Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin criticizes New York Times for releasing letter against Trump

By Erik Wemple October 14 at 8:26 AM Follow @ErikWemple

Donald Trump listens as Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during a town hall debate on Sunday at Washington University in St. Louis. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

For months and months and months, Donald Trump has been trashing the New York Times. A “failing” newspaper, he said. After it published a damning story in May about his relations with women, he alleged that it was being unfair:

Why doesn't the failing @nytimes write the real story on the Clintons and women? The media is TOTALLY dishonest!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 15, 2016

The GOP nominee later appeared on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor” to falsely abridge the story: “Well, you know, the New York Times wrote a story about me and women. And it turned out that it was a false story. And honestly, we’re going to take that up with them a little bit later date. We’ll get rid of this first. We will go through this little process first which I think is going to end very successfully on November 8th.”

When New York Times reporter Megan Twohey called to get his perspective on the stories of two women who’d accused him of groping them years ago, he called her “a disgusting human being.” After that story was published, his people demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit. Trump trashed the publication:

The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 13, 2016

So that’s a fair bit of abuse.

The New York Times responded yesterday, in part, by releasing a letter from top company lawyer David McCraw. It was glorious. Among other things, it documented how Trump himself, with his various proclamations and actions toward women, had already debased himself to the point that he essentially had no reputation to protect. “Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself,” wrote McCraw.

Words like those, argued co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics Mark Halperin, amount to “taking sides.” On his television show “With All Due Respect,” Halperin endorsed the newspaper’s reporting but claimed that the release of the legal letter crossed a line: “What I object to is, I think, the paper is making a big mistake, even though it is the lawyers and not the editors, in fighting with Donald Trump, in making additional sort of ad hominem accusations against him,” said Halperin, in remarks highlighted by Media Matters. “They should do their speaking in the paper, in their journalism, and they did some great journalism yesterday and they should do their arguing in court, if necessary. But to put that letter in public making those accusations, if my news organization did that, I would be uncomfortable. We have to be fair and even in this campaign and not basically take sides and say this is an accurate portrayal of who Donald Trump is.”

Bolding added to highlight what stands as one of the signal canards of campaign 2016. Contrary to Halperin’s interpretation, there are no accusations in this letter. Written by a top-flight media lawyer, it contains only facts, followed by a legal argument as to why the story is protected by the First Amendment. Have a look at the text:

I write in response to your letter of October 12, 2016 to Dean Baquet concerning your client Donald Trump, the Republican Party nominee for President of the United States. You write concerning our article “Two Women Say Donald Trump Touched Them Inappropriately” and label the article as “libel per se.” You ask that we “remove it from [our] website, and issue a full and immediate retraction and apology.” We decline to do so.

The essence of a libel claim, of course, is the protection of one’s reputation. Mr. Trump has bragged about his non-consensual sexual touching of women. He has bragged about intruding on beauty pageant contestants in their dressing rooms. He acquiesced to a radio
host’s request to discuss Mr. Trump’s own daughter as a “piece of ass.” Multiple women not mentioned in our article have publicly come forward to report on Mr. Trump’s unwanted advances. Nothing in our article has had the slightest effect on the reputation that Mr. Trump, through his own words and actions, has already created for himself.

But there is a larger and much more important point here. The women quoted in our story spoke out on an issue of national importance – indeed, an issue that Mr. Trump himself discussed with the whole nation watching during Sunday night’s presidential debate. Our reporters diligently worked to confirm the women’s accounts. The provided readers with Mr. Trump’s response, including his forceful denial of the women’s reports. It would have been a disservice not just to our readers but to democracy itself to silence their voices. We did what the law allows: We published newsworthy information about a subject of deep public concern. If Mr. Trump disagrees, if he believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.

That Trump “bragged” about forcing himself upon women — fact captured on tape. That Trump walked in on beauty pageant contestants — fact, established by multiple sources. That he “acquiesced” to a heinous radio-host request — documented fact. That “multiple women” have told the New York Times about his macro-aggressions — who doubts that? When it comes to Trump, things that sound tendentious are often just recitations of long public record.

A word to Halperin: If Trump wants to make noise about legal action, the New York Times may deploy its lawyers to provide a response. Releasing it to the public is merely an act of transparency that merits the support of journalists, not a silly and faux-ethical condemnation.

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