Republicans Lie, Democrats Misstate: A New York Times Style Guide

NYT harsher on Trump's 'whimpering' terrorist claim than Clinton's bogus 'sniper fire' story

New York Times building
Getty Images
November 4, 2019

Politicians tend to make stuff up. When that happens, the media coverage tends to differ depending on the letter next to the offending politician's name.

The New York Times, for example, took a markedly different tone in covering Hillary Clinton's bogus 2008 claim about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia than it did with President Donald Trump's dubious statement that the late ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi went down "whimpering" during a U.S. raid last month.

In 2008, after the Washington Post published a Four-Pinocchio "fact check" of Clinton's oft-told Bosnia story from 1996, the Times reported Clinton's "admission that she had misspoken." A story the following day discussed her attempts to put "a softening spin on her misstatement."

By contrast, the Times has devoted three news reports to fact-checking Trump's statement that al-Baghdadi died "crying and whimpering and screaming," including a front-page story on Saturday headlined, "The ‘Whimpering’ Terrorist Only Trump Seems to Have Heard." Multiple defense officials said Trump's story was likely a fabrication, and no evidence has emerged to confirm his account describing a humiliating end for the world's most-wanted terrorist.

"What may be most telling about the episode is how little attention the disparity of details received," reporters Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt wrote. "In the past, presidential words were scrutinized with forensic exactitude and any variance from the established record could do lasting political damage."

In an Oct. 27 piece headlined, "Watching the Raid Was Like a Movie, the President Said. Except There Was No Live Audio," three Times reporters wrote that Trump could not have heard the "crying and whimpering" he claimed marked the final moments of the terrorist whose death he personally ordered.

"Those surveillance feeds could not show what was happening in an underground tunnel, much less detect if Mr. al-Baghdadi was whimpering or crying," they wrote. "For that, Mr. Trump would have had to have gotten a report from the commandos directly, or relayed up through their chain of command to the commander in chief."

The following day, the Times reported that Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could not confirm the details of al-Baghdadi's death that Trump recounted.