As he prepares to end his tenure as executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet is reflecting on what he may have done differently — and standing his ground on what he believes he got right.
One of his more controversial decisions that he stands by today is the newspaper’s extensive coverage of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during the 2016 election. In a sweeping interview with The New Yorker, Baquet said that, six years later, he still doesn’t regret the stories.
“I know this is going to get everybody riled up again, but I don’t have regrets about the Hillary Clinton e-mail stories. It was a running news story. It was a serious F.B.I. investigation,” he said. “The stories were accurate. My God, we were writing stories about Donald Trump harassing women — we did the first of those. We wrote the first story about Donald Trump where we got a sheet of his taxes — or Sue Craig got a sheet of his taxes. I don’t buy that we were tougher on Hillary Clinton than we were on Donald Trump.”
While he wouldn’t want a do-over on Clinton stories, Baquet admitted that, had he known what he knows now, he would have made some other changes to the NY Times editorial coverage of the 2016 election.
“I don’t think that anybody had their arms wrapped around the mood of the country that allowed for the election of Donald Trump, including us. I don’t think people — including the New York Times — quite had a handle on the anger, the amount of racial animosity. I don’t think any of us thought that Donald Trump was going to be elected President. Anybody who says they did, I don’t buy it,” he said.
He added: “If I had to do that over again, oh, my God, I would do that very, very, very differently. I mean, we treated Trump seriously. We treated him as an investigative story. But I would have covered the country a lot differently in the months leading up to the election of Donald Trump.”
Baquet’s career at The New York Times — and thus the mistakes he made — didn’t start with the 2016 election. Speaking about some of his editorial regrets, Baquet recalled covering the American drone strike in 2011 that killed Anwar Nasser al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric in Yemen.
While editing the story on deadline, Baquet said he received a request from the C.I.A. to not mention the base where the drone took off from.
“It felt like a minor part of the story. And they made the case that they would lose their base. And I was on deadline and I took it out of the story,” he said. “And I woke up the next morning and realized that it was a dumb move. I shouldn’t have taken it out of the story. I made a mistake. I just sort of fell for the C.I.A.’s case.”
However, Baquet maintained: “By and large, I’ve never done that. I was in charge of the New York Times’ WikiLeaks coverage and listened to the State Department make the case not to publish. We published.”
Baquet joined the NY Times in 1990 as a Metro reporter. After a decade, he left for the Los Angeles Times, returning to the NY Times in 2007 as the Washington bureau chief and then the managing editor. He took the helm as executive editor in 2014.