It seems to be a routine thing. Some New York Times reporter goes on safari and conduct man on the street interviews, and many of these so-called “Ordinary Folk” are actually Republican operatives.
This happens over, and over, and over again.
This is not accidental. This is baked into the culture:
The New York Times has been caught, once again, passing off Republican operatives as “regular” Republican voters in an article intended to show how effectively Trump is maintaining his support.
It raises serious questions about whether Times editor and reporters, rather than actually trying to determine how voters feel, are setting out to find people to mouth the words they need for predetermined story lines that, not coincidentally, echo the Trump campaign’s propaganda.
In the latest case, an article posted on Wednesday headlined “Around Atlanta, Many White Suburbanites Are Sticking With Trump” by Times national reporter Elaina Plott initially misidentified two of the four allegedly run-of-the-mill voters who supported the article’s thesis: That Trump’s unfounded fear-mongering along the lines that “ANTIFA THUGS WILL RUIN THE SUBURBS!” is working.
The lead anecdote came courtesy of Natalie Pontius, who was simply identified as “an interior decorator, married with two children and a University of Georgia alumna.”
Pontius, it turns out, was a paid political consultant for a Republican candidate for Georgia’s House of Representatives in 2018.
Plott also quoted Jake Evans, initially identified simply as “an attorney in Atlanta.”
Evans, it turns out, chairs the state’s branch of the Republican National Lawyers Association, is the immediate past president of the Atlanta Young Republicans, is a member of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s election-security task force — and he’s the son of Randy Evans, a Republican heavy-hitter rewarded by Trump with a cushy gig as ambassador to Luxembourg.
And this isn’t the first Times story like this to feature ringers. In a notorious June 2018 story by political reporter Jeremy Peters – headlined “As Critics Assail Trump, His Supporters Dig In Deeper,” the supposedly ordinary Republican woman in the lead anecdote turned out to be a board member of an ultra-conservative PAC.
Because the fact that the reporter couldn’t find real people to support its thesis suggests that she was assigned to produce precisely the story she did. (So does the URL, which I suspect reflects the editor’s original “slug” for the story: “atlanta-trump-voters-women.”)
This, I’m afraid, is Dean Baquet’s newsroom in a nutshell, where the anachronistic notion of “objectivity” is horribly misapplied to produce both-sides stenography instead of calling out liars and racists.
Going forward, readers deserve to know exactly how the reporters found their way to the “average” people they quote, to judge for themselves how typical or atypical they may be. How many people did the reporters talk to before they found the person they needed for their story? What questions did they ask?
And finally, I need to bring up a point I’ve made repeatedly before: Simply quoting Trump supporters who mouth crazy talking points (whether they’re ringers or not) is a terrible disservice to the reader.
The hero in this story is Charles Bethea, a New Yorker staff writer — and Twitter.
Bethea quickly recognized Jake Evans:
Here’s my 2018 mini-profile of Jake Evans, who is very much not a man-on-the-street. (Side note: Evans told me he was 31 years old in January of 2018, and NYT says he’s still 31 years old today. Not sure how that works.) https://t.co/jdfm4xmWdG
— Charles.Bethea (@charlesbethea) October 21, 2020
That’s because Bethea had actually written a short profile of Evans for the New Yorker in 2018, when Evans was president of the Atlanta Young Republicans.
Eventually, after sleuthing by Zach Kopplin, an investigator for the Government Accountability Project, and Georgia attorney Eric Teusink, Bethea also announced:
Wow: Natalie Pontius was a paid political consultant for a Republican candidate for GA House of Reps in 2018.
Yet she remains in the shortened but still misleading @nytimes story about voting in GA, described only as “an interior decorator” & UGA alumna. https://t.co/aBYhvmgJ0G https://t.co/c5UbZS8L4y pic.twitter.com/0leSKTCUeI
— Charles.Bethea (@charlesbethea) October 23, 2020
Seriously, there is something very toxic in the New York Times newsroom, and while Dean Baquet makes the problem worse, as an institution, it has rot at its bones.
The “Gray Lady” keeps screwing up these stories because senior editors send reporters into the field with the mission to serve predetermined narrative, and reporters know that.