Accuracy in Media

Americans will stop viewing the New York Times as a “part of some deep state trying to produce fake news” after they see a forthcoming TV series on Showtime entitled, “The Fourth Estate.”

If “people actually saw us putting out the newspaper, it would be harder for them to think” they were part of some evil plan, according to Matt Apuzzo, a reporter who covers Washington for the New York Times.

“It’s sad that as reporters we have to be humanized,” Apuzzo told Politico in a preview of the show, which debuts May 27.

“We are humans, after all. But to the extent that my colleagues let [the film crew] really into their lives … it appears to be for the better.”

That’s what the show intends to do – humanize the reporters of the Times. Director Liz Garbus sold the idea to her boss, New York Times editor Dean Baquet of fly-on-the-wall coverage of the Trump administration because, as Baquet said, “‘the best way to combat the attacks on the press was to be transparent’ and let viewers see how Times journalists pursue the truth, warts and all.”

Politico interviewed some Times reporters about the series and had one of its reporters watch the first three episodes. “Times journalists are depicted as doggedly pursuing stories, inside and outside the newsroom,” Politico reported. “They’re diligent, competitive and cooperative, and maintain high standards, in one instance getting scooped by The Washington Post because they couldn’t completely nail down the sourcing on a story.”

It quotes Garbus, the director, as saying, “I think you see what the effort is to get it right and how getting it right is more important than any agenda somebody thinks The New York Times has.”

Garbus admitted she had more in mind than making New York Times reporters look good. “When we started the project, we were focused on covering this administration who was attacking the press and was undermining the press and behind-closed-doors dreaming about jailing reporters,” she said. “So this was the dynamic that I was interested in exploring.”

The crew spent 150 days filming, about three-fourths of it in Washington, and wrapped up on April 16, the day the Times won Pulitzer Prizes for its coverage of sexual harassment and alleged ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russia. The Pulitzer ceremony is featured in the last of the four episodes.

The story begins with coverage of President Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. The reporters talk with Baquet, and they agreed “it was a particularly dark address for an incoming president” – a characterization that would come to dominate coverage of the president’s speech.

Apuzzo says it is “gutsy” for the Times to have allowed all this access – they show reporters in their homes, including one trying to get his kids off to school, and others talking while driving, riding on the Acela and elsewhere, and some feuding among staffers is even presented. But the idea of the project is clear – make Trump look bad for his “war on the press” and, as Apuzzo said, “humanize” the Times.

“Trump’s supporters may take issue with how Times editors and reporters frame the president’s words and actions in the series, but they won’t find journalists fulfilling the ‘opposition party’ stereotype – or even always in agreement with one another,” Politico writes.

Politico reported that the Times let the cameras get only so close. The director agreed to turn off cameras if they would expose sources and stop short and request permission before entering closed-door meetings. It said some reporters opted out for at least part of the project out of concern for exposing sources.

“I just decided if anything went wrong, if I screwed up, I might make great television, but I still have to have a career,” Apuzzo said.

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