'We were overly cautious': The New York Times gives a bizarre excuse for burying the new rape allegation against Trump
On Friday, journalist E. Jean Carroll published a new, explosive allegation that Donald Trump had raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman more than two decades ago. But readers of the New York Times, one of the most widely read news publications in the country, covered the development, may have missed the story entirely. It didn't appear on the website's homepage until late Saturday morning and didn't appear in print until Sunday.
The story was also relegated to the paper's "Books" section — Carroll's allegation features in her new book — rather than published first as a major political story.
In a new piece by Lara Takenaga on Monday, Times executive editor Dean Baquet admitted that the paper botched its handling of the major story.
“We were overly cautious,” he said. He said that the paper relied on guidelines it has developed for allegations in the "me too" era, where the paper has broken many important stories. Applied to this case, Baquet said, these standards failed because the was story published by another outlet.
Carroll's first-person story was corroborated by New York Magazine, which confirmed with two of her friends that she had told them about Trump's attack shortly after it happened. But, Baquet said, the Times was hesitant because it didn't have independent corroboration itself.
"In retrospect, Mr. Baquet said, a key consideration was that this was not a case where we were surfacing our own investigation — the allegations were already being discussed by the public," Takenaga wrote.
But this explanation doesn't really add up. Not moving forward with a story because you don't have sufficient evidence to publish is a reasonable decision news outlets make all the time. And yet the Times did publish a story about the allegations online on Friday — it just buried the story and didn't feature it prominently on its site, despite its obvious importance. Once the Times determined the story was worth publishing, it's not clear why it would neglect to promote such an important claim.
This is especially galling because not only had the White House given a formal denial initially, Trump himself followed up with another denial later in the day on Friday, lashing out at Carroll and falsely claiming he had never met her. All these developments were newsworthy and worth covering prominently, even in a busy news week.
"Not at all happy with this explanation," said Clara Jeffrey, editor-in-chief at Mother Jones, of Baquet's claims. "Basically if we didn't break the story of Trump being accused of rape, we bury it? Bad decision made worse by what seems like professional jealousy."