New York Times’ Perry report another example of lapsed journalistic ethics

The New York Times had a story that was custom-made for anyone rooting against Donald Trump and his transition team: A two-term Texas Republican governor accepting a cabinet position as Energy secretary allegedly without knowing what an Energy secretary actually does.

Except, of course, for all the thin gruel serving as the foundation for the story that more met the “screw-it-just-publish-it” standards of BuzzFeed than those of the esteemed paper of record.

{mosads}For those who somehow missed it, here’s the headline and lead paragraphs that set the table to a journalist train wreck.

Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood

When Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal. 

As you can see, without any attribution to any source in these opening paragraphs, the reader is already led to believe they were reading absolute fact just because the authors (Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger) said so.

Some semblance of high school journalistic standards also includes things like not placing the entire basis for a sensitive, important story on one source. In this case, said source is Michael McKenna, an energy lobbyist who advised Perry way-back-when during his presidential campaign that ended well before 2016 began.

But McKenna now says his quote was distorted. The headline and lead, he told the Daily Caller, “Don’t really reflect what I said.”

What also would have helped here is the Times conducting basic research, the kind that would quickly show that McKenna left the Trump transition team in mid-November, or about one month before Perry was even nominated to head the Department of Energy.


But here’s a real doozy that can chalked up to either blind partisanship or utter laziness: As T. Becket Adams of the Washington Examiner pointed out, not even included in the piece are Perry’s own words from back in December showing a clear understanding of what the job entailed and meant to him.

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected to serve as Secretary of Energy by President-elect Trump,” wrote Perry in a Dec. 14 press release. “I am deeply humbled by his trust in me.”

“As the former governor of the nation’s largest energy producing state, I know American energy is critical to our economy and our security. I look forward to engaging in a conversation about the development, stewardship and regulation of our energy resources, safeguarding our nuclear arsenal, and promoting an American energy policy that creates jobs and puts America first.”

Whoops again.

But as the old saying goes, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can even get its pants on.” And when the Times story was breathlessly retweeted by big names like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, the Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi, and the Boston Globe’s Michael Cohen (who added a note, “Yup Rick Perry is as dumb as we thought he was”), the toothpaste is not only out of the tube, but halfway to Kabul before anything resembling true examination of the story can even be made. 

Conservative media members pushed back swiftly.

And now more progressive outlets like New York Magazine are acknowledging that we may have yet another fake news situation on our hands, a situation that plays right into Donald Trump’s ability to apply yet another broad brush against “dishonest media” as a whole because of the sloppiness of one outlet or publication.  

Add it all up in the past month alone, and we had many major media outlets blindly running with a sick hoax on a Delta Airlines flight courtesy of professional prankster named Adam Saleh, the Washington Post reporting Russia had hacked the Vermont power grid, and BuzzFeed printing a completely unverified, uncorroborated dossier based on third-party intelligence because its editor feels “that’s the job of reporters in 2017,” whatever that means.

And now today alone, we have a New York Times hatchet job (that the paper is still somehow standing behind) on Rick Perry.

As a bonus, even USA Today has gotten into the act by quoting a parody account from… North Korea:

I wish I could say you can’t make this stuff up.

But apparently making stuff up is the job of reporters in 2017.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump Joe Concha New York Times Rick Perry

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video