul Krugman called him a “charlatan,” “pathologically dishonest,” “untrustworthy.” He said he didn’t even pretend to care about poor people, that he wants people to die so that rich people get richer. “He’s completely amoral, a dangerous fool, ignorant as well as uncaring.”

        • Ah, those are columnists. Baquet isn’t talking about columnists. Like Katherine Kersten, for example.

          Baquet is talking about news coverage by reporters. So is Oreskes. It’s a significant distinction.

  • jon

    The news media reports, the fact checkers fact check and the public drifts away from both…

  • pleppik

    I think I may have found an example of false equivalence in the above article. Bob, can you provide any examples of egregious lies Clinton or her campaign have pushed that come close to the “Birther” lie in terms of duration, visibility, and knowing falsehood? I can’t think of anything that’s even in the same galaxy.

    > “I don’t think Hillary Clinton, to be honest, has crossed the line the way Donald Trump did with the birther issue,” Baquet replied.

    > That, too, is a debatable point.

    • Saying it’s a debatable point isn’t saying it’s true. It’s saying it’s a debatable point, not an incorrect or correct one, as evidenced by the fact others disagree with Baquet.


      • pleppik

        When someone says, “I believe X is true,” and you reply, “That’s debatable,” I don’t see how you can interpret that to mean anything other than, “There’s some doubt as to whether X is true.”

        So when Baquet says “I don’t think Hillary Clinton has crossed the line the way Donald Trump did with the birther issue,” and your response is, “That, too, is a debatable point,” I don’t see any way to interpret that other than than you, Bob Collins, believe that a reasonable argument can be made that Clinton has been pushing some lie that’s comparable to birtherism.

        So let’s have it. What example do you have where you can make a reasonable argument that Clinton been pushing a lie as outrageous as Birtherism?

        Or if that’s not how we should interpret what you wrote, please enlighten us.

        • I can’t help you with your internal debate. I can only tell you there’s an external one on that point.

          I can’t help you in your misunderstanding about what a debatable point is. Nor am I going to take your bait to argue one side of that debate as a poor substitute of the meaning of a debatable point.

          The only accurate question to ask is: Is there a debate?

          I say there is.

          • pleppik

            I don’t mean this to be personal, but you wrote a whole article about the debate over whether to call Trump’s lies “lies.” That’s a fair debate to have.

            But then you end it with a classic example of the “It’s debatable whether the sun rises in the East” style of false equivalence, and from your response apparently didn’t even notice what you did–or at least you’re not willing to justify why this might be appropriate in this case.

            I can take a good guess as to why you might have done this. You don’t want to risk appearing to take sides when someone else might argue the sun rises in the West, and you don’t want to engage on the issue at this time. That’s fair. But can you see why this style or reporting might be an issue?

          • Well, first of all, I’m not reporting.

            Second of all, your conclusion is based on what you think rather than what you know and that’s really the debate that’s at the disagreement between Oreskes and Baquet.

            A good guess is still a guess.

          • // “It’s debatable whether the sun rises in the East” style of false equivalence

            Which two opposing arguments are you alleging are presented as logically equivalent?

            The sun rising in the east — or the debate thereof — is not an example of false equivalance. Or at least not a very good example.

            I’ll also point out, by the way, that Baquet never answered the question that was posed to him and Inskeep didn’t press him.

            If anyone cares to go back to the point of the the role of the media in covering things, that one is still sitting there.

            I wrote about that in 2004 during the Democratic Convention in Boston (“You didn’t answer my question”) if anyone cares to Google it.

          • seedhub

            Agreed. Calling a point “debatable” simply because someone is willing to debate it – rather than addressing the actual substance being debated – is meaningless. If the only prerequisite is that someone, somewhere be willing to have the debate, then all points are debatable.

          • seedhub

            Pleppik thinks a point is “debatable” if sufficient evidence exists to warrant debating it, while you think a point is “debatable” as long as someone, somewhere, is willing to debate it. In that sense, of course, all points are debatable – at which point the phrase is completely meaningless.

            I think the word you’re looking for is “debated,” not “debatable.”

          • That’s a lie. Or…. is it?

          • seedhub

            Sorry, what’s a lie?

        • Will

          It is debatable that the original birther movement came from Democrats and was furthered by those within Hillary’s 2008 campaign…I mean seriously her campaign released a photo of Obama in a turban…what was the intention there?

          • Not Clinton’s campaign, per se. More like the PUMAs who did that, i.e. rogue Clinton supporters. There is a significant difference between the two:

            “By June 10, 2008,
            [Democratic] opponents to Obama were posting on a website called Pumaparty.com. PUMA
            stood for Party Unity My Ass. The website encouraged frustrated Clinton
            supporters to back the Republican nominee.

