Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, believes his newspaper – in company with the US mainstream media – failed their audiences after 9/11.
He told the German news magazine Der Spiegel that he agreed with the criticism originally made by an NYT reporter, James Risen,
Baquet said: “The mainstream press was not aggressive enough after 9/11, was not aggressive enough in asking questions about a decision to go to war in Iraq, was not aggressive enough in asking the hard questions about the war on terror. I accept that for the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times”.
Baquet, in charge of the NYT since May 2014, was previously editor-in-chief of the LA Times. In his wide-ranging interview with Der Spiegel, Baquet also spoke about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden having chosen to tell his story to the Guardian.
He said he regards the Guardian as “a new competitor [for the NYT] in the digital age.” He said: “Does it make me nervous that they compete with us and in fact beat us on the Snowden story? Yes.
Der Spiegel asked: “How painful was it as an institution thatEdward Snowden didn’t approach the New York Times?” Baquet replied:
It hurt a lot. It meant two things. Morally, it meant that somebody with a big story to tell didn’t think we were the place to go, and that’s painful. And then it also meant that we got beaten on what was arguably the biggest national security story in many, many years.Not only beaten by the Guardian, because he went to the Guardian, but beaten by the [Washington] Post, because he went to a writer from the Post. We tried to catch up and did some really good stories that I feel good about. But it was really, really, really painful.
It was suggested that Snowden didn’t approach the NYT because it had refused to publish the initial research about the NSA’s bulk collection in 2004.
Asked whether it was mistake to have held back on that reporting, Baquet pointed out, reasonably enough, that he wasn’t at the NYT at the time.
The magazine also asked Baquet about digital rivals, citing a leak of an internal NYT document saying that its “journalistic advantage” was shrinking in the face of online competitors. Baquet said:
We assumed wrongly that these new competitors, whether it was BuzzFeed or others, were doing so well just because they were doing something journalistically that we chose not to do. We were arrogant to be honest.We looked down on those new competitors, and I think we’ve come to realize that was wrong. They understood before we did how to make their stories available to people who are interested in them. We were too slow to do it.