The New York Times’ Made-for-TV Endorsement Missed the Mark (Column)

Variety | 1/19/2020 | Daniel D'Addario
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At some point during the New York Times’s special endorsement episode of its branded series “The Weekly,” the paper’s editorial board muses on the manner in which Donald Trump has changed how we envision what a potential president could look like. After the brief and energetic snippet we’re shown of a visit from candidate Andrew Yang, the room discusses how the primary process seems more open as more candidates see themselves as possible heads of state. Timesman Brent Staples jokingly admits to having half-considered a run himself: “I’ve thought that several times myself. I’ve thought, ****, you know?”

Like so much else on “The Weekly,” it’s a made-for-TV moment that either is or is not what the Times newsroom is really like. And like much on “The Weekly,” it leaves one wondering whether one hopes it’s massaged — if Staples, in this case, is playing to camera — or if it’s genuinely spontaneous, and wondering which would be better. As with most else in this episode, if this banal half-understanding of the state of the race even after having been granted the most extreme sort of access is the real tenor of conversation at the Times when cameras aren’t there, it’s dismaying. And if this is truly just a pose put on for the TV show about the Times, it suggests that Staples and colleagues have envisioned themselves in a seat Trump held before his seat in the Oval Office: That of reality-TV arbiter, a decider with power to move hearts and minds through televised charisma. The Times editorial board seems to want less to be a traditional media force than to have the new-media power of a decade and a half ago, to decide which Democratic candidate will be “The Apprentice.”

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