            “John Avlon, editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast, explored the roots of the birther movement in his book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America. Avlon described a posting on the PUMA
            website with the heading ‘Obama May Be Illegal to Be Elected
            President!’ He wrote that a Clinton volunteer in Texas, Linda Starr,
            played a key role in spreading the rumor.”


          • Ran into the birth of this movement in Denver. There was some suggestion at the time — and some of it plausible — that this was actually a Republican “dirty trick” effort as some of these people came from anonymity, disappeared back to it, and are nowhere to be found in 2016


      • ktslator

        “Debatable” doesn’t mean “is debated,” it means arguable, disputable, etc. You’re citing a partisan opinion piece that ends with, “When she opens her mouth, people look at her like Belloc’s Matilda and say, “Little Liar” to support the claim that whether Clinton has “crossed the line the way Donald Trump did with the birther issue” is debatable?

        • Dean Baquet is setting a standard for what constitutes crossing a line on matters of truth. Some people agree with it. Some people don’t. But he’s established that line for his news organization and his reporters. That his line for his news organization for calling someone a liar. You probably one too.

          The fact that Baquet has established his criteria for that line does not mean that there is no other line established.

          It’s not debatable in the Times newsroom that Hillary Clinton has not met that standard.

          [Edit to add]

          Consider Ron Fournier of The Atlantic, a perfectly respectable journalist. He would debate Oreskes and probably Baquet on the question.


          • ktslator

            Anyone can set a standard, but it’s not necessarily an objective or rational one. The last line of his piece strongly suggests his standard isn’t objective — or meant to be.

          • I think both editors bring an integrity to their positions. They are both fine journalists. I imagine each’s position would be hotly debated in the lunchrooms of both organizations.

            Ethics evolve. In my opinion they’ve gotten more conservative since the days of Murrow, contrary to what some people think.

            There is NO such thing as objectivity, nor should there be.

            Few news organizations will let this debate spill into the public, let alone let the public participate in it. Mine is an exception.



          • ktslator

            Wait, what? Objectivity in what — reporting?

          • Correct. Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean. Reporters should strive for fairness. Objectivity is a fraudulent concept in journalism.

          • ktslator

            You posted audio, not video. I listened to it. Reporters and news outlets may not be as objective as they should be (or claim to be), but I don’t think I’ve seen something from a reporter so remarkable as “objectivity is a fraudulent concept in journalism.” The SPR’s code of ethics still says ethical journalism should be fair and free and from sterotyping. Advocacy and commentary still needs to be labeled. MPR itself claims to be “unbiased and non-partisan in our reporting.” How is declaring objectivity in journalism “fraudulent” consistent with that?

          • No ma’am/sir, I didn’t. It’s right there, just above your comment asking, “Wait, What?” Click it, spend the time to watch and consider the debate and all of the questions you’ve asked are there. If you have any additional ones after watching, I’ll be happy to answer them.

          • ktslator

            I see the video is an hour long, so I’ll have to watch it when I have enough time. Can’t the answer to my question be summarized in a few sentences in the meantime?

          • Boy I wish I could but I’ve got too much work sitting here to get to. I’ve written about it a number of times and spoken to even more, but I can’t point to an overarching discussion that’s available online. Google doesn’t cache everything at MPR and that would cost more money. Plus, I suspect that most of it is in the comments sections (maybe here, for example: http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2010/10/should_juan_williams_have_been/ )

            there are a few things to whet your whistle, though.


            Generally speaking, my position is that even Edward R. Murrow couldn’t meet some of the phony ethics of today in which the goal of new organizations is to keep you from knowing the people who are telling you the stories.

  • seedhub

    Telling one’s audience that a candidate lied is not “telling them what to think.” It’s telling them what the candidate did — which is exactly their job.

    It boggles my mind that the NYT should have to make that point to anyone, much less a fellow journalist.

  • MarkUp

    Looking back at Watergate, no one called Nixon a crook; he infamously stated he wasn’t one, then the reporting on the facts told a different story.

    That raises an interesting point: being a crook or a liar is a character trait or status, but calling them that is a conclusion, and one typically left to the reader. When does that conclusion become fact? Maybe “accepted truth” is a more accurate word than “fact”.

    //“I think I’m using a more accurate word.”
    Is “he lied” more accurate than “he misspoke”?

    • It depends on whether he lied or he misspoke.

    • seedhub

      Being a liar is not solely a “character trait,” it’s also a observable behavior. When journalists choose not to accurately report observable behavior — especially when it’s orchestrated for public consumption by a presidential candidate — they greatly diminish their own role.

      • It would be great if NPR had left comments on its website open and if when they had comments, they’d engage with the audience. They didn’t on either count which is too bad because that’s something Oreskes could react to. And their ombudsman took a pass on addressing it other than to provide links to Oreskes.

        • seedhub

          Oreskes’ method of avoiding the appearance of bias is to avoid full and accurate reporting. The more appropriate solution, of course, is to call a lie a lie, without bias, and no matter who’s doing the lying.

          In other words, tell your readers and listeners what’s actually happening in the world. Be a reporter.

          • He obviously disagrees and I think there’s a fair argument to be made that NPR News knows how to be reporters. At the same time we know that what many people want stated as truth, is that which they want stated as truth. Oreskes is playing an interesting game which is more recognizable in a court of law, which is he’ll lay out the circumstantial evidence and maybe the jury — you — will conclude that it’s a lie. But he is uncomfortable that he can prove it beyond reasonable doubt, however he happens to define reasonable doubt.

          • seedhub

            Wrong, Bob. Oreskes doesn’t refuse to call Trump’s lie a lie for lack of evidence. He refuses to call it a lie because he doesn’t want to alienate a portion of his audience.

            He says so right in his statement, which is prefaced with this: “So here is why. We want everyone to listen to us and read us.”

          • He does. But that’s not all he says. See his statement regarding “faith in facts.”

          • seedhub

            Wrong again. He effectively only expands on that one point. At no point does he say, or imply, that they didn’t call Trump’s lie a lie because they lacked the evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

            As for his appeal for “faith in facts”: it falls on deaf ears when he refuses to accurately report those facts for fear of losing audience.

          • I wasn’t quoting him. I was interpreting him and that’s what he was saying. You have to remember that Oreskes comes from the Associated Press, perhaps the most risk averse news organization in the world when it comes to facts. He considers “liar” to be a character judgement not a fact. I refer to that as evidence but YMMV. Whatever. I just started in the biz am still learning how it works.

            [ edit to add: It’s also worth remembering that Oreskes letter wasn’t about the birther controversy. So which facts didn’t NPR report on the topic and story he was writing about?]

          • seedhub

            If you want to examine his work history in order to interpret what he said, that’s your choice. I prefer to just read what he said.

          • You certainly have the right to pick and choose when to limit interpretation to literal translation.

            [edit to add: But this would also be an area where having Oreskes on ME would have been helpful]

          • seedhub

            If the alternative is inventing an interpretation that is wholly unrepresented in the text, I’ll comfortably exercise that right.

          • He has an insistence on facts. That is pretty much clear in his piece. People can read it and — to use his phrase — decide for themselves. The link is there.

          • // s inventing an interpretation that is wholly unrepresented in the text

            Well at least you’re sort of acknowledging that a ‘debatable point’ is a point that can be debated. :*)

          • seedhub

            No, I’m acknowledging that sufficient evidence exists to warrant debating your interpretation.

          • As long as we don’t look at his journalistic track record and philosophy, you mean. I’m not allowed to include that as evidence. You know, knowledge and all. That seems inconvenient.

            BTW, pay attention to what the headline of his letter was as you attempt to ascertain his message and meaning:

            Our Job Is To Give You The Facts, Not Tell You What To Think

          • seedhub

            No, that’s not what I mean. I mean your interpretation is debatable whether or not one considers Oreskes’ journalistic track record and philosophy, given that your interpretation is wholly unrepresented in the text.

          • I rather doubt that Oreskes policy and journalistic philosophy was developed on the day that Donald Trump met Pastor Timmins, and I’ve read a lot of his and the ombudsman’s conversations and assertions since he moved over from the Associated Press. So yes, I am using all of the knowledge I have about Michael Oreskes in determining what it is he’s saying regarding the role of journalists on this particular question.

          • seedhub

            If your interpretation is correct, it just adds to my criticism of Oreskes. As a journalist, he should be capable of communicating in a way that doesn’t demand familiarity with his personal work history and journalistic philosophies to be understood. If he meant that he didn’t have enough evidence to call Trump’s statement a lie, then that’s what he should have simply said.

            But he didn’t. Why not?

          • Rob

            What you left out of the court of law analogy is that the defense or prosecuting attorney’s job isn’t done until they make their closing argument to the jury. When reporters have damning evidence that a statement is a lie, I expect to hear them say that “the available evidence shows that the statement is a lie.”

      • Rob

        I’d go even further and suggest that just because everyone lies occasionally, that doesn’t mean they should be primarily defined or characterized as liars; that’s what’s referred to as name-calling. Hence, I don’t blame the media when they refrain from calling Hillary and Trump liars. But in regard to the specific, substantive and observable lies that the candidates have told, the media is obligated, it seems to me, to declare that the candidates lied about those particular issues. To me, that ain’t debatable.

        • seedhub

          Exactly right.

    • BReynolds33

      Lied is more accurate yes. A lie is a purposeful obfuscation of the truth. Trump knew Obama was born in the US, but constantly said otherwise for his own gain. That’s a lie. Someone who tells lies is a liar.

      It’s really a matter of logic and the basic definition of words. There is no debate to be had, really.

      • daveinaustin2012

        The problem is the NY Times won’t call Hillary a liar, when she obviously is. So the NY Times is lying. There’s no debate to be had.

        • Got it, Dave. thanks. I’ve deleted the other identical comments you posted.

        • seedhub

          Agreed. Clinton has lied. But here’s the thing: we’ve all lied. Responding to reports of a lie with “But so-and-so also lied!” (which seems to be your point here, repeatedly) is meaningless.

          So yes, we should call lies what they are — but we shouldn’t pretend that all lies are equivalent, or that one person’s lie excuses another person’s hundred.

          • That’s not my point. I didn’t bring up the point. Inskeep did. Predictably, as I indicated.

          • seedhub


            I wasn’t addressing you.

  • BReynolds33

    “a long and healthy debate”

    In this country? Good luck.

    • rallysocks


  • Postal Customer

    The media’s stubborn reluctance to say someone lied plays right into Trump’s hands. In fact, it’s a reason why he’s the nominee in the first place.

    Look at how he lashed out at the Times when they called him a liar. He attempts to discredit any organization that tells the truth about him. He cut off the Post. Others saw that and got scared he’d do the same to them. Maybe the Times doesn’t care because they’re big enough, but NPR might care.

    edit: I should add that the Times’s sudden locating of their spine coincides with the blogosphere / twittersphere brutalizing the Times for their overblown negative coverage of Hillary.

  • KTN

    THere is nothing debatable about the difference between the odious racist lie the sociopath spews about the current Presidents birthplace and whether or not the Clinton campaign might have started the whole thing. No debate. he lied, and continues to lie like the sociopath he is.
    This is demonstrable, like saying he can’t release his tax returns because they under audit. It’s another lie, or is this a debatable point too.

    • Whether there’s a difference or not isn’t even a matter of dispute as far as I know.

      [edit: Also the NPR standard cited by Oreskes wasn’t about the birther controversy as he applied it]

  • William Hunter Duncan

    The New York Times and NPR excel at telling people what and how to think, especially about (neoliberal, globalist) economics and the (neocon) privatized war/security machine. War, surveillance and austerity for the masses, corp and bank direct rule displacing government for the long term (NAFTA, TPP, TTIP, TISA, WTO), privatization and deregulation the mantra going on 40 years. The NYT and NPR can’t call out the lies of Trump, because their credibility is already stretched to a breaking point, and they just look like hypocrites.

    • // The NYT and NPR can’t call out the lies of Trump,

      I think the point of this morning’s interview was based on the NYT characterizing Trump as a liar.

      • William Hunter Duncan

        Which he is, but which also confirms for many Trump (and Bernie, Stein and Johnson) supporters, that the NYT is more than willing to shoot down a liar like Trump, but the lies of the establishment generally are freely repeated by the NYT and MSM, without qualms.

        For instance, when the DNC got busted gaming the
        primary process for Hillary, the NYT and NPR were happy to parrot the idea that Putin and Russia were to blame. Like risking World War III is just part of the globalist agenda and better than calling out BS, or besmirching the neoliberal, neocon darling H.

        9/11 and the Iraq war come to mind too…

      • dreamjoehill

        The NYT calling Trump a liar is the pot calling the kettle black.
        the New York Times was a major participant in the CIA’s program of media control known as Operation Mockingbird. Carl Bernstein pointed this out 40 years ago.
        Then there’s Judith Miller and the Times war mongering prior W’s invasion of Iraq. Then there’s the Times axing stories about government surveillance until after W defeated Kerry.
        If the Times says Trump’s a liar, then there’s probably some truth to whatever Trump is saying.

  • Postal Customer
    • He’s working the refs

      • Postal Customer

        “Yes sir, Mr President sir”

  • lindblomeagles

    Again, why is are nation debating which candidate is a bigger liar, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? We’re supposed to be adults, not second graders, and as adults, we ought to be able to have GREATER awareness of what is truly important and what isn’t. Whether Hillary Clinton lied about her emails or not is immaterial because a) the FBI didn’t find any criminal wrongdoing; b) national security information was not leaked; and c) our nation’s intelligence community has all but verified the true secret stealer and that’s Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Donald Trump’s best friend. We all know for a fact Donald Trump led the birther movement, and we know for a fact Trump never admits he’s wrong. The birther issue is the last, not the first, time he’s done that. Moreover, we all know why Trump is lying — he can’t afford to admit he is racist because suburban whites, at least right now, don’t want to vote a racist into the White House. This is all common sense, and it’s time we stopped pretending some other alternate universe with purple clouds and blue mountains exists.