The Corner

Politics & Policy

Re: The NYT Ad for Sessions

In response to Odd

Mark, you write of the New York Times’s generally favorable profile of Sessions:

You get the impression the reporters themselves con­clud­ed that the left-wing racism smears are BS and just wrote a straight-news piece on him. The long article is practically an ad for the #Confirm­Sessions effort.

That is one possibility. But here’s another: The reporters have concluded that Sessions will be confirmed and the last thing they need to do is fire cheap shots that won’t have any effect when they’ll need sources at DOJ. (If you’re going to kill the king, kill the king. If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna. And all that.) It seems to me that this is an interesting indicator for betting on which nominees bite the dust. The reporters covering the nominees are privy to a lot of firsthand information and on-the-ground perspectives. If they join or fuel a feeding frenzy, that’s arguably a sign they think the nomination will go down in flames and they want to get out in front of it. If, on the other hand, they know the nomination is a sure thing, why not curry a little favor with officials you will need to cover in the years ahead?

Now, I want to be fair. I have no evidence whatsoever that the reporters in this case are so motivated. I don’t know Sharon LaFranier or Matt Apuzzo. And whatever the reason for the fair treatment of Sessions by the Times, I’m glad for it. But beat-sweetening (also known as source-greasing) is an ancient practice in this town and we’ve seen a remarkable amount and variety of it with the incoming Trump administration. The Times may be innocent of it in this instance (that’s one of the things about beat-sweetening, it happens every day but it’s impossible to prove), but at this time of year, and particularly in this moment, I always assume it’s a factor when I see favorable coverage (or punditry!) from unlikely sources